Ainge acknowledges challenge of scouting international players like Bender

Ainge acknowledges challenge of scouting international players like Bender

WALTHAM, Mass. – Danny Ainge recently returned from a week-long trip overseas with stops in Croatia, Serbia and Israel. With eight picks in the June 23 draft, more than any team has ever had going into a draft since the league went to a two-round system in 1989, Boston is definitely keeping an eye out for potential draft-and-stash players.

“Potential” is the operative word in describing 7-foot teen sensation Dragan Bender, a player many anticipate will be drafted by the Celtics with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft later this month.

Ainge, addressing the media shortly after the team announced contract extensions for both him and head coach Brad Stevens on Wednesday, acknowledged that the Celtics did get to spend some time working out the 18-year-old who currently plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The workouts, according to Ainge, were 1-on-none and 1-on-1 with Bender facing off against his older brother Ivan who plays at the University of Maryland.

“And then we watched him (Dragan Bender) in a full practice which we thought was actually better than the games,” said Ainge who added that they had seen him play in games on video as well as in person.

But there’s little to glean for the Celtics when it comes to games because Bender has seen limited action while playing for one of the historically strong teams overseas.

Because his body of work has been so limited recently, it has made tough to get a true feel for his strengths and weaknesses.

However, that difficulty is a common problem for NBA teams when it comes to assessing international players, especially in comparison to athletes from the college ranks.

“I’ll see most of the college players in the draft a few times a year, sometimes as many as seven or eight times a year,” Ainge said. “The European game, you may go over there and they play one game against a bad team and another game against a really good team. It’s hard to evaluate the level of competition that they’re playing against every night. But there are some exceptions. There are some leagues over there that are better than college basketball. So it’s a little bit more challenging, sure.”

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

As the NBA trade deadline drew near, Celtics Nation was hoping tonight’s matchup between Boston and New Orleans would be Anthony Davis returning to where his pro career began.

He’s still with the Pelicans, doing what Davis has done for most of his career – dominate play.

But there’s a new twist now … he’s also winning. 

That’s why the 6-foot-10 Davis is no longer seen as a player that might be on the move anytime soon. 

He’s not just one of the league’s best players, but a bonafide MVP candidate whose stock as an elite player is even greater since New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins (ruptured Achilles tendon) for the season on Jan. 26. 

Since Cousins’ season-ending injury, New Orleans (39-30) has a 12-9 record with Davis averaging 31.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.3 steals per game in that span. 

Davis is also averaging 7.8 free throws per game which ranks fourth in the NBA, although you wouldn’t know he was among the league leaders in that category based on the postgame rant by his coach Alvin Gentry following New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday night. 

“A.D. (Anthony Davis) never gets a call,” a visibly angry Gentry told reporters following the loss. “He never gets a call. We talk about them holding him. We talk about them grabbing him on rolls. We talk about them coming under him on post-ups. He never gets a call; not one. And you know why? Because he doesn’t (bleep) complain about it. He just keeps playing the game.”

Regardless of how often he gets to the line, Davis is still putting up MVP-caliber numbers this season in Cousins’ absence. 

But it’s not like Davis’ stat line this season overall – 28.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals – didn’t stand out for all the right reasons, either.

However, Davis’ shine isn’t quite as bright now with the Pelicans losing four of their last five games which has dropped New Orleans (39-30) down to the eighth and final playoff spot and just 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (37-31).

So, the Celtics come into town facing not only one of the better teams in the West, but a club that is absolutely starving for a win.

While Boston (47-22) certainly wants to come into the Big Easy and get a victory, its impact on the Celtics’ playoff hopes is non-existent. 

Boston has the second-best record in the East and trail Toronto (52-17) by five games with 13 remaining. They face the Raptors two more times this season, but even if they win both of those games and thus the head-to-head series, it likely won’t come into play because of Toronto likely finishing with the best record in the East. 

And behind Boston in the standings is Cleveland (40-29), another injury-riddled team that’s seven games behind the Celtics in the standing and has shown no signs of threatening to gain ground on Boston. 

So regardless of how the Celtics fare, it’s likely they will remain sandwiched between Toronto and Cleveland in terms of playoff seedings are concerned. 

And that might factor into who plays – and who doesn’t – for Boston in these final few games of the regular season. 

Boston’s Daniel Theis suffered a season-ending torn meniscus injury in his left knee, and Marcus Smart’s right thumb injury will keep him out for the rest of the regular season with the earliest he might be back being the latter stages of the first round of the playoffs, or sometime during the second round if the Celtics advance that far. 

Boston must also make sure Kyrie Irving and his sore left knee, are good to go for the playoffs. In addition, the Celtics must work Jaylen Brown back into the fold after he suffered a concussion that has kept him out of Boston’s last three games. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has made a point of not allowing himself or his players to use their injury situation as an excuse for not playing good basketball. 

But he knows good basketball for his injury-riddled roster, involves players elevating their play.

“We’re going to be in the process of really looking at ourselves and redistributing responsibility on our team without guys going outside of what they do best,” Stevens said, adding, “We’re going to have to figure out how to play our best basketball.”