Changing NBA economics place more value on draft day hits for Celtics

Changing NBA economics place more value on draft day hits for Celtics

It’s not unusual for NBA teams to go into the draft with multiple picks at their disposal. 

But few teams have become as synonymous with this form of team-building as the Boston Celtics, who will come into this year’s Oct. 16 draft with a total of four picks, three of which are currently slated to be in the first round. 

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While the Celtics have at times been criticized for having too many draft picks and not enough roster spots for the newbies to get on the floor, the importance of them landing more hits than misses in the draft takes on even greater importance going forward. 

The global coronavirus pandemic has significantly impacted the NBA and its various revenue streams. And because of that, teams won’t have the kind of fiscal flexibility they were anticipating in the coming seasons.

The salary cap for next season was reduced to $115 million prior to the global pandemic. 

And the salary cap for the 2021-2022 season — projected to be $125 million — will likely take a sizable drop which would directly impact the expected maximum salary contract Jayson Tatum is expected to sign with the Celtics during the offseason. 

A five-year max deal for Tatum with a salary cap of $125 million would pay him $181.25 million. If the salary cap came in at $120 million, a five-year deal for Tatum would be worth $174 million. 

With a new deal kicking in no sooner than the 2021-2022 season, Tatum’s salary combined with Jaylen Brown ($24.8 million) and Kemba Walker’s ($36.1 million) projected salaries for the ‘21-22 season would represent about 75 percent of the team’s salary cap. That leaves very little in terms of resources to fill out the remaining 10-plus roster spots. 

In the coming years, what we’re going to see from the Celtics is an effort to better utilize their draft picks, which are likely going to be selected near the bottom of the first round. 

Boston has three first-round picks this year with at least one or two likely to be draft-and-stash candidates. And for those who remain with the franchise after being drafted, plenty of time with Boston’s G League affiliate in Maine is likely. 

We saw signs of that this past season. 

Rookie Tremont Waters was selected with the 51st overall pick last year, and he was impressive during his time with Boston’s summer league team, playing well enough to earn a two-way contract. 

Waters was the G League’s Rookie of the Year, showing the kind of promise where there’s a very strong possibility he will be on the Celtics’ 15-man roster next season. 

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Tacko Fall went undrafted but ultimately wound up in Boston with a two-way contract as well. He was named to the G League’s All-Defensive Team, and like Waters, there’s optimism from within the organization that he too may carve out a spot on the team’s roster next season. 

Of the 15 players on Boston’s active roster this season, eight were drafted by Boston or acquired via trade on draft night.

And with big-money contracts for Tatum, Walker and Brown, the importance of Boston getting maximum bang for their buck with their picks becomes critical to them remaining among the better teams in the NBA. 

The No. 17 pick in last year’s draft made about $6 million guaranteed for the first two years in the NBA. The first two years for the No. 26 and No. 30 pick in last year’s draft, hauled in $4.1 million and $3 million respectively. 

“Draft picks, especially first-round ones, always are good to have,” an Eastern Conference executive told NBC Sports Boston. “But now … they become a bigger chip to have because teams know that filling out their roster now more than ever, means relying on rookies to come in and compete for playing time and contribute.”

Boston has used the draft to select and develop players, many of whom are among their more prominent players (Brown, Tatum, Marcus Smart to name a few) in the rotation. 

Their growth has allowed Boston to be one of the better teams in the NBA. But it has also created roster holes that Danny Ainge and company have worked diligently to fix. 

They have done it by adding free agents like Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis, who have come in and contributed sooner rather than later. But this team’s success going forward will hinge on how well Ainge can fortify the back end of the rotation with talent that, more likely than not, will come from the draft.

Celtics have entered the elite contender group chat

Celtics have entered the elite contender group chat

Well, hello there, Boston Celtics.

After seven inconsistent performances down in Orlando, the Celtics asserted themselves — and loudly, too — as a legitimate title contender with a dominant 122-100 thumping of the previously bubble unbeaten Toronto Raptors.

There is always a danger in overreacting to a single game but this was no fluke. The Celtics simply displayed their full potential and on both ends of the court.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Sunday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The ball whizzed around the floor with an extra focus on ball movement leading to 16 3-point makes. The Celtics shuffled their feet and guarded with purpose, limiting the Raptors to 57 points through three quarters while Boston’s lead ballooned as high as 40.

"This game will mean nothing if we,” see the Raptors again, Stevens cautioned after his team’s win. We’d counter that it probably would not have mattered if the Raptors were clicking on most of their cylinders because of the way the Celtics played for much of the night.

The Celtics put seven players in double figures and had an offensive rating north of 120 early in the fourth quarter before Stevens fetched the starters. That’s an absurd number when you consider the Raptors had limited teams to 96.1 points per 100 possessions through their first three seeding games.

