BOSTON - For the third time in four years, the Celtics are poised to have one of the top picks in the NBA draft courtesy of some pretty shrewd moves by president of basketball ops Danny Ainge.
In June, Boston could wind up with three first-round picks, which would include the more favorable one from Sacramento or Philadelphia that’s No. 1-protected.
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Based on how well the Sixers’ roster looks heading into this season and how the Kings will once again be among the NBA’s cellar-dwellers, Celtics fans have every reason to be giddy about the 2019 draft. which will likely include the Celtics having a top-five selection courtesy of Sacramento.
So, who should the Celtics target?
A lot can change between now and the draft, obviously.
But here’s a look at five college players who are likely to be in the conversation at the end of the season for a spot among the top five picks:
R.J. BARRETT, 6-7, 202, Freshman, G/F, Duke
There is a lot to like about R.J. Barrett, the No. 1 high school player in the 2018 recruiting class whose Godfather is Hall of Famer and fellow Canadian Steve Nash. Barrett, whose father Rowan Barrett played at St. John’s collegiately, has an extremely versatile skill set. He is an aggressive, athletic wing who doesn’t shy away from contact which gets him to the free throw line a lot. He’s a willing passer, although Barrett’s dribbling with his non-dominant (right) hand is very much a work in progress (cue Barrett’s Godfather who might be able to help him with that part of his game). The lefty has all the tools to be an impact wing at the next level which is why Barrett is considered by many as the player to beat out for the top overall spot in the draft. As for the Celtics, Barrett’s skills would translate nicely to a Celtics unit that can never have too many multi-positional wings who can shoot.
ZION WILLIAMSON, 6-6, 280, F, Duke
We’ve all seen the Zion Williamson highlight dunks on YouTube for years. But as you watch him play more, it’s clear that he’s more than just a freakishly gifted dunker. He has a nice mid-range game which he’ll get plenty of opportunities to knock down due to opposing teams being so afraid – and with good reason – of his play at the rim. To have such a quick first-step along with the ability to explode at the rim as a standstill dunker or taking off from a few feet away, Williamson’s impact this season at Duke will be felt. But the Cameron Crazies know not to get too comfortable with him, knowing he’s likely to be in the draft next year and wind up being taken potentially with the top overall selection. The biggest concern with Williamson is his weight and whether it’ll be a factor at the next level. Up to this point, it hasn’t been a problem. Right behind his weight, it’s unclear where he stands as a defender at the next level when he’ll most nights have to guard someone taller or quicker. He’s certainly a player that Boston would give serious thought to if they’re on the clock and he’s available. Concerns about his weight would certainly be a concern for the Celtics, but by no means would it prevent them from taking him. He’s that talented, folks.
SEKOU DOUMBOUYA, 6-9, 230, F, France
The comparisons are all over the place when it comes to Doumbouya. He has Lamar Odom’s versatility as a ball-handler to be a point-forward at times. He can hit you with the one-dribble pull-up akin to Carmelo Anthony. And defensively, he can guard as many as four positions, similar to Paul George. The 17-year-old has been playing with grown men for most of his basketball life, finding success and with that, a heightened level of confidence that makes him an intriguing option near the top of the draft board for many teams. His perimeter shooting still needs work, as well as his finishing at the rim with his non-dominant (left) hand which is important to be able to score from point-blank range with either hand. With the potential upside to his game, it’s hard to imagine Doumbouya slipping outside of the top five in the 2019 draft. And when you consider his length and versatility as a defender, his strengths at the next level would make for a nice addition to the Celtics roster.
NASSIR LITTLE, 6-6, 220, G-F, North Carolina
The Duke freshmen are getting lots of hype and deservedly so, but a short trip down Intestate-501 South to Chapel Hill will take you to where Nassir Little will play this season. He will quickly establish himself as one of the better two-way wings in this upcoming draft. In addition to his defense, he has great length and can play well above the rim. He has shown himself capable of doing a little bit of everything which is why he’ll likely be among the first players drafted in June and a player that you can see having a relatively easy time fitting into Brad Stevens’ system.
DANIEL GAFFORD, 6-11, 233, F-C, Arkansas
Look for Gafford to be the first center off the board in the 2019 draft. He has great length, runs the floor extremely well, and is an efficient finisher at the rim courtesy of lob dunks, put-backs or one-dribble finishes in transition. He was a borderline first round pick after his freshman season a year ago. His decision to return to school should pay off with him likely being among the top five or so players drafted. The only way Boston would consider drafting a center this high, is if something went really wrong with Robert Williams whom the Celtics picked with the 27th overall selection in last June’s draft. But Gafford has a lot of Clint Capela-like skills to his game. And depending on where Boston’s pick from the Kings may fall, Gafford may be the best available player at whatever slot Boston would be picking.