THE DRAFT? DANNY AINGE
INSISTS IT’S OVERHYPED
by BERT A. RAMIREZ
Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, keeps insisting that the 2014 draft is overrated, that it is overhyped and that it does not have a game changer in the mold of a LeBron James or a Kevin Durant.
Is Ainge serious, or is he just saying things to mislead those whom he might later have to deal with? You see, a good NBA executive is not supposed to show his hand, and that whenever he speaks of a player, or a prospect in this case, he is supposed to keep his cards close to his chest so that fellow executives will not be able to decipher him and it would make it harder for them to determine how much he likes a certain prospect or player, thus throwing them off if they have to deal with him.
“I’ve been saying all along that the experts on ESPN and so forth are blowing this draft out of proportion. First of all, we don’t know who’s in the draft yet,” Ainge says. “There are a lot of underclassmen that are projected, so we’re prepared for those underclassmen that are projected draft picks but we don’t know who’s going to be in the draft. There aren’t any game changers in the draft. There are a lot of nice players and players that we’ll be excited to work into the development, but they’re not going to come in and turn our team around in one year or two years. But hopefully we’ll be able to get a couple of players this year that will be rotation players in the NBA for years to come.”
Of course, Danny is correct when he says nobody knows who’ll actually be in the draft considering the number of underclassmen – on whom much of the quality of this year’s draft class is being pinned – that’s not even decided whether to enter the draft or not. (College underclassmen and international players who don’t turn 22 this year have until April 27 to declare themselves eligible for the June 26 draft.) When he says there aren’t any game changers in the draft, he’s also correct since the troika of Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker, who are almost unanimously being penciled in as the top three picks by most draft boards, are just freshmen, and they’re not expected to lead any NBA team to the promised land in their first or second year in the league.
But, and this is a big but, Embiid, Parker and Wiggins represent some of the most gifted youngsters to come out of the woodwork in the past 10 years, and I doubt if that is lost on Ainge.
Embiid, for example, has been reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski to have decided to enter the NBA draft, with the 20-year-old Cameroonian now in the process of selecting an agent before a formal announcement is made.
While Embiid’s season ended prematurely after suffering a stress fracture in his lower back, accounting for Wiggins’ and the Kansas Jayhawks’ early exit in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, he is expected to recover fully from that injury and become one of the top defensive big men in the pros.
Ainge himself has said that the primary need of the Celtics is a rim protector, and Embiid, a former volleyball player who averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.57 blocks in just 23.1 minutes as a freshman, is already regarded as the top defensive big man in the country while displaying moves associated only with such greats as Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan. And this despite having learned how to play the game only as a 16-year-old at one of former Milwaukee forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s basketball camps in Cameroon before transferring to the Rock School, a Christian academy in Gainesville, Florida that he led to its first state title in school history after he quickly became one of the highly-rated schoolboy stars in the country.
“Embiid has excellent NBA center size (seven feet, 7-5 wingspan, 250 pounds with room to grow) and athleticism,” NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin says of the big man. “He is already a good rim protector and rebounder because of his size and mobility, but he has the potential to be a defensive force in the paint, he can run the floor, and while he is still raw on offense he has shown growth and has a drop step, jump hook and some other moves that take advantage of his mobility. He has a lot of potential, it’s just a question of how much of it he can fulfill.”
Meanwhile, Embiid’s teammate at Kansas, Wiggins, has consistently said he’ll only play one year in college and is likewise expected to come out and apply for the draft this year. The 19-year-old Wiggins – the most highly-regarded high-schooler in 2013 whose father Mitchell started for Houston when the Rockets lost in the NBA finals to Boston in 1986 – has the biggest upside among his contemporaries, and that includes Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Embiid himself.
“I think Wiggins has the most upside of any player in the draft. His physical gifts are unteachable. His defensive potential is off the charts and while his offense still needs polish, all of the weaknesses in his game are fixable,” ESPN’s draft specialist Chad Ford says of the 6-8, 200-pound forward, who as a freshman averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists. “I’ve been using the comp of a young Paul George all season. Wiggins has all of the tools NBA scouts look for in an elite prospect. He possesses extraordinary athletic abilities. Wiggins will come into the league and be a top five percent athlete. He’s an explosive leaper, has an amazingly quick second jump, has speed and superb lateral quickness. The NBA is loaded with great athletes and few could hold up to Wiggins. Wiggins also is an incredibly fluid player. The game is effortless to him. Whether he’s playing offense or defense, he can make unique plays without breaking a sweat.
