Celtics seek roster replenishment from pool of NBA draft combine talent

Celtics seek roster replenishment from pool of NBA draft combine talent

CHICAGO -- This year’s top-shelf draft talent  - Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Ja Morant - don’t really have a lot of use for the NBA draft combine. 

Regardless of what the scales say they weigh or how high their vertical leap may be, they are the undisputed top-3 picks in the draft next month and there’s nothing they can do or say that’s going to change that this week.

So, it’s no big deal that they’ll be absent from the next 48 hour’s worth of poking, prodding and predicting who will constitute the other 57 spots in the 2019 draft class after their names are called.

But for teams such as the Celtics, eager to add an infusion of talent into the mix for next season, the combine offers an opportunity to replenish their depth with what will once again be a Celtic-heavy first round of the draft. 

Boston has picks No. 14, No. 20 and No. 22, so the pool of players that Boston will be focusing much of their attention on the next couple of days isn’t quite as all over the map as it has been in recent years. 

Because nearly half of Boston’s roster will either be free agents or players who can opt-out and become free agents, the only true need they have is added depth. 

Point-guard play appears to be an area the Celtics will have to address in some capacity, with both their starting point guard (Kyrie Irving) and his backup, Terry Rozier, headed this summer for unrestricted and restricted free agency.

Morant of Murray State and Darius Garland of Vanderbilt are the top two point guard prospects, but they’ll both be off the board by the time Boston is on the clock at No. 14. 

Virginia’s Ty Jerome and Purdue’s Carsen Edwards are considered the next best point-guard prospects, but they’re both seen as late-first, early second-round picks that might come into play with one of the C's picks at No. 20 or 22. 

And while all in attendance will be sniffing out the best talent they can unearth, having the right fit looms large in Boston’s efforts to get better from prospects in this year’s draft.

Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck discussed earlier Wednesday on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s "Felger & Mazz" show how difficult this past season was for many, including himself and fans who followed the team. 

“It was one of the hardest teams to love, from my standpoint," Grousbeck said. "Just to answer for myself. I wasn't coaching them but I was watching them. It was frustrating. It was a tough year for everybody concerned. I think the fans all feel that. We're going to try to make it better. We all feel that. The highs and lows --  it just has been frustrating."

And while no one anticipates the Celtics will find the solution to what ailed them this past season at the combine, there’s no question Boston will have ample opportunities to get to know some prospects who may well be able to help the team at least shore up some of the deficiencies that factored in them getting bounced in the second round of the playoffs after getting to the Conference finals the two previous seasons. 

One of the better success stories for the Celtics coming out of the combine the past couple of years was Semi Ojeleye.

A muscular 6-foot-6 forward from SMU, Ojeleye used the combine to showcase that his strength as a player was, well, more than just his pure physical strength. 

Ojeleye, selected by Boston in the second round in 2017 with the 37th overall pick, had a lane agility time of 10.58 seconds which was tops among all non-guards and third overall at the combine. 

That time confirmed what the Celtics thought about Ojeleye -  that he could move his feet well enough to defend multiple positions, which is important in a league where most teams run a ton of pick-and-roll plays. 

And if you don’t have guys with the kind of lateral quickness that Ojeleye has, those pick-and-rolls will just pick apart your defense. 

Combine that with his 40.5-inch vertical and above-average strength in which he bench-pressed 185 pounds 19 times - that was tops among all players at the 2017 NBA combine - and you had a player with tremendous athleticism and strength who could play a role and help a team win. 

But the physical measurements tell just part of the narrative when it comes to the combine. 

There are also interviews for players with various teams, which may prove valuable on draft night when a decision comes down to just two prospects. 

“I really didn’t think a whole lot about it,” Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston earlier when I asked him about the combine. “The big thing is to be you; don’t try to be what you think they want to see or hear. Just being you; that’s all I tried to do.”

And it worked out well for him and the Celtics. 

