Coming into this year, Danny Ainge made repeated claims that this draft is being regarded far more kindly than it should be. The Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations said that he doesn’t think anyone in this draft is a franchise changer and he has adamantly stood by that statement.
So he must be pleasantly surprised that his franchise just managed to change itself through the draft.
A few years ago, the Celtics were one of the top teams in the East. In fact, they’ve been one of the top teams in the NBA for just about as long as I can remember, with the exception of a couple years in the mid-2000s. Unfortunately, when a group of veteran players leave, and the one star player left in town gets hurt, there probably isn’t much hope for the team.
Their 25-57 record in 2013-14 meant that they were in a prime position to add some major talent in this draft. And add some major talent they did. Boston took Marcus Smart with the sixth pick in the draft and James Young with the 17th pick. Smart was regarded by some to be the best point guard on the board this year and I think few will be surprised if Young ends up being regarded as the steal of 2014.
But what does this mean for the future of the franchise?
Drafting Smart obviously has many murmuring about Rajon Rondo being traded. Rondo is the only all-star the team currently has, and it isn’t as if there weren’t quality forwards on the board when the sixth pick rolled around. What some fans seem to be forgetting is that a lottery pick doesn’t necessarily have to start from day one. Perhaps the Celtics were determined to have two players who could make some noise at the point, meaning 48 minutes of quality play per night.
And that might be where Ainge’s mindset comes in handy. If he truly believes that there isn’t any player in this draft who can change a franchise, then there’s no reason why he would try to draft a player who can immediately start and contend for Rookie of the Year honors. Instead, he wanted to take the best player available. A fiery player who could fit into the Boston mentality and become a fan favorite. A player who could give Rondo some cushion, and more importantly, the team some cushion for when Rondo’s time in Beantown comes to an end.
With all the great point guards in this draft, I won’t try to say where Smart ranks. It’s likely that no one will really be able to say who the cream of the crop is for at least three or four years. What I will say is that Smart was one of the most physical, energetic players in the NCAA last season. He’s be a spark for a Boston team that had nothing lighting them up last season.
In terms of Young, I can’t believe that he was still left at 17, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. The 18-year-old put up solid stats at Kentucky last season, including 14.3 points per game, but he was also on one of the most loaded teams in the NCAA. That meant he was sharing shots with a bunch of quality players. Stick him on a less talented team and he was going to average over 20 points a game without a drastic drop in percentages.
Boston’s offense was atrocious last season. They were 26th in the league in points per game and were 27th in 3-point percentage.1 In case the numbers aren’t speaking for themselves, that’s a pair of absolutely woeful numbers. They can work for a team like Chicago, who countered a complete lack of offense with the most stifling defense in the league, but Boston gave up over 100 points per game. The result was obviously a lot of losses. Adding a player like Young, a tall guard with a pure shot and a tall release, means that the offense is instantly going to be better. When moving from the NCAA to the NBA, defenses get tighter, the game gets quicker, but the hoop doesn’t get smaller. Rondo is going to get Young space, Young is going to take full advantage of it.
Of course, everyone other than Ainge could be completely wrong. When all is said and done, the 2014 draft could be no better than the 2000 draft. (The best player from that year is likely Kenyon Martin. By far.) But in the meantime, I’m actually looking forward to watching these rookies play for Boston, which may be the first time in my life that I want to watch the Celtics play for a reason other than to root against them.