Celtics

Celtics' not-so secret weapon anymore - Baynes for 3...

Celtics' not-so secret weapon anymore - Baynes for 3...

CLEVELAND – As the media scrum mad their way on to the Quicken Loans Arena Saturday morning, there were a few Celtics players already on the floor getting up shots.

Among them was Aron Baynes, taking – and making – a lot of 3’s.

Upon first sight, it might seem a bit unusual to see the 6-foot-10, 260-plus pounder stroking it from long range.

But as we’ve seen with Baynes this season, teams will either learn the hard way or respect his shooting range which could become a factor in tonight's Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals with the Celtics coming in with a 2-0 series lead over the Cavaliers. 

Baynes comes in shooting 50 percent from 3 in the playoffs and isn’t afraid to take them.

His emergence as a viable 3-point shooting threat began in the preseason.

“When he first signed here, he came by in the preseason and was just shooting around,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens recalled. “I was down there with him. I just remember him hitting shot after shot after shot. It was mostly 15 to 17 feet.”

That led to a conversation about corner 3’s and above-the-break 3’s.

“He’s shot them every single day, through training camp, practice, through pre-game shooting and everything else,” Stevens recalled. “We’ve encouraged him to shoot all year especially from the corners.”

And he has made teams pay, evident by him making more corner 3s (eight) in the second-round series against the Sixers, than Philly’s entire team combined (five).

While there are many shocked at how Baynes has been shooting the 3-ball, don’t count him among those who didn’t see this coming.

“I’ve put in the work and I’ve put in the time, but like I say, ‘it’s not the number of one thing I work on,” he said. “It’s not the thing I spend the most time on. I’m always trying to expand my game, and in this day and age, its’ about trying to create space. And what better way than trying to step out there and knock down a few shots. But like I said, I’m not trying to live by it.”

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s all-important Game 3:

JAYSON TATUM


Tatum, 20 can move into sole possession of fourth place on the NBA’s all-time leaders list of playoff starts for a rookie. He’s currently tied with Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio, 2012) and Nate McMillan (Seattle, 1987). The only players ahead of him are Matt Maloney (Houston, 1997) with 16, ex-Celtic Courtney Lee (Orlando, 2009) with 17 and Richard Dumas (Phoenix, 1993) with 20.

JAYLEN BROWN


The Celtics are a diversified bunch when it comes to scoring, but lately, the hot hand from the outset of games has been Jaylen Brown. He comes into tonight’s Game 3 matchup having averaged 13.5 points per game in the first quarter of this series.

TURNOVERS


Boston has done a nice job of not allowing their turnovers to have a significantly adverse effect on the game. There’s a reason for that. Of the 17 turnovers Boston has committed, only six were live-ball miscues. That means their mistakes did not immediately allow the Cavs to get out in transition which has been a factor in Cleveland’s scoring not coming as freely and consistently as they would hope.

BALANCED ATTACK


Boston comes into tonight’s game with four players averaging 17 or more points per game. That hasn’t been done by a Celtics team since 1987. The four current Celtics averaging at least 17 points per game are Jayson Tatum (18.1), Jaylen Brown (17.8), Terry Rozier (17.4) and Al Horford (17.1). The four Celtics in 1987 were Larry Bird (27.0), Kevin McHale (21.1), Dennis Johnson (18.9) and Robert Parish (18.0).

DEFENDING JAMES


The Celtics’ team defense has been praised for how they have managed to limit LeBron James’ efficiency in this series. While he’s easily the best scorer in this series – most series for that matter – Boston has made it a lot harder than he’s accustomed to, to get buckets. He’s shooting 46.7 percent from the field in the two games against Boston. Of the four Celtics who have defended James for at least 10 possessions in this series, three (Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye and Terry Rozier) have limited him to a lower shooting percentage than what he’s averaging for the series.

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What International talent could the Celtics draft in 2019?

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

What International talent could the Celtics draft in 2019?

BOSTON -- When it comes to acquiring talent, the Boston Celtics won’t hesitate to go wherever they feel it can be acquired.

And with the possibility of having multiple first-round picks in next year’s NBA draft, Boston will certainly give thought to playing the “draft and stash” game in which they select a player with one or more of those first-round picks with the expectation that the player selected stay overseas for at least one season.

They did it two years ago when they selected Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic with the 16th and 23rd picks, respectively, in the 2016 NBA draft and did not bring either player over until the following season.

