Ping pong balls in NBA Draft Lottery could dictate Celtics' summer

Ping pong balls in NBA Draft Lottery could dictate Celtics' summer

The Boston Celtics are no longer solely reliant on ping pong balls to dictate their future, but Tuesday night’s draft lottery could go a long way towards determining exactly how their summer will play out and how their roster might look next season.

There is potential for an unexpected boon, or a stunning stomach punch. The Celtics are in such a unique position that they are actively rooting against immediately acquiring a fourth first-round pick, one that would almost certainly be a top-10 selection.

Beyond their own selections, where the No. 1 pick lands could dictate, in part, whether Kyrie Irving comes back, or if another team can launch into the Anthony Davis sweepstakes.

The Celtics already know they will have picks Nos. 20 (via the Clippers) and 22 (their own). A look at how Tuesday night’s lottery impacts the other two picks in play:


Current slot: 14 … Chance at top 4: 4.8% … Chance at No. 1: 1.0%

The Celtics landed this pick from Philadelphia as part of the 2017 swap in which Boston dealt the No. 1 overall pick (later used on Markelle Fultz) for the No. 3 pick (Jayson Tatum) and the Kings’ 2019 first-round pick (top-1 protected).

Given the Kings’ seemingly perpetual rebuilding process, this seemed like a boon for Boston. Just look at Sacramento’s initial first-round draft location over the past decade (starting in 2009): 4, 5, 7, 5, 7, 8, 6, 8, 5, 2.

But then a (not-so?) funny thing happened. The Kings were good this season. They were young and entertaining. They almost snagged a playoff spot. They were, essentially, the best of the worst and slotted with the lowest lottery odds.

This is good and bad. Sacramento’s pick has just a one percent chance of vaulting to No. 1, in which case Philadelphia would retain it and instead deliver to Boston the Sixers’ own first-round pick (No. 24 overall).

Boston is hoping, though, to catch a little lottery luck with the 3.8 percent chance that Sacramento’s pick jumps to spots Nos. 2, 3, or 4.

What you’re watching for: When they start opening envelopes on Tuesday night, if the Kings (or Celtics, if they go that route) aren’t the first logo revealed, then the next 15 minutes or so will be filled with incredible anxiety as Celtics fans wonder where exactly that pick will slot in the Top 4.


Current slot: 8 … Chance at top 8: 57.4% … Chance at 9+: 42.6%

The Celtics landed this pick from Memphis as part of a three-team swap in 2015 involving Jeff Green. It might be Green’s only chance of being remembered fondly by Celtics fans (if only because he had the misfortune of being part of the deal that sent out the much-beloved Kendrick Perkins).

While a top-10 pick is nothing to sneeze at, the Celtics would much prefer this pick stick with Memphis this season. Not only do the Celtics already have three-first-round picks in hand — albeit, none as glitzy as the top-10 that Memphis could deliver — the Memphis pick’s protections loosen moving forward and could be an even glitzier asset moving forward.

There is some risk in that, however (see also: 2019 Kings pick). Still, with Memphis likely to be in rebuild mode for a bit, the pick might be more valuable to Boston in 2020 (top 6 protected) or 2021 (unprotected). 

What you’re watching for: If any of the six teams currently slotted behind Memphis vault into the top 4, then Boston will collect that pick as the Grizzlies will slip to 9 (or worse). Of course, if Kings vault to spots 2, 3, or 4, Boston fans can live with the early arrival of the Memphis pick as collateral damage.

Why would it help Boston if the Grizzlies pick didn't convey this season? That Memphis pick might be Boston’s glitziest non-player trade asset and could be a key piece in pursuing a known commodity (Davis or otherwise). The biggest fear would be that, should Boston collect the pick, and not find a way to move it before draft night, the team would have to draft another young player and that makes it slightly more difficult to complete a deal this summer (when the receiving team might not be as high on that player).


So how exactly will Tuesday’s lottery play out? You can get an idea of the possibilities by trying our 2019 NBA Draft lottery simulator… 

The Jackpot Scenario for the Celtics would involve vaulting to No. 2 with the Kings pick and having the Memphis pick leap somewhere in the top 4 as well. The odds of this happening are incredibly low, but, hey, it came up on one of our handful of spins on the simulator …

In this scenario, the Celtics would vault to No. 2, but the Grizzlies would vault as well, keeping their pick. New Orleans is the third team to vault, putting them in position to select a quality young player and maybe even more motivated to move Davis and go young. Even better, the Knicks slide to No. 5 and can’t add the sort of impact draft talent or make the big-splash move that might further entice Irving to consider them in free agency.

On the flip side, there is a Doomsday Scenario … 

Philadelphia, with just that 1 percent chance to vault to No. 1, connects on the Hail Mary and is able to add Zion Williamson to the core of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, making the Sixers a potential Eastern Conference wrecking ball for the foreseeable future.

What’s more, that Philly vault would force the Grizzlies’ pick to convey. Boston would be left with four first-round picks, but three of which are in spots Nos. 20-24.


Given the hype surrounding Williamson, the No. 1 pick is particularly valuable this season, either with the ability to build around him or trade that pick for more surefire talent. 

The Knicks, Cavaliers, and Suns have the best odds (14%) of landing in that spot. New York might be the worst possible option for Boston. That would leave the Knicks with a glitzy asset that could either be kept and used to entice someone like Irving to play alongside Williamson, or dealt as the centerpiece of a deal to acquire someone like Davis. Phoenix, too, with its recent collection of lottery talent and a high pick could potentially inject itself into the Davis conversation.

Even a Hawks vault makes things a bit more interesting in the East, particularly since Atlanta stands to collect a top-10 pick if Dallas doesn’t vault into the top 5. The Hawks would have a Williamson/Trae Young/Top-10 pick to build upon and could be a force down the road.

The new lottery odds and ability for teams to vault to Spots 1-4 instead of top 3 adds a new layer of intrigue to this year’s event, as do all the pick protections this year.

And the Celtics and their uncertain summer will be at the center of it all.

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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:

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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.