Raptors' unconventional roster a blueprint for Celtics heading into next month's draft

Raptors' unconventional roster a blueprint for Celtics heading into next month's draft

BOSTON -- Kawhi Leonard was the 15th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Kyle Lowry came into the league as the 24th overall selection back in 2006. 

As you go up and down the Toronto Raptors roster, there’s a clear and undeniable theme that develops. None of their players were among the most highly sought-after when they came into the NBA. 

And that includes players not only drafted by the franchise, but also those they acquired via trade or free agency. 

It has been among the more unexpected and unlikely formulas for success that you will find in the NBA, a formula that will be put to the ultimate test on Thursday night in Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Raptors and the heavily favored, two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. 

Toronto’s roster construction is indeed a polar opposite of Golden State, which fields a team consisting of 10 first-rounders (seven lottery picks), a trio of second-rounders and just two undrafted players, along with two others on the roster by way of two-way contracts. 

Meanwhile, the Raptors have a roster that doesn’t have a single lottery pick (top-14).

Even more shocking is that Toronto has just as many first-round picks (five) as they do second-rounders (five), which also equals the number of undrafted players on the roster. 

Finding that kind of success in the latter stages of the first round is among the reasons why the Celtics, owners of a trio of first-round picks (No. 14, 20 and 22) and one in the latter stages of the second (No. 51), are hopeful that they too can strike it big on draft night June 20 with a not-so-early first round selection.

And while both Toronto and Golden State have found success differently, the way Boston’s roster was constructed this past season draws more of a resemblance to the Warriors.

The 2018-19 Celtics had a roster that consisted of 11 players selected in the first round, which included seven (top-14) lottery picks. 

And with Boston getting a top-six protected pick from Memphis conveying next year, the Celtics will continue their trend of having multiple first-round picks. 

“It’s always good to have first round picks but it’s better to have them in multiple years than to have them all in one year,” Austin Ainge, Boston’s director of player personnel, told NBC Sports Boston. “We are excited about this draft.”

Aside from the expected top three picks - Zion Williamson of Duke, Ja Morant of Murray State and R.J. Barrett of Duke - there’s no consensus on who the next best draft prospects are going to be. 

That’s something that bodes well for a team such as the Celtics, who are in position to potentially select a player at No. 14, No. 20 or 22 who may turn out to become the best player in this draft class. 

Leonard is a great example.

Selected by Indiana with the 15th overall pick in 2011, Leonard was traded on draft night to San Antonio for a package that included George Hill.

Leonard has developed into one of the most complete players in the NBA and has arguably been the most impressive performer thus far in this postseason. 
There’s no way of knowing if this year’s draft has a similar diamond in the rough in the middle of the first round or in its latter stages. 

Still, as the Celtics continue to work out different players and evaluate their options through the draft, they do so knowing that the building blocks they are looking to add for another run at a title may indeed be there for the taking with their current crop of draft picks that as we see play out in Toronto, could be the missing ingredients to a title-contending roster. 

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Celtics learn something while caught in the crunch

Celtics learn something while caught in the crunch

The Boston Celtics really should not have needed overtime to edge a shorthanded Orlando Magic team in a rather meaningless seeding game on Sunday night. But the fact that Boston had to scrap its way to a very ugly win wasn’t such a bad thing.

Because of Kemba Walker’s minute restrictions, the team’s preferred starting 5 — Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Daniel Theis — hadn't gained much crunch-time experience together inside the bubble. But in need of a rally, Celtics coach Brad Stevens went with his first 5 for the last five minutes of regulation and was rewarded with a feverish final-minute rally that helped Boston escape with a 122-119 triumph.

The key sequence came with 38 seconds left, and Boston still down 5, when, after Brown missed a 3-pointer, a crashing Walker leaped between two white jerseys and deflected the ball back out to Tatum for a second-chance triple.

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A Daniel Theis block at the other end set up Tatum’s baseline spin move in which he shook fellow 2017 first-round pick Markelle Fultz and tied the game with 3.8 seconds to play. And, as if he hadn’t done enough in crunch time, Tatum blocked Terrence Ross’ last-gasp 3-point attempt to ensure an extra session.

"You’d never want to script it that way but it wasn’t at all bad to be down 5 [late in regulation] just to have to find a way in that moment, have to get stops, have to put our defense in a situation where we had to get a stop to go to overtime, had to get a bucket right before that,” said Stevens.

"It’s not all bad but there’s a lot that led up to that that we didn’t like as well that we’ll go back and look at to make sure we’re better.”

