By: PJ Guippone
The Celtics are in one of the best positions a team has been in in recent memory. They have a superstar emerging in Isaiah Thomas, they have a couple secondary guys really coming into their own, see: Crowder, Smart and Bradley, they have an established veteran in Al Horford, and a few promising young guys, all led by one of the best coaches in the NBA. On top of that, they have a ton of cap space and some of the best draft picks in the league thanks to the Nets.
This year, that draft pick has a really good chance at hitting number one. The only players that have really been talked about with the number one pick this year are stud freshman guards Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball. I agree that those two guys are far and away the two best players in the class, but this class is realistically one of the best in recent memory. Last year, Ainge shocked many people by taking Jaylen Brown at 3, and that was in a much weaker class with many guys that weren’t nearly as talented as guys at the top of the board this year.
So what if Ainge doesn’t take Fultz or Ball at number 1. It may seem crazy to think of something like that but the Celtics are deep in the backcourt. Isaiah is their guy. No one will be taking his spot for the foreseeable future. Avery Bradley is coming into his own and proving to be a great option as a two-way shooting guard. The other surprising pick of Terry Rozier hit pretty well, and Marcus Smart is feisty enough to be considered a fantastic option on both ends of the floor. Additionally, they have two guys in Brown and Crowder that can play anyone from the 1 to the four on defense.
What are his other options? I have narrowed it down to three guys that I think Ainge would go for. The first is Josh Jackson. At the beginning of the year, Jackson was listed as a “disappointment” following being listed as one of the highest-rated recruits ever by 247 sports. Throughout the season that began to change, though. His extremely high basketball IQ, his elite athleticism, and his two-way skills eventually altered that season trajectory. Now, he is widely thought of as the number 3 prospect in the draft class. When a team that is this deep in the playoff race and also has a draft pick this high, it changes the way they draft. Instead of taking the best available, they have the luxury of scouting for exactly what they need. Boston is good defensively, and would be even better with Jackson. They are already capable from beyond the arc, so Jackson’s shooting woes would not be an issue at all. His IQ would allow him to fit in as a rotation player from day 1, and as he works on his shooting, he could continue to rise in star status for the Celtics.
A similar prospect to Jackson is Jayson Tatum. He has played his way into a top-five prospect after being in the late lottery at the beginning of the season. He is a much better shooter than Jackson, but not quite as athletic. Their IQs are comparable, and they are both capable of covering 1-4 on defense. The qualm with Tatum thus far has been an idea that he is already close to his ceiling. Most of his skills aren’t maxed out, but close to it. This isn’t a problem for the Celtics, who need a rotation player more than they need a guy that needs years of development. If I was Ainge, this would be my pick.
Finally, is Lauri Markkanen from Arizona. Lauri is one of the best prospects in this class in my opinion. He has the skill level to be a unicorn, which is an animal being sighted more and more in the modern NBA. A pick and roll with Isaiah and Markkanen would be a three-point nightmare for defenses, and Markkanen would add a level of interior rim protection the Celtics do not really possess at this moment. Play him at the five with Horford at the four, Crowder at the 3, Bradley at the 2 and Isaiah at the point, and not only would you have more than enough to cover up for Isaiah’s inadequacies on defense, but you have 5 players that can capably shoot the three (3 that are capable of over 40%). That’s the future of the NBA, and for the Celtics, the future is now.