Going into the 2019-20 NBA season, many were unsure of what to expect from the Boston Celtics. Following the departure of Kyrie Irving after a two-year stay with the Shamrocks that was — tumultuous to say the least — general manager Danny Ainge went out and signed former Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker to a four-year max contract.
After putting pen to paper with Walker, the Celtics have very little wiggle room in terms of cap space. Assuming Gordon Hayward picks up his player-friendly option, the Celtics will have $135 million of guaranteed money to dish out. Needless to say, free agency is not an option to push this team to the level of the mighty Milwaukee Bucks.
All in all, the starting lineup of this team has only a few holes to plug, and none of them are glaring needs. There’s three-point shooting aplenty from Walker to Jaylen Brown to Jayson Tatum. Walker and Tatum are feared rim finishers, and often draw multiple defenders, leaving capable shooters like Brown with open looks on the perimeter. Defensive specialists, such as guard Marcus Smart, mustn’t be overlooked, either.
One relative weakness is size on both ends. Enes Kanter is 6 feet 10 inches tall, and Daniel Theis and Tatum are both 6 feet 8 inches tall. The Celtics are ranked 14th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, 15th for points in the paint, and only 21st in two-point field-goal percentage, which is even scarier considering that Kanter may be out the door this offseason by exercising his player option to become an unrestricted free agent. A post scorer that can fill the potential void that Kanter’s absence creates would be ideal.
Additionally, the Celtics ranked 25th in the league in assists, not so much because they lack dynamic passers, but because their bench is composed of mostly defensive-oriented players, such as Smart and Grant Williams. The Shamrocks lack a difference-maker off the bench; 30-year-old Bill Wanamaker is not the answer, and rookies Carsen Edwards and Romeo Langford have yet to prove that they can be relied upon for a scoring spark. Having firepower off the bench, and depth when needed due to injury, would make the Celtics a far more complete team.
With the 17th, 26th and 30th pick in the first round, here’s who the Celtics may be looking at in this year’s draft.
Kira Lewis, PG, Alabama
Projected Draft Range: 10-25
Lewis, currently ranked tenth overall on the latest Hoops Prospects Draft Board, is an explosive guard, who can shoot off the dribble and penetrate the paint with ease. He can either step back and drain a three, or drive to the rim and finish, and good luck guessing which one he’s about to use on you. You don’t have long to decide either, because he’ll be gone in a flash. Lewis ranked at the 79th percentile for points per possession (PPP) in transition and on jump shots off the dribble, and he showed that he can play off the ball by ranking at the 89th percentile on catch-and-shoot jumpers. Lewis is also a dynamic playmaker (5.2 assists per game), who, at age 19, can be a contributor right away off the bench.
Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL
Projected Draft Range: 10-25
This year’s guard-rich class presents the opportunity to bolster the Celtics’ depth. No one from the Boston bench whose name isn’t Marcus Smart — who technically comes off the bench but plays 32.5 minutes per game — averages more than one three-point attempt per game. Edwards, next in line in terms of a point guard, can be an efficient scorer, but his talent is mostly limited to his shooting and not playmaking ability. Maledon can fill both those needs. The Frenchman, who just turned 19 years old, has shown flashes of being a star floor general. Although shoulder injuries plagued him this past season in Europe, he managed to shoot 33.3 percent from beyond the arc while displaying strong court vision and unselfish ball movement (assist-turnover ratio of 1.7). He has all the tools — from his athleticism, to his footwork and his length — to be a productive guard in the NBA.
Precious Achiuwa, PF, Memphis
Projected Draft Range: 15-30
Achiuwa may be the Celtics’ best bet in terms of size, physicality, defensive versatility, and offensive upside. He made 32.5 percent of his treys and had a 23.9 player efficiency rating (PER) in his lone year with the Tigers. He also came down with 334 rebounds, good for 15th best on the NCAA leaderboards, and featuring a 7-foot-2 wingspan, he blocked 1.9 shots per game. Additionally, his defensive rating was second-best in the country. Should the Celtics elect not to pick a purely offensive or defensive specialist, the 6-foot-9 product could be a steal.