While quality teams like the Lakers and Heat struggled to generate offense against Toronto, the Celtics made every extra pass, sprayed the ball around to open shooters, and knocked down open looks.

A Raptors team that has routinely challenged teams to shoot corner 3-pointers watched Boston scorch from that spot. Boston made a staggering 10 of 15 attempts from the corners, with everyone including big man Daniel Theis having success there.

"I think the biggest thing is that, when the ball doesn’t stick, we’re pretty good,” said Stevens. "We really had a large emphasis on that. Not only tonight but the other night as well. We gotta keep sharing it and keep making plays for others. Our players are really good, they’re going to draw a lot of help, when they do, it’s just a matter of making the right read and doing that over and over.”

Or as Jayson Tatum underscored it: "Guys got some easy, open looks and I think that opened the game up for us.”

As good as Boston’s offense was, the defense was even better. And considering the poor showing on that side of the ball to this point of bubble play, that was maybe even more encouraging than the offense.

Yes, the Raptors missed some shots but Boston didn’t give them much easy. Toronto mustered only 12 first-quarter points as the Celtics played with ratcheted-up defensive intensity throughout the first half.

Boston needs to bottle up this defense moving forward.

"I saw something, we were like the last team or one of the last teams in defense in the bubble, and that’s just kind of unacceptable for us with the elite defenders we have on this team and just collectively, our identity, who we want to be,” said Tatum.

"We have to take more pride in that. I think today was a good step in the right direction but we’ve got to continue to get back to who we are and guard how we normally do.”

Stevens tightened up his rotation but went back to second-year center Robert Williams as his first big off the bench. He was rewarded with 11 minutes, 27 seconds of solid play, with Williams putting up 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting with four rebounds. He was much more disciplined in his coverages and again offered hope that he can be a bit of an X-factor for the Celtics if needed in certain matchups.

Brad Wanamaker added 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting off the Boston bench as the team didn’t throttle down with reserves on the court. Heck, Marcus Smart was 1-of-8 shooting and STILL finished plus-19 in 24 minutes of action.

The Raptors had been the darling of NBA pundits in recent days. Their early bubble domination had prognosticators suggesting they might be more dangerous than Milwaukee, which isn’t an outrageous suggestion considering Toronto’s talent and the experience gained last season.

The Celtics sent notice to the league that they plan to be in that hunt for the East crown. Despite what Stevens suggested, shellacking the Raptors like that — and finishing 3-1 in the season series — has to help a little bit should these teams see each other again in the East semifinals.

The Celtics finally showed the type of team they can be. Now they must bottle it up and take it into the postseason. The Boston team we’d seen in early seeding games wasn’t consistent enough, or defensively stout enough, to hang around very long.

The team we saw Friday night absolutely can get comfy inside that bubble.

Celtics vs. Raptors Overreactions: C's defense is ready for the big stage

Celtics vs. Raptors Overreactions: C's defense is ready for the big stage

The Boston Celtics made a big-time statement on Friday night, dominating the Toronto Raptors in every facet of the game in their 122-100 victory.

Jaylen Brown led the C's with 20 points and Jayson Tatum chipped in with 18 of his own. Kemba Walker added 17 points and four assists in his 23 minutes.

Here are three instant overreactions to Boston's impressive performance, which brings its record to 46-23:

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Sunday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

1. Celtics have figured it out on defense.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

The 122-100 final score does not do the Celtics' defense justice. It was sensational in this game, and it proved the defense's performance vs. Brooklyn wasn't simply the result of playing against a bad team.

Boston's defense struggled through the first few games in the Orlando bubble, but the last couple of contests have shown what this unit is capable of come playoff time. After all, it's been one of the best defensive units in the league for the majority of the 2019-20 season.

The Celtics will need more defensive performances like this one down the stretch if they're to beat Toronto, Milwaukee, or Philadelphia in the postseason, and Friday night's game proved they're capable of making it happen.

2. Robert Williams is a game-changer.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

Am I aboard the Timelord hype train? You bet I am. And you should be too.

It didn't quite match his enormous night vs. the Nets, but Robert Williams still made his presence felt vs. Toronto. The second-year big man had 10 points and four rebounds in 11 minutes while contributing to the Celtics' lockdown defensive effort.

It's time to get Timelord into the rotation on a more consistent basis.

3. Celtics proved they can beat Raptors in a playoff series.

Verdict: Overreaction

This was an extremely encouraging all-around performance from the Celtics. C's fans should be confident going toe-to-toe with anyone come playoff time, and that includes the Raptors.

But as great as this win was, Boston can't get complacent. Toronto remains one of the scariest potential playoff matchups with their lockdown defense. It wasn't on display in this game, but it will be if these two teams meet up for a seven-game set.

Be inspired by what you saw from the C's on Friday night, but don't expect the same kind of dominance if/when these teams face off again. The tables can turn in a heartbeat.