BOSTON – Danny Ainge isn’t ready to commit (publicly at least) as to what he will do with the number one overall pick in June’s NBA draft.
I get it.
He needs to see what it’s worth to other teams not to mention he and his staff have to do their due diligence to make sure whoever they select is the right guy, the right fit, for the culture they are trying to build with this franchise.
But after watching the beatdown administered by Cleveland on Friday night, I am more convinced than ever that if the Celtics keep the number one pick there’s only one choice that makes sense.
They have to draft Washington’s Markelle Fultz.
If there’s one thing we know about the playoffs.
The deeper you get into it, the more your flaws come to the surface and eventually prove to be your undoing.
Take Isaiah Thomas.
He has had a phenomenal season, and was deserving of a spot on the all-NBA second team this season.
But as we got deeper into the playoffs, his 5-foot-9 frame became a bigger issue.
Trapping and blitzing a 5-9 playmaker is a hell of a lot easier than someone who is six or seven inches taller and has the wingspan of a power forward; a player like Fultz.
And when Thomas didn’t return to the lineup with a right hip injury in the second half, the Celtics were then without their only true player who can create his own shot off the dribble.
After having lost Games 1 and 2 at the TD Garden in blowout fashion, sitting Thomas for the remainder of this series might be the best and wisest course of action.
His absence exposed the fact that Boston does not have another player who can create their own shot with a high level of proficiency.
And because of that, the Cavaliers’ defense wound up looking a lot better than it really is.
They were among the worst teams defensively during the regular season, and “improved” to middle-of-the-pack status near the end of the season.
In the playoffs, they have been winning with great offense through the first two rounds.
But against the Celtics, you would think they had a team of Kawhi Leonards or something the way they absolutely stone-walled Boston at every turn.
Which brings me back to Fultz, who is far and away the most explosive scorer coming into the NBA next season and has been atop most draft boards for most of this season.
He’s 6-foot-4, 195 pounds with a 6-10 wingspan.
With that kind of length accompanied with his skillset, he has the potential to come in and make a difference.
But what he does as well as anyone who has come into the league in the last few years, is score the ball from all ranges on the floor.
It’s rare for a player to have his court vision with the ability to score in a multitude of ways and be so young.
He is exactly what the Celtics need going forward if they are to someday soon be in a position where they can compete with the Cavaliers.
Because what we have seen after the first two games of this “series” isn’t competition.
It has been more of a coronation of Cleveland’s soon-to-be return to the NBA finals, with the Celtics being nothing more than basketball roadkill along the Cavs’ journey.
The sting of this loss, and this series for that matter, should motivate the returning Celtics next season. Because of their youth and the unexpected success of this season, expectations will be high next season for them to return to the Conference finals or at least be among the top three or four teams in the East.
But Boston has to add at least one significant impact player in the offseason, with Utah’s Gordon Hayward sitting high atop their wish list.
However, the addition of Hayward would obviously help but it alone wouldn’t move the needle enough to where they could come close to looking the Cavs eye-to-eye if the two met again in the postseason next year.
Boston needs a playmaker who can score, find teammates and maybe most important, give Boston a player besides Thomas who can create their own shot off the dribble or get the ball in the hands of teammates for easy shots based on his ability to attack a defense and force them to collapse.
Fultz won’t come in from Day One and be that player.
Few rookies ever do.
But the upside and potential he has shown despite being just 18 years old – he turns 19 later this month – is enough to where he has a shot of being able to help in a meaningful way come playoff time.
We have seen in this series with Cleveland just how Jaylen Brown’s improvement from the start of the season until now, has adequately prepared him to be a player to watch next season.
And while Fultz will certainly have some pressure to perform because of his draft status, he will likely be given more time than most number one overall picks to assert himself as a big-time player in this league based on the depth Boston has in the backcourt.
The beating Boston has taken from Cleveland is a reminder that the Celtics have to continue adding elite talent, regardless of the position.
And as they inch closer towards the draft, this series against the Cavs should cement in their minds that for their needs going forward, there’s really only one choice to make with the number one overall pick.
It has to be Markelle Fultz.