The NBA's trade deadline has come and gone, and as the old adage goes, “sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make at all.” That is the credo the Celtics seem to be living by, as they never could nail down a deal for either Indiana’s Paul George or Chicago’s Jimmy Butler. Both were reportedly on the market for the right offer.
Of course when it came to the Celtics, “the right offer” seemed like it had to include their most valuable asset: an unprotected first-round draft pick acquired from the Brooklyn Nets a few years ago. With the Nets sporting the worst record in the league by nine losses, that pick almost certainly will be no worse than fourth overall. And that’s only if Brooklyn (which in turn becomes “Boston”) is unlucky in the NBA Draft lottery.
So with the pick remaining with the Celtics, who could they select on draft night with a top-four pick? Here are some options:
The best player available
We all know that the Celtics' depth lies in their backcourt, where Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and (to a smaller degree) Terry Rozier are all in their rotation. That also would make an interesting conundrum for the Celtics if they end up with the first or second pick, since the presumed two best players in the draft are both point guards (Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball). Would the Celtics use the pick on “the best player available” even if it isn’t a position of immediate need?
If they do, let’s start with Fultz who has been the presumed No. 1 pick since before the season began. The 6-foot-5 freshman has been one of the most dynamic players in college basketball this year, averaging 23 points and just under six rebounds and six assists per game. He can do it all from the position (shoot, handle the ball, pass) but with his team sitting at 9-18, questions have come into play about his true impact. If Fultz is a talent worthy of the No. 1 overall pick, why is his team so bad? Still, it seems likely he’ll go no lower than No. 2 overall.
Ball is the exact opposite — a freshman who has transformed a 15-17 UCLA squad a year ago into a true title contender that sits at 24-3 entering Thursday night’s game against Arizona State. Ball is a pass-first point guard who leads college basketball with 7.6 assists per game, but is also tallying 15 points and six boards. Just about the only knock on Ball is his unusual shooting form, but that hasn’t stopped him from hitting 43 percent from behind the arc.
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Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke (freshman)
Wing scoring is an area of weakness for the Celtics, who start the 6-6 Jae Crowder at small forward. And if they’re looking for an offensive spark, the guy they might – and probably should – go after is Tatum.
Tatum entered college basketball with a reputation as one of the best scorers to come through the high school ranks in years, and after a slow start due to a foot injury, he has mostly lived up to that expectation this season. He has been especially hot of late with at least 19 points in four of his past five games, including a 28-point output against Virginia last week which included 6-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc.
Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas (freshman)
Jackson probably doesn’t have the high-upside potential of Tatum (who could be an annual All-Star), but at this stage in his career he is the more complete, do-it-all player. Jackson also is entering the league at the perfect time, when you can either start him at the three, or as a small-ball four (which is how he’s mostly used with Kansas).
In terms of production, Jackson has been an absolute spark plug on a veteran-laden Jayhawks team. He’s averaging 16.5 points and seven rebounds, and also has proven to be a better passer than expected. He’s also a top-flight defender averaging nearly two steals and a block per game.
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Jonathan Isaac, PF, Florida State (freshman)
For weeks I’ve been calling Isaac “Brandon Ingram with worse PR,” meaning that he has all the skills of Ingram but just less exposure. If Isaac played at Duke or North Carolina, I truly believe we’d be talking about him as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
Instead, Isaac probably will go in the 3-5 range. On the season he is averaging 12 and 7 to go with 1.6 blocks per game and is shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc. The one problem with Isaac is consistency. For example, after tallying 23-10-7 in a win over Notre Dame in mid-January, he followed it up with just four points and six rebounds two weeks ago.
Lauri Markannen, PF, Arizona (freshman)
While the comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki have been a bit overblown for the Finnish-born Markannen, they aren’t all that far off. Despite standing a legit 7 feet tall, Markannen does his best work from the perimeter, where he is shooting nearly 46 percent from behind the arc. According to the Sporting News’ Sam Vecenie, no 7-footer in college basketball history has been this efficient, shooting this many threes.
Markannen also has flashed an impressive mid-range jumper and low-post skills when he’s been asked to go into the paint. He does have flaws though, specifically on the defensive end. Because he spends so much time on the perimeter he also doesn’t get nearly as many rebounds as you’d expect. Still, the set of skills he possesses for his size will be too good to pass up. Like Isaac he should go somewhere in the 3-5 range.
Other long-shot options
In addition to the names mentioned above, there are a few more long-shot options.
NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr. is being touted as a potential top-three pick, meaning that if the Celtics decide to go point guard, he could be in play. If they want instant offense they could go with Kentucky’s Malik Monk, who is averaging 21 points per game and is on pace to be John Calipari’s highest-scoring freshman ever.
And of course, the Celtics always could use the pick in a trade on draft night.