30 Celtics Questions in 30 Days: Which players should Celtics target for 2019 draft?

30 Celtics Questions in 30 Days: Which players should Celtics target for 2019 draft?

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.

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.


How Jaylen Brown tricks Marcus Smart into helping him improve

How Jaylen Brown tricks Marcus Smart into helping him improve

BOSTON — Marcus Smart was entertaining teammates with an impossibly spot-on impersonation of former teammate Al Horford at one end of the floor Monday so Jaylen Brown had to know it wasn’t going to be as easy as asking Smart to join his post-practice 1-on-1 work.

See, there’s a science to getting full-intensity Smart when you really want to sharpen your knives. We’ll let Brown explain:

“Ever since I've been here, since my rookie year, I've been trying to take advantage of playing Marcus 1-on-1 and baiting him into playing me,” said Brown. “I’ve been talking trash so that he'll be motivated to play me and I can work on my game.

"Marcus is probably one of the best defenders in the league. Motivated Marcus is tough to score against. But you have to talk a little bit of trash to get him going.”

And if you don’t?

“He might just bull——, or throw up some bull—— [shots],” said Brown. "He’ll laugh and joke but as soon as you start talking trash to him, he’ll be looking to bust your ass. He’ll be super engaged pretty quickly.”

Brown wouldn’t divulge exactly what he said to press Smart’s buttons on Monday but, whatever it was, it had the desired effect. A sweatshirt-clad Smart immediately threw himself full throttle into a rotating game of 1-on-1 against Brown and camp invitee Kaiser Gates.

The frisky 1-on-1 matchups that ensued were maybe more interesting than Boston’s breezy preseason win over Cleveland Sunday and the Brown/Smart battles stole the show. Each player had their moments and Brown bellowed loudly after one successful stop, though it was Smart who had the walk-off moment after muscling home a tough layup with Brown defending.

While many Celtics players scrambled off the floor before the team’s afternoon flight to Cleveland, Brown was one of the last to depart. After the 1-on-1 work with Smart, Brown and Gates shuffled to another court for additional shooting drills. When Gates asked Brown a question about positioning on the way off the court, it spawned yet another round of 1-on-1 battles between the two players who have bonded over shared Atlanta roots.

For Brown, these lengthy workdays — and especially those sessions with Smart — are all part of a plan to dispel a notion that he peaked two seasons ago. He admits he’s frustrated by the notion that he underperformed a year ago during Boston’s train-wreck of a season.

“People always expect better, but the most frustrating thing is people always said that I was having a bad year [last season],” said Brown. “Maybe it was because of the role I was in, or compared to the year before and what I was expected to do, but people always said I had a bad year. I made the best of the situation that I was put in. People always said like, ‘You still had a bad year.' I don't know what else I could have done, to be honest. I don't know.”

His plan, though, is to simply make sure the same can’t be said this time around. Brown politely steers the conversation back to the future when pressed on last year.

“This year I just want to come out and play basketball. That's it,” said Brown. "I think we've got some good guys, we got some talent. … I worked really hard, night in and night out. I watched a lot of film. I'm probably my biggest critic. I just want to come out and just play.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens believes that last year’s struggles will aid both Brown and Jayson Tatum.

"You should be ever-evolving, you should be ever-growing. That doesn’t mean that the path is not rocky at times. That’s part of it,” said Stevens. "Jaylen, not playing at times during his rookie year, you can see he’s always kind of kept that chip on his shoulder ever since and has always been really good. He’s just gotten better and better. This has been his best preseason.”

Riding some of the momentum he built near the end of the FIBA World Cup in China, Brown has displayed a more complete game this season. He’s sharpened his ball-handling. He’s improved his court vision. He’s stronger and more willing to joust with bigger forward.

Brown is having a particularly efficient preseason despite not shooting the 3-ball well yet. He’s averaging 9 points over just 18 minutes per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the floor overall. The Celtics are plus-47 in his 54 minutes of floor time (most of it from Sunday’s lopsided win) and own an absurd defensive rating of 63.9 when Brown is on the floor. His assist percentage (15.8%) is twice what it was last season (7.9%).

But it’s the eye test that really sells Brown’s improvements. He’s aggressive and confident going at the basket. He’s routinely finishing with his left hand. Brown looks ready to showcase the strides he’s made. He’s eager to show that last season isn’t a reflection of the player he will be.

No, if he can score against Smart, the rest of the league should be no problem.

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Report: Celtics exercise Jayson Tatum's fourth-year option

Report: Celtics exercise Jayson Tatum's fourth-year option

The Boston Celtics have made an important yet expected move.

According to Sham Charania of The Athletic, the Celtics have exercised their fourth-year option to retain star forward Jayson Tatum.

Tatum was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The Celtics selected him after trading down from the No. 1 overall pick. The Philadelphia 76ers would select Markelle Fultz at that juncture.

All first-round picks in the NBA sign four-year deals with two team options on the final two seasons. Given Tatum's performance, it was a foregone conclusion that the Celtics would exercise this option. It was just a matter of when.

Tatum will make $9.9 million in the final season of his rookie deal. During the 2020 offseason, he will be eligible to sign an extension with the Celtics, much like Jaylen Brown, the team's No. 3 overall pick in 2016, is eligible to sign one with the team right now.

Last year, Tatum averaged 15.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.1 steals while playing 31.1 minutes per game for the Celtics. They are hoping that he will make a bigger leap during his third season and really emerge as one of the NBA's rising stars.

Celtics Spotlight: Can Jayson Tatum make the leap in year 3?>>>

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