“As a defender, Wiggins is already one of the best in college basketball. He uses his length (a seven-foot wingspan) and quickness to lock down opposing players. It’s rare to see a college freshman get the nod from his coach to guard the other team’s most potent offensive threat. Time and time again Wiggins has completely shut them down.”
Parker, the third in the Holy Trinity of a supposed overhyped draft class, has not committed for the draft mainly because his Duke Blue Devils team lost in an upset to Mercer in the first round, but most people believe he will eventually get around it and declare himself available. Reputed to be the most NBA-ready player in his class, the 19-year-old Parker will give any NBA team that gets its hands on him reason to celebrate on sheer talent and potential alone, despite a known weakness on the defensive side of the ball and a bad game in that loss to Mercer, where he shot just 4-of-14 from the floor while scoring 14 points and grabbing seven rebounds, both under his season norms.
“NBA scouts aren’t stupid,” USA Today’s Sean Highkin says of Parker. “Ten years ago, one bad game in the tournament may have sunk Parker’s draft stock, but with so many more resources available in 2014, teams will look at his entire body of work in his freshman season at Duke. He averaged 19.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 47 percent shooting for a team that went 26-9. Teams will see that he’s a gifted scorer with an NBA-ready (6-8, 235 pounds) body. Parker may not be the No. 1 overall pick, but he may not have been anyway. For most of the season, it’s been a three-man race between him and Kansas freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. There’s no clear frontrunner and there probably won’t be by June.”
Now, Ainge may be aware of all this and more, but as we said, he won’t show his hand, and that’s just well and good, particularly because there are other talents in this year’s draft class – assuming again that the touted underclassmen do come out – that are bound to make the field beyond the top three a really loaded bunch. These include Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year T.J. Warren of North Carolina State and Tyler Ennis of Syracuse who have announced their intentions to join the draft, consensus College Player of the Year Doug McDermott of Creighton, the nation’s leading scorer and fifth all-time scoring leader who is one of the rare senior standouts, Randle of Kentucky and Gordon of Arizona for whom the Celtics are said to have an affinity (whatever that means), Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, and Australian prodigy Dante Exum.
While Danny says the Celtics are looking for just “the best players” regardless of position in the June draft, that is, after hopefully having filled the need for a defensive post player who can protect the rim, the Celts’ preparations not only cover the draft but also free agency, consistent with Ainge’s avowed philosophy of utilizing the “three Ds” in building the team.
“Once our season ends, the trading period opens up again,” Ainge says. “The three D’s – development, deals and draft – are how we build our team.”
The draft, of course, represents the first step, and if the Celtics break the jinx and win one of the top three lottery spots at least, maybe, Danny will finally relent and say the 2014 draft is not that overhyped after all.
Draft order. If the draft were held today, March 27 (March 28 in Manila), hereunder is the drafting order in the first round for all NBA teams, including those who have given away their first-round picks this year.
- Milwaukee, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Orlando, 4. Utah, 5. Boston, 6. LA Lakers, 7. Sacramento, 8. Detroit, 9. Cleveland, 10. Denver (from New York in Carmelo Anthony trade), 11. Philadelphia (from New Orleans in trade involving Jrue Holiday and the rights to Nerlens Noel), 12. Orlando (from Denver in four-team trade with Denver, LA Lakers and New York involving Dwight Howard and other players), 13. Minnesota, 14. Oklahoma City (from Houston through LA Lakers and Dallas in trades involving James Harden, Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom); 15. Atlanta, 16. Chicago (from Charlotte in Tyrus Thomas trade), 17. Phoenix (from Washington in Marcin Gortat-Emeka Okafor trade), 18. Boston (from Brooklyn through Atlanta in trades involving Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson), 19. Chicago, 20. Toronto, 21. Phoenix, 22. Memphis, 23. Utah (from Golden State in three-team trade involving Randy Foye, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins), 24. Charlotte (from Portland in Gerald Wallace trade), 25. Miami, 26. Houston, 27. LA Clippers, 28. Phoenix (from Indiana in Luis Scola-Gerald Green trade), 29. Oklahoma City, 30. San Antonio.
Phoenix has three first-round picks, the most among the 30 teams, Philadelphia and Orlando each has two, both of which are in the lottery or top 14, and Utah, Boston, Chicago and Oklahoma City also have two each. Eight teams – New York, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Washington, Dallas, Portland, Indiana and Golden State – have no first-round picks due to earlier trades.