Aleksej Pokusevski, PF, Olympiacos B
Projected Draft Range: 15-30
Pokusevski, who is only 18 years old, is a skilled 7-footer. Although he played in only 12 games this past season (11 in the Greek second division and one in EuroLeague), he showed strong offensive talent. He handles and shoots the ball like a small forward. As a jumper shooter off the dribble this season, he ranked at the 72nd percentile for PPP among international players, which is impressive for a prospect his size. His skills could give the Celtics exactly what they want in a bench player. He could provide some sorely-needed shooting and size at the same time. His defensive package will need some fine-tuning, but there’s always potential to be found in a guy with a 7-foot-3-inch wingspan, ball skills and shooting touch. He’s at least worth a flier for Boston, who have first-round picks to burn.
Isaiah Stewart, C, Washington
Projected Draft Range: 20-30
After an impressive freshman season Washington, Stewart might fit the bill for the Celtics at center. There aren’t a ton of two-way gifted bigs in the draft this year, and Stewart has the potential to be just that. He has the strength, nifty footwork and the spatial and ball awareness needed to maneuver around or power through defenders in the paint. His crown as the PAC-12 rebounding king (281 total, 8.8 per game), 2.1 blocks per game, and a block percentage of 7.0 attest to his strength and length (7-foot-4 wingspan). Since he was used to mainly as a post player on both offense and defense at Washington, it may take some time for him to adjust to the NBA, but time is no issue, as he’s barely 19 years old. Stewart is a promising prospect, with a relatively high floor due to his talents as a rebounder, a shot blocker, and a post scorer.
Jalen Smith, PF, Maryland
Projected Draft Range: 15-35
Smith stands at 6 feet 10 inches, and he plays even bigger. He’s a huge rim presence, averaging 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game and accumulating 2.4 defensive win shares this season, second in the Big Ten only to a player to be named later. However, the reason he’s more coveted is his versatility. His defensive numbers are mostly comparable to Player X, but his offensive stats are noticeably higher. Smith averaged 15.5 points per game and had a true shooting percentage of 62.6 percent. His plus/minus rating of 12.0, fourth best in the entire country in that category, shows that Smith can be a valuable asset on both ends of the court while providing the size that Boston needs.
Xavier Tillman, PF, Michigan State
Projected Draft Range: 25-40
Player X is revealed. At 21 years old, Tillman may have a shorter NBA shelf life than his peers, but in order to compete with the Eastern Conference elite, the Celtics need a few big defenders with mobility. Tillman averaged 2.6 blocks per game and had a defensive rebounding percentage of 24 percent, which was fifth in the Big 10 and registered him at the 96.9 percentile in the NCAA. He easily locked down the Big Ten Defensive POY, and he’s not incapable on offense either, as his 59.3 percent true shooting percentage shows. Assuming that Kanter leaves this offseason, Tillman can also take his place as the pick-and-roll man, as he scored at the 83rd percentile in points per possession when rolling off the pick. His 7-foot-1-inch wingspan and his elite defensive prowess put him in position to, at the very least, slow down the big men in the East that everyone has trouble dealing with.
Vernon Carey, C, Duke
Projected Draft Range: 25-40
An offensive-minded big, Carey is a 6-foot-10-inch center with as much brute strength in the paint as you’ll find this year. He averaged 17.8 points per game, ranked third in the NCAA with 34.1 PER, and led the ACC in both field-goal percentage (57.7) and offensive wins shares (3.6). Adding Carey’s size and strength to the Celtics would help theoretically, although most of his college production came from post-up plays. In an NBA, where those plays are used less and less, that is a big concern. On the bright side, Carey did flash some promise as a spot-up shooter (38% from deep on limited attempts), and he was fouled the 10th-most times in the NCAA, converting free throws at a 67-percent clip. The Celtics, who only ranked 18th in the NBA in free throw attempts, could use a body like his to draw fouls from the opposition’s big paint defenders.
Jaden McDaniels, F, Washington
Projected Draft Range: 20-45
McDaniels is a low floor, high ceiling prospect. Six-foot-ten players with his type athleticism and skill aren’t dime-a-dozen. However, he never seemed to be functioning at his full capacity with the Huskies. McDaniels had the fifth most blocks in the PAC-12 and reeled in 5.8 rebounds per game while also scoring 13 points per night. He was at his best when catching and shooting, but was plagued by turnovers, fouls, and bad decisions. He has more potential than his stats show, so taking McDaniels would be a swing-for-the-fences deal for the Celtics.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our reports mainly come from Synergy Sports Technology and RealGM.com, and occasionally from Sports-Reference.com. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source.