Boston’s starters, who played just 188 minutes together in 17 games before the season paused, have now logged 63 minutes together in Orlando. They’ve actually performed even better than the regular season with their net rating jumping from plus-12.5 to plus-13.1.

While the offense hasn’t been as crisp, Boston’s first-unit defense has been elite while limiting opponents to 94.6 points per 100 possession inside the bubble.

With Walker at his minutes limit after the fourth quarter, Stevens wasn’t able to trot that starter group out for even more time in the extra session. Instead, he simply swapped in Marcus Smart and the Celtics stiff-armed the Magic late to emerge with the victory.

From Walker making the hustle play to give his team a shot late, to Tatum thriving in the late-game spotlight, there’s a lot Boston can take into the postseason.

Boston’s playoff spot is already locked up with the team ensured the No. 3 seed. The Celtics’ final three seeding games, including Sunday’s dance with the Magic, are largely perfunctory. But Stevens stressed the importance of conditioning given that the playoffs won’t start for eight more days, and the situational work Sunday could aid this team when things are invariably tense in the postseason.

Hayward (31 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block) turned in his best game of the bubble (and maybe in a Celtics uniform); Robert Williams continues to look like someone Stevens can lean on in small doses of minutes; Tatum and Brown had really good moments at various points Sunday; and the team overcame a rare Walker dud to find a way to win (Walker more than redeeming himself with the late-game tip-out to Tatum).

The Celtics probably wouldn’t have plucked much from a breezy, lopsided win. Having to tough out a victory, even if it was avoidable, might have maximized the value of Sunday’s tilt.

Boston must wait to see who emerges as the sixth seed in the East. Philadelphia was at nearly 55 percent to finish 6th, based on projections from ESPN’s Basketball Power Index entering Sunday’s action. And that probability will almost certainly jump up a bit because it was before the Sixers’ lost to Portland.

Right now Boston’s focus has to simply be on keeping everyone healthy and restoring the starters' confidence before the playoffs arrive. The starting 5 finally got some crunch-time tests. Hey, better late than never.

And Sunday’s finish couldn’t have been better for Boston.

Celtics' Jaylen Brown shares thoughtful messages about police brutality, mental health

Celtics' Jaylen Brown shares thoughtful messages about police brutality, mental health

Jaylen Brown continues to use his platform to share inspiring and thoughtful messages about important issues beyond just basketball.

Following the Boston Celtics' win over the Orlando Magic on Sunday, Brown took time during his postgame press conference to discuss the ongoing social injustices in the country as well as the issue of mental health.

After mentioning the tragic, senseless deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers, Brown explained his position on the issue.

"I'm aware that some Americans have the birthright and the privilege to see police officers as protectors or maybe even peacekeepers, or even embrace heroism," Brown said. "Unfortunately, I'm not from that side of America. I'm from the other side where people are in fear or in terror of the police where you can be killed in your own backyard by reaching for your wallet. Your parents have to teach you certain behaviors because they're in fear that if you run into the police, you might not come home.

"And I'm aware that without being drafted by the Celtics, without being in the place I am now, that I would still be on that other side of America. So I want to take a look at the term 'police brutality' and maybe offer another term as 'domestic terrorism.' Because that's what it was in the eyes of George Floyd, and that's what it was in the eyes of Trayvon Martin, and that's what it is in the eyes of a lot of people in color in minority communities. I'll be posting an article on my social for guys to learn and tune in more, but thank you guys for listening."

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Brown then shifted to a discussion about mental health, which was equally inspiring and even had some comic relief as he took a jab at Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell in the process.

"I also want to bring attention to mental health, and awareness. Being here in this bubble, I guess people might not speak on it but it is a challenge to a lot of guys," Brown said. "It's like you're at work all the time. Like, a lot of time a lot of guys when they get done playing basketball, they want to be able to leave and forget about basketball for a little bit. It's impossible here in the bubble. You go out and chill, you might see Donovan Mitchell sitting there and you're like, 'Man I don't want to see him right now.' But it kind of is what it is.

"I definitely want to bring awareness to mental health, anxiety, and forms of depression in times like this and places like this in the bubble. Our athletes probably struggle with that and don't feel confident enough to speak openly about it. So being able to talk to somebody, being able to find ways to replace those tires is conversations that need to be had ... It's tough being away from our family and being isolated from the rest of society.

Former Celtic Kendrick Perkins came away impressed with what he heard from Brown, and it isn't difficult to see why.

You can hear the entirety of Brown's important message in the video above.