BOSTON – Judging by the boos in response to the Celtics’ choice of Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick in Thursday's NBA Draft, it appears the season-ticker holders attending the Draft Party at TD Garden came prepared for the wrong occasion. It’s like they were expecting Wyc Grousbeck to literally light off fireworks while Danny Ainge jumped off a trampoline and threw down dunks, as part of the celebration after trading for a superstar.
But the deal didn’t happen and fans weren’t happy about it. That’s what happens when you set expectations that are too high.
If you strip away the veil of those expectations, you’ll find the Celtics came away with plenty of talent on Thursday night. They were in a better position at the end of the night than they were when the day started. But it’ll take time for that talent to flourish, which Ainge emphasized in his press conference.
“He’s not a cornerstone today. I would never put pressure on a kid this young,” Ainge said of Brown. “There’s so many guys as we look all around the league that nobody on draft night knew what they were. So we’ll see. Time will tell.”
Brown is 19, with what Ainge describes as “a man’s body” -- 6-foot-7, 222 pounds, with a muscular frame. He’s ready to step on the floor and defend multiple positions; you’ll find that out in the Summer League next month.
That’s also when you’ll begin to fall in love with Brown.
Brown will remind spectators of Jae Crowder, who's a fan favorite. He plays with that same relentlessness on defense, and at the moment he’s a similar player on offense by driving closeouts, getting into the paint, and finishing strong or drawing fouls.
“A lot of passion and energy – just going to war for the city every night,” Brown said when asked what fans should expect from him. “Leave it all on the floor, wear my heart on my sleeve and battle, day in and day out.”
There’s a myth that “Brown can’t shoot,” which has been being online and on the air throughout the entire draft process. Look, Brown isn’t Buddy Hield or Jamal Murray, but that doesn’t mean he “can’t shoot.” Please reserve “can’t shoot” for Ben Simmons.
Brown shot 29.4 percent from downtown as a freshman, which isn’t good, but it came on a small sample of just 102 shot attempts. Going back to high school, he attempted 130 threes in competitions over the 2014-15 season and shot 40.8 percent. Does that mean he’s a knockdown shooter? Of course not. Because if he hits a handful more or less shots either way, it drastically changes his percentage.
Either way, it doesn’t change the reality of his ability. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Ainge knows that.
“There’s a lot of good shooters that have had bad shooting years and bad freshman years particularly," he said. "We’re not too concerned about that. We feel like he has a chance to be a good shooter, but he wasn’t this year. I think Jaylen is not a finished product. He’s not a bad shooter and so I think that he’ll get better shooting every year for the next five or six years, probably until the end of his career. He’ll keep improving. One thing in the NBA that we noticed, that we all do as fans of the NBA, is there are a lot of guys that come in as non-shooters that become good shooters. There’s a lot of guys that are pretty good shooters that become really good shooters. We have very high hopes for Jaylen.”
It might take years, if ever, for those high hopes to manifest into superstardom on the court, but Brown has the ability to turn heads.
The Celtics made two other first-round selections, coming away with two potential draft-and-stash prospects at 16 and 23: French forward Guerschon Yabusele and Croatian center Ante Zizic, respectively.
Zizic has improved tremendously and projects as a high-energy big man who rebounds and finishes at the rim at an elite level. By the time Zizic was picked, though, fans had already checked out. TD Garden was a barren wasteland, with half-empty popcorn boxes and spilled beer on the floor being the only evidence that it was packed only hours earlier.
That’s because Yabusele forced them out. But give him a chance. Just let Ainge explain who Yabusele is.
“He’s got some abilities,” Ainge told CSNNE.com in the hallways of TD Garden long after fans had emptied out of the building. “I’m not saying he’s Draymond Green. It’s sort of sacrilegious to tell a rookie they’re going to be a great player. But he does have good feet, and he has good length, and he has good strength. He’s got good touch around the rim. He can actually stretch the floor. At 270 pounds, he’s a pretty good basketball player who can pass, handle, shoot a little, post up a little. He’s pretty complete. He’s just young and he had a very good year in a good league in the upper French league. I think he’s going to get better next year.”
Yabusele projects as a great fit in the new NBA since he can be used in small-ball lineups. He’s like a bulldozer rumbling down the lane with the explosiveness to dunk with power. But he can also shoot, at 42.6 percent this year (on only 61 attempts, so let’s continue to monitor sample sizes).
If the Celtics are successful in drafting-and-stashing both Yabusele and Zizic (which they plan to), it’ll allow them to easily bring over their second-round steals.
Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson slipped all the way to 45 and Providence forward Ben Bentil went 51, though both were ranked as mid-first round talents by some executives across the league. Bentil’s fall isn’t totally surprising, but Jackson’s is stunning.
A source tells CSNNE.com that Jackson has no medical issues that caused his free fall, so he comes in with a clean bill of health. The Celtics already have plenty of guards, but Jackson gives them another good one to work with. He can play both on-ball and off-ball and he’s a pesky defender. Plus, he’s a superb athlete with a springy leaping ability that leads to plenty of highlight dunks.
Bentil is 21, but is just getting started with his development since he didn’t start playing basketball until late in his teens. His feel needs to improve, but he can shoot threes and score from all levels of the floor. They also took a flyer on an athletic Iowa State wing, Abdel Nader, with the 58th pick, their sixth and final choice of the night, since they traded the 31st and 35th picks for a protected 2019 first-rounder.
The Celtics tried hard to trade for a superstar player. They had the best offer on the table for Jimmy Butler and the Bulls didn’t budge.
It didn’t happen, so forget about it for now … at least until new rumors start popping up again. Once they do, the Celtics will be part of the chase and they’ll still be leaders in the pack. They retained their treasure trove of assets, which features two Nets first-round picks, and they still have loads of cap space.
You might not realize it just yet, but the Celtics are better positioned for success than they were when the night started. Eventually, fireworks might be set off to celebrate the anniversary of the 2016 NBA Draft, the night the Celtics found their cornerstone.
Even though none of us knew it at the time.