Yabusele is entering his second season with the Celtics while Zizic was sent to Cleveland as part of the blockbuster trade Boston had last year in acquiring Kyrie Irving from the Cavs.

Looking to go that route makes a lot of sense for this upcoming draft, particularly when most of the top international prospects are viewed by many as being a year or two away from being NBA-ready.

So, who are the top international prospects? 

Sekou Doumbouya, 6-9, 230, SF/PF, France

When it comes to the top of the International leaders board, Sekou Doumbouya is easily the top international prospect, a player likely to be among the top-5 players selected in 2019. The 18-year-old forward has shown the potential to be an impact player at both ends of the floor. As a 15-year-old, he was the leading scorer on the French national team which took home the gold during the 2016 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship. His emergence comes at a time when the NBA continues to become a “small-ball” league which allows players with Doumbouya’s skills to play both forward positions (although him at small forward should be something we see little of at the next level) as well as some center. He has shown growth in terms of shooting the ball more efficiently as well as solid mechanics on his shot, but his feel for the game is very much a work in progress. Defensively, there’s a lot to like about his game but his success at the next level defensively will depend heavily on where he’s placed on the floor. If he’s called upon to play more of a power forward/center role, he’ll be fine. His quickness will make him an asset at both ends of the floor. But if he’s being asked to defend small forwards on a consistent basis, that’s not playing to his strengths. When all is said and done, his upside will be too much for a team picking in the top-five to pass on.

Goga Bitadze, 6-11, 250, C, Republic of Georgia

Projected as a late-first, early-second round pick in 2019, Bitadze has a nice touch inside the paint. And while his level of athleticism leaves a lot to be desired, he has proven himself to be a productive player in a talented Adriatic Basketball league that has produced some of the bigger young bigs in the NBA , a group that includes Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic whose numbers in the Adriatic League are comparable to Bitadze who is younger than both Jokic and Nurkic when they were in the Adriatic League. His shooting mechanics are inconsistent, but he has a high release on his shots which makes it tough for defenders to block his shot or get a good contest on him. Lack of lateral quickness makes defending at this level a concern, for sure. But his ability to shoot mid-range shots (it’s his favorite) as well as provide rebounding at both ends of the floor, make Bitadze someone worth giving some thought to with one of their later picks.

Brian Bowen, 6-7, 200, USA (will play in Australia)

This may be one of the more intriguing prospects in next year’s NBA draft. Just to catch you up, Bowen was among those mentioned in the FBI’s investigation into rules violations at the University of Louisville. Bowen’s family was allegedly paid $100,000 for him to attend Louisville. He committed to the Cardinals, de-committed, then signed on to play for South Carolina before the NCAA ruled him ineligible for this upcoming season. Having entered and withdrew from the 2018 draft, he has since agreed to play for the Sydney Kings. A top-20 prospect in high school, Bowen excels in the catch-and-shoot game aided by an ultra-quick first step. He needs to improve his decision-making offensively, and consistency has to become a part of his overall play at the other end of the floor. A solid season with the Kings will do wonders for his stock which when all is said and done, will likely result in him being picked somewhere the middle to latter stages of the first round.

Luka Samanic, 6-10, PF, Croatia

Molded in the form of today’s big man, Samanic has skills that translate to him being able to be utilized in a multitude of ways. SI ranked Samanic as the 11th-best prospect heading into the 2019 NBA draft. That seems a bit high for the 6-foot-10 big man, especially when you consider the level of competition the 18-year-old has faced. Although to his credit, he has shown the ability to score, rebound and make his presence felt when facing off against his peers, which was indeed the case in January when he led the Under-18 FC Barcelona Lassa team to the championship game of the U18 Adidas Next Generation Tournament. Samanic, who turned 18 years old in January, didn’t get the win but he was still named Tournament MVP after averaging 23.3 points, 14.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots per game.

Adam Mokoka, 6-5, 210, SG, France

Mokoka looks the part of a combo guard in the NBA, but his game needs a good deal of refinement before what works overseas has a shot at translating to good play in the States. Considered by most at this point a second-round pick in the 2019 draft, one of Mokoka’s greatest strengths is his play defensively. The 20-year-old from France was named the LNB Pro A Best Young player award-winner last season, averaging just 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. He entered the 2018 NBA draft, only to wisely withdraw and set his sights on the 2019 draft. You love his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame and that he’s locked into being an above-average defender. But he will have to show significant growth as a scorer and facilitator this upcoming season, in order to convince NBA folks there’s more to his game than what he does defensively.

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