The Boston Celtics enter Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft with only the No. 45 pick. It’s a potentially quiet draft night for a team that has typically been swimming in picks in recent years.
Boston dealt its first-round pick (No. 16 overall) to the Oklahoma City Thunder last month as part of the Al Horford-for-Kemba Walker swap.
Given the Celtics’ need to hang onto future first-round picks in the possible quest for a star addition, it feels unlikely the team will vault anywhere close to the lottery. But there will be opportunities to maneuver around the draft board starting late in the first round and throughout the second.
Here are five players we’d target if available at these spots:
The (late) first-round vault
Usman Garuba, Forward, Real Madrid
Garuba could easily be a lottery pick, especially after holding up well while competing for Spain in an exhibition against Team USA earlier this month. But if he slides into the back end of the first round, the Celtics should ponder all ways to shimmy up for a relentless defender with good size (6-foot-8, 229 pounds) who could fill an obvious need at power forward.
To us, Garuba is the prototype for what the Celtics should want long-term at the 4: someone who prioritizes defense, hustle and playmaking, and doesn’t need shots to thrive. If Garuba comes off the board early then maybe Duke’s Jalen Johnson lingers late in the first round.
The hard part, of course, is finding a way for Boston to make a deal without sacrificing a future first-round pick, which could complicate the pursuit of an available star next season.
Is there a team that would like Grant Williams more than what’s on the board at that point? Could Boston take on some money from a cap-strapped team via their trade exceptions with hopes of vaulting? The Celtics would have to get mighty creative to get into Round 1.
Shimmying up to early second round
Ayo Dosunmu, Guard, Illinois
The Celtics get everything they need in a backup guard here: Size (6-foot-4); playmaking (especially in the pick-and-roll -- 5.3 assists per game in his junior season while scoring 20.7 points); 3-point shooting (38.8 percent last season); inspired defense, and a tireless competitor. They also get a whole lot more upside than what might be available if they wait around at No. 45.
JT Thor, Forward, Auburn
Our draft-night wish list is going to have a pretty common theme: Point guards with size and power forwards with a defensive focus. At 6-foot-9 with a defensive reputation, Thor checks the power forward boxes. He’s got a 7-foot-3 wingspan and we’ll be daydreaming about a backline of him and Robert Williams causing max chaos for anyone trying to get to the rim.
If the Knicks use both of their first-round picks (19, 21) then maybe they are willing to move off No. 32. Boston could use some combination of future second-round picks and cash to try to wiggle up from No. 45. Not being tied to the first-round scale gives Boston some flexibility in crafting a deal and could aid future flexibility.
Sticking at No. 45
Joe Wieskamp, Wing, Iowa
Shooting is so coveted in the NBA that we fear someone will take a flyer on Wieskamp before the Celtics get on the clock. But there’s enough concerns about Wieskamp (including shooting only 67.7 percent on free throws) that teams might be tempted to look for a more well-rounded option around this spot.
For this keyboard GM, we’re looking for a single defined skill that might allow a second-round pick to carve out a role. Wieskamp made 46.2 percent of his 3-pointers last season and that’s enough for us when trying to put shooters around a Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown core.
Jason Preston, Guard, Ohio
A skilled playmaker with size who also shot 39 percent on threes last season? Sign me up.
He sometimes feels a bit like a slightly taller, slightly more flashy Payton Pritchard, and some redundancy among young backups concerns us. But playmaking is going to be Preston’s NBA calling card and after handing out 7.3 assists per game last season, we’d love to see what he can do running Boston’s second-unit offense.