On average, Celtics' Danny Ainge trustworthy with high picks

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On average, Celtics' Danny Ainge trustworthy with high picks

Post by bobheckler on Mon Jun 19, 2017 9:41 pm


On average, Celtics' Danny Ainge trustworthy with high picks

Steve Bulpett

Monday, June 19, 2017

Credit: AP
Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge

It can be difficult to put hard numbers on Danny Ainge’s first-round drafting prowess. But Celtics devotees can be confident — and thankful — that his batting average is higher than the .220 he posted in three Major League Baseball seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. And significantly better than his .187 in 1981 that had him thinking a move to basketball might be a pretty good idea after all.

Prior to the seismic trade that is expected to be finalized today, Ainge was expected to step to the plate on Thursday night with the bases loaded and the count in his favor. The Celts had the No. 1 overall pick, and for the first time in his tenure, the president of basketball operations would not have his draft night options impacted by what others did before him.

Now, after dealing that pick for the Philadelphia 76ers’ No. 3 and a future first-rounder, he has only to wonder what the Los Angeles Lakers will do at No. 2. It’s a foregone conclusion the 76ers will take Markelle Fultz at No. 1. But at least the C’s know they will get a player they covet from their “finest four” that included the now unavailable Fultz, as well as Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and Lonzo Ball.

All enter the league after just one season of college ball, and the relative lack of a track record would seem to carry at least some measure of uncertainty. Then again, direct-from-high-school draftees Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant punched their tickets for Springfield not long after they’d gotten used to the NBA.

It would be unfair to put such expectations on anyone in any draft, but it’s interesting to note that Kobe was drafted at No. 13 and KG went fifth overall. Lakers general manager Jerry West had his eyes set on Bryant and pre-arranged the deal with the Charlotte Hornets to get him, while the Minnesota Timberwolves head of operations Kevin McHale was grateful that Garnett was on the board after the first four picks.

Ainge has to hope he has such strong convictions three nights from now, for he will have the largest burden of expectation.

As for how he’ll do, there is encouragement for fans in Ainge’s track record when holding a single-digit pick. Last year he selected Jaylen Brown (No. 3), and, two years before that, Marcus Smart (sixth). Both appear on track to be at least rotation players on a contending team, should that opportunity arise here or elsewhere. Both have played well and shown signs of improvement, in Brown’s case even during his rookie year.

The other single-digit picks were involved in draft-night trades of varying result.

The C’s didn’t get lucky in the 2007 Kevin Durant lottery, but Ainge was able to turn No. 5 pick Jeff Green into a package that netted Ray Allen and, some forget, Glen Davis, who was a second-round pick that year, from the Seattle SuperSonics. Delonte West, a late first-rounder three years prior, went west with Wally Szczerbiak, Green and a 2008 second-round pick.

But the bottom line is that with Allen joining Paul Pierce and Garnett coming aboard weeks afterward, the Celts were transformed from young and tanking — and the growing possibility Pierce would be moved — to 2008 NBA champions.

The other high-pick trade didn’t seem to work out all that well for either club. In 2006, Ainge, in an arranged move, took Randy Foye at No. 7 and moved him with Raef LaFrentz and Dan Dickau to the Portland Trail Blazers for Theo Ratliff and Sebastian Telfair. The Blazers turned Foye into Brandon Roy the same night, and the Celts easily would have been better off making that move themselves. Roy’s career was cut short by injury, but he was the best player in the concurrent moves.

More recently, things have been better than average with the C’s in the first round, though you can always re-litigate each draft and do the you-should-have-picked-this-guy game. Part of this positive feeling may be based on the fact that Brown’s fellow first-rounders from a year ago, Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic, have looked good overseas (and in Yabusele’s case, the D-League).

In 2015, the Celts were booed at their draft party for taking Terry Rozier at No. 16, but he’s proven he can play. The other first-round pick, R.J. Hunter at No. 28, was gone after a year. Smart was a hit in 2014, but James Young, taken at No. 17 with the first of the Brooklyn Nets’ picks, was a bust.

The most difficult aspect is that while Ainge and his staff can accurately assess the talent level of those they pick, they still have to be able to gauge their capacities for improvement.

Ainge and Co. will seek to decipher this critical element by investigating the players deeply and even having brain typing specialist Jon Niednagel offer input.

All of this work doesn’t guarantee a hit, but it can certainly help with the slugging percentage.



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