COMMENTARY | After a roller coaster year, the Boston Celtics have nothing to look forward to but the future.
President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge must decide if he wants to buy Paul Pierce’s contract out for $5 million. The organization needs to think long and hard about Kevin Garnett. And of course, the Celtics will have to focus their efforts on solidifying a top prospect with their first round pick in the 2013 NBA draft.
Along with many encouraging signs, this season has also exposed a plethora of flaws in the Celtics roster. As always, the center position seemed to highlight those issues. Garnett was called upon to anchor the defense, and at 37 years old, he somehow ended the season as the only hope on the rebounding front.
Similar issues occurred at the point guard position. After Rajon Rondo partially tore his ACL in January, Leandro Barbosa was the only true point guard on the roster. When Barbosa went down with a similar ACL injury, the Celts were left with a batch of two-guards posing as floor generals.
Despite some tumultuous times, the latter half of the season showed that the future remains bright for Boston. Jeff Green proved his worth as the small forward Ainge always thought he could be. Avery Bradley, save for a postseason largely devoid of impact, picked up where he left off last season on defense, while also improving his scoring ability.
And Jared Sullinger’s healthy return in 2013-14 should be almost as comforting as the concept of Rondo’s resurgence. The power forward exhibited great promise on the boards offensively and defensively, and even flashed some scoring skills on the low block.
However, the fact remains that Boston needs help with their 16th pick. Sources close to Pierce say the Game 6 quarterfinals loss against the New York Knicks was his last game as a Celtic, leaving potential holes at small forward. Garnett cannot be expected to solely man the interior at 37 years of age. Rondo cannot be the only player who knows how to log four assists without turning the ball over twice.
The following prospects highlight the Boston Celtics’ best options in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Jeff Withey, C, Kansas Jayhawks
One of the best options for the middle of the first round seems to be Kansas big man Jeff Withey. The 6’11”, 240-pound center provides good defense, having registered nearly four blocks per game in his senior year. He also offers instinctive rebounding, with 8.5 boards per contest.
The long-armed Jayhawk defends well on the low block as well as off the dribble, showing good footwork for a big guy. He still leaves a lot to be desired offensively, but his intelligence and ability to catch passes in traffic make him an ideal fit for a Rondo offense.
Withey’s size and defensive prowess would give coach Doc Rivers options for next season. If Sullinger was not yet ready to return from his back injury, Rivers could place Withey at center and put Garnett back at his true position at power forward. And even if Garnett retired or got traded, Withey could plug the center position, along with current big man Shavlik Randolph off the bench.
Many people take issue with Withey’s body, claiming he lacks the strength to man up with NBA bigs. But he showed signs of great promise during the NCAA tournament, stepping up with some huge dunks and solid rebounding production, and providing scoring from mid-range even when top prospect Ben McLemore struggled.
Withey has good half-court instincts, which make him an ideal candidate for the Celtics’ offense. He also runs well for a big man, and would complement the younger, speedier offensive talents Boston has nurtured through the years. Rondo and fellow speedsters Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee could benefit from his height, quickness and intelligence.
Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
One of the international standouts of the upcoming draft class, 6’10” Dario Saric could be an ideal long-term option at small forward for the Celtics. He won’t be available until 2014, however, so if Ainge decides to buy out Pierce’s contract, it might not be worth the risk.
Highlights and analyses of this kid seem to portray him as the real deal, though. He delivers the brand of intelligent basketball Rivers loves. He plays aggressively and with confidence, with an inside-outside game that would create position versatility, even allowing him to play a Hedo Turkoglu-type role.
Saric can pay dividends in the passing game, and come up with big rebounds on occasion. He offers speed and athleticism, which would certainly reward an offense led by the backcourt duo of Rondo and Avery Bradley.
He could improve on his jumper-with a medium to long-range percentage failing to exceed 40 percent the past couple of years–but one more European stint could push him into the upper-echelon level of young NBA talent.
Sergey Karasev, SF, Russia
The 6’7″, 197-pound Russian Sergey Karasev would be Boston’s higher-risk but more probable international pickup at small forward. Although he looks as lanky as former New Jersey Net Kerry Kittles, his scoring ability would undoubtedly translate to the NBA level.
Karasev can shoot well from all areas of the floor, and also poses problems as a lefty with a pretty good handle. He possesses a strong basketball IQ and could mesh well in a Rondo offense based on ball movement and penetration.
If this international talent can learn how to move without the ball half as well as Ray Allen did with the Celtics, he could be a great fit with Boston. Obviously, he could also benefit from strengthening his core in order to provide a better rebounding presence to go with his height.
He won’t be able to hit 44 percent of his shots from the field and 49 percent of his threes, like he did in Europe last year, but he’ll still make an impact on the NBA level. Ainge will definitely keep his eyes on this talented 19-year-old.
Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville Cardinals
If he reaches his maximum NBA value, Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng could be a better-scoring version of Dikembe Mutombo. At worst, he will be a poor man’s Serge Ibaka. Either way, he would improve a Celtics roster that desperately needs his combination of size and wingspan.
With a breakout tournament, the 23-year-old junior demonstrated his defensive dominance on the interior while also exhibiting a strong mid-range jumpshot. Additionally, his strength and intuitiveness near the hoop made him a force to be reckoned with on second-chance opportunities.
Dieng finished the NCAA season with six rebounds per contest, 3.4 of which came on the offensive end. He harassed opposing players in the Big Dance, quickly rising in mock draft ranks across the nation.
Dieng’s wingspan alone makes him a formidable talent on the professional level. Nobody would be surprised if he went a few picks earlier to the likes of the Utah Jazz, who probably won’t be able to hold onto free agent center Al Jefferson. The young, small Milwaukee Bucks roster would also love to add his size and talent.
But if Dieng is still available at the 16 spot, expect Ainge to take a long, hard look at him, finally addressing a position he has largely ignored the past few years.
Lucas Nogueira, C, Brazil
Yet another big man and yet another international talent, Rio de Janeiro’s Lucas Nogueira could be exactly what the Celtics need down low. The tall, lanky seven-footer has loads of talent to go with a massive 7’6″ wingspan.
Nogueira offers NBA-level athleticism combined with a soft touch and quick reflexes. He can’t shoot as well as Dieng or Withey, but he has shown signs of improvement with his short to medium-range jumper.
What Boston would immediately improve upon with this pickup would be their rebounding and down-low presence. Scouts across the board have praised his quick feet and natural ability to find the ball, regardless of his 220-pound frame.
If Nogueira can improve his mid-range and free throw shooting-and bulk up a bit-Ainge will have trouble passing up this funky, afro-wielding powerhouse from Brasilia.
Shane Larkin, PG, Miami: Son of Barry Larkin; could easily continue rising up the ranks if his workouts continue going well. Great assist-to-turnover numbers and solid shooting range. Could be a solid option as a backup point guard and future floor general.
Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh: Highly-efficient scorer from New Zealand, with strong athleticism and good motor. Could prove to be a real steal if his offensive game develops, or a real bust if he fails to adapt to the NBA-level pace. Ainge will likely pass on the project, considering he already has a Fab Melo.
Guys Who Boston Likely Wishes Will Slip, But Won’t:
Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
Mason Plumlee, PF/C, Duke
Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga
Rudy Gobert, PF/C, France
Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse
Sloan Piva lives in southern New England and has been covering the Celtics since February 2013. His freelance work has been published in multiple publications and websites locally and nationally. Catch him on Twitter @SloanPiva.