Celtics Draft Review: C's nailed Jayson Tatum pick in 2017, but who else was in the mix?

Celtics Draft Review: C's nailed Jayson Tatum pick in 2017, but who else was in the mix?

The 2017 NBA draft lottery belonged to the Boston Celtics, winners of the top overall pick in what most believed would be the Markelle Fultz sweepstakes, a player widely regarded that night as the likely top overall selection. 

But the Celtics had their eye on another elite talent; a young man from St. Louis who spent a year at Duke before making himself eligible for the NBA draft. 

His name was Jayson Tatum, a player Danny Ainge and the Celtics were convinced they could get two spots later in the draft — similar to what Red Auerbach did 40 years ago when he traded the top overall pick to Golden State for a pair of dynastic pillars in the Celtics' run of greatness in the 1980s — a young big man named Robert Parish and the No. 3 pick, which was used to select Kevin McHale. 

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In 2017, Ainge traded the top overall pick to Philadelphia in exchange for the No. 3 pick used to select Tatum, along with acquiring a future first-round pick that was later used by Boston to select Romeo Langford.

Hindsight tells us all that picking Tatum was indeed the best move Ainge and the Celtics could have made. 

The 6-9 Tatum has blossomed into an All-Star, putting together the kind of stats that show how important his ascension has been to Boston’s efforts towards top-tier status in the East and the ultimate goal — bringing Banner 18 to Boston. 

And while he was the Celtics' primary target with the trade, he wasn’t the only player Boston was considering with the No. 3 pick, nor was he the only player Boston drafted that year who has been a contributor to the team’s success.

Let's review the 2017 NBA Draft to see if Ainge and the Celtics got it right: 

Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke (Round 1, No. 3)

A no-brainer, win-win for the Celtics in acquiring Tatum via trade and getting another draft pick out of it for a player (Fultz) who has already been traded and thus far has shown he’s an NBA rotational player … and that’s it. Meanwhile, Tatum has ascended to being the face of this franchise, earning All-Star status this year while evolving into one of the league’s best two-way players. 

Who they could’ve taken: Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas (Round 1, No. 4)

We often praise Danny Ainge for the players he’s able to acquire. But the Celtics’ decision to take a pass on Jackson was one of the best decisions this franchise has ever made. For starters, he wanted no part of being a Boston Celtic with him going so far as to blow off an individual workout in Sacramento with the Celtics while the team’s brass was in mid-air en route to the workout.

It was indeed an unprofessional move on his part that serves as a reminder as to why in hindsight, he wasn’t cut from the kind of cloth that most Celtics are. Jackson, selected by the Phoenix Suns, was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies last year and spent the bulk of the season with their G-League affiliate.

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Semi Ojeleye, SF, SMU (Round 2, No. 37)

Chalk this one up to another good bang-for-your-buck pick by Boston. Ojeleye has been an above average defender for the Celtics, showcasing skills that have allowed him to play multiple frontcourt positions. His defensive versatility, particularly on league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, has stood out. 

Who they could’ve taken: Thomas Bryant, F, Indiana (Round 2, No. 42)

Bryant has been among the better scoring bigs in this draft class, averaging 9.9 points per game. Only two players from the entire 2017 draft class (Lauri Markkanen and Jarrett Allen) who are 6-10 and taller have a higher career scoring average than Bryant. Still, Ojeleye’s defensive versatility makes him a more ideal fit in Brad Stevens’ system than Bryant.  

Who they could’ve taken: Dillon Brooks, (Round 2, No. 45)

One of the big surprises in this draft class, Brooks appeared in all 82 games for Memphis as a rookie. A 6-7 wing, Brooks is strong but doesn’t have the physical strength of Ojeleye. But like Ojeleye, Brooks has made a solid adjustment defensively after coming into the league as a tweener position-wise. Brooks doesn’t have elite length or athleticism, but he has proven to be a better scorer (a career 12.4 points per game scorer) in the NBA — albeit on a team that doesn’t have as many elite scorers as the Celtics.

Playing time would have been limited in Boston at the wing position. And because of Ojeleye’s size, strength and lateral quickness, he brings more to the table defensively, which is exactly what the Celtics needed from whomever they selected with their second round pick.

Why Kemba Walker credits Gordon Hayward for helping him thrive with Celtics

Why Kemba Walker credits Gordon Hayward for helping him thrive with Celtics

It was a fair question when Kemba Walker joined the Celtics: After years of being "the guy" in Charlotte, how would the All-Star guard handle carrying a lighter load on a deep Boston team?

Walker put the kibosh on those concerns by embracing his role as a "team-first" point guard in Boston alongside promising young wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. But he actually went too far the other way, to the point where he was passing up open shots.

Enter Gordon Hayward, who encouraged Walker to unleash the scoring prowess that helped him average 25.6 points per game in his final season with the Hornets.

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"He was always coming up to me, telling me that they (the Celtics) want me to be more aggressive—they can tell when I'm not," Walker told Bleacher Report's Yaron Weitzman in a recent interview.

"He made me feel comfortable, which I really appreciated, especially early in the year. Just letting me know that nobody is going to say anything, and nobody is going to be mad at me for shooting [certain] shots."

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Celtics assistant coach Joe Mazzulla led the charge in urging Walker to shoot more. But Hayward assured Walker that the players had his back, too, which was instrumental in the veteran gaining confidence with his new team.

The results showed on the court, too: Walker increased both his field goal attempts (from 16.7 per game in November to 17.4 in December) and scoring average (21.2 points per game in November; 23.2 in December) to help the Celtics go 10-3 during the month of December.

A knee injury limited Walker's effectiveness as the season progressed further, but it appears he's fully healthy entering the NBA restart in Orlando later this month. If the 30-year-old continues to be aggressive on offense, the C's could be a serious problem for opponents in the bubble.

Enes Kanter reveals plans for message on Celtics jersey in NBA bubble

Enes Kanter reveals plans for message on Celtics jersey in NBA bubble

The NBA plans to give its players a unique platform in Orlando, and Enes Kanter intends on using it.

The league and the NBA Players Association have discussed allowing players to replace the names on the back of their jerseys with personalized messages that call attention to a charitable cause or social issue.

During a recent interview with CNN Philippines, Kanter revealed the one-word message he has planned for his Boston Celtics jersey: Freedom.

That word is a fitting choice for the Turkey native, who has repeatedly criticized the country's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for repressing its citizens' freedoms. Kanter himself is banned from Turkey and has been labeled a "terrorist" by Erdogan's regime, while his father was imprisoned in Turkey until recently.

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"That freedom means so much to me, not just for my country in Turkey, not just for people in America, but throughout the whole world," Kanter said.

Kanter recently joked on Instagram that he should have "Erdogan Sucks" on the back of his jersey, but the 28-year-old wants his message to extend beyond his homeland.

"If you look at what's going on in the world right now, lots of countries, lots of people out there need their freedom, and they're fighting for it," Kanter said.

" ... My message to the whole world is, keep fighting for freedom. Keep fighting for justice. Stand for what you believe in and never back down."

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Kanter also has been an advocate for social change in the United States, attending a "Black Lives Matter" rally in Boston last month to protest racial inequality and police brutality following the murder of George Floyd.

The NBA and the NBPA are still ironing out the details of their jersey initiative as the league prepares to resume the 2019-20 season later this month. But it should surprise no one that Kanter already has a plan in place.