Only time will tell whether the latest pool of talent at the combine will produce a player or two that can do more than just add to the Celtics’ depth but play a role that aids them in doing the one thing that matters most - winning. 

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Celtics Talk Podcast: Season preview; breaking down the opener vs. 76ers

Celtics Talk Podcast: Season preview; breaking down the opener vs. 76ers

Our crew that covers the Celtics has you covered as we preview the season and look ahead to Wednesday's opener in Philly against the Sixers.

2:00 - Kyle Draper, Chris Forsberg, A. Sherrod Blakely, and Brian Scalabrine give their expectations for the Boston Celtics this season. 

6:00 - How big of a year is this for Jaylen Brown? What do we see happening with his contract? 

9:00 - What expectations do we have for Jayson Tatum?

12:00 - What level can we expect Gordon Hayward to return to?

14:00 - Abby Chin hosts ‘Rookie Watch’. Where our crew debates which rookie will have the biggest impact for the Celtics this season. 

19:30 - Paul Hudrick covers the Sixers for NBC Sports Philadelphia. He joins the crew to preview the Celtics-76ers opening night matchup. (21:00) How does Al Horford fit into the mix with the 76ers? (22:00) How much pressure is on Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid? (27:00) How do people in Philadelphia feel about the Boston Celtics this season?


Should Kanter start or come off the Celtics bench?

Should Kanter start or come off the Celtics bench?

BOSTON -- Enes Kanter is easily the most accomplished big man among the consortium of bigs the Celtics collected over the summer. 

And while his role will be an important one, there are plenty of indicators pointing towards Kanter beginning the season as a key performer coming off the Celtics bench. 

The 6-foot-11 center came off the bench in all three of his preseason appearances  Kanter averaged 17.2 minutes, 6.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, along with shooting 53.3 percent from the field in the three games. 

From the time Kanter signed with Boston, the Celtics have made no secret about him playing a significant role as a scorer in the low post. 

“He just knows how to score around the basket,” Kemba Walker told NBC Sports Boston. “As long as I’ve been in the league, that’s what Enes does; he’s a scorer, for sure.”

His strength and Boston’s need for more scoring at the rim led to many assuming he would be the starting center. 

But coach Brad Stevens has hinted on multiple occasions that he sees Kanter being most useful coming off the bench - something Kanter says he’s on board with, if that’s what Stevens wants to do. 

“Throughout my career, I play as a starter and as a player coming off the bench,” Kanter told NBC Sports Boston. “I’m OK either way.”

The eight-year veteran has appeared in 583 regular-season games, with 216 of those as a starter. 

That’s why the idea of starting or being a key reserve doesn’t change anything for him as far as how he approaches games. 

“If we’re winning, everything is cool,” Kanter said. “I know where coach is going. Obviously, first unit everybody can score. With me and [Marcus] Smart with the second unit, we can come in and … we have another level to go to.”

According to Hoopsstats.com, the Celtics averaged 38.4 bench points last season, which ranked 10th in the NBA. 

With Terry Rozier in Charlotte via sign-and-trade, Marcus Morris in New York and Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward back in the Celtics’ starting lineup, Boston’s second unit will look dramatically different than a year ago. 

Kanter coming off the bench provides the Celtics with a legit, proven scorer with the second unit with career averages of 11.7 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 54.1 percent from the field.

Starting or not, the focus for Kanter remains the same - make an impact as soon as he can once he enters the game. 

Achieving that becomes easier if there’s a heightened level of comfort with his teammates. It's something Kanter has made a priority in his first training camp with the Celtics. 

“We know how to score the ball, how to play basketball,” Kanter said. “For the preseason the most important thing for us is to build that chemistry. Whenever we go out there, we’re trying to communicate, we’re trying to trust each other and try to get used to playing with each other. 

Kanter added, “That’s the most important thing. Off the court is so important. That’s going to make us better teammates, better friends. So, right now, all I care about what’s going on off the court. Once we get in there, we’ll be fine.”

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