Keeping The Window Open: Celtics Edition
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Written by Chris Remick
The rule of thumb in the NBA when it comes to adding a star to your roster is that it typically takes around two years for teammates to build their chemistry and reach the ultimate peak as a unit. Therefore, in the case of the Boston Celtics, year one of Kemba Walker and (as close to 100 percent as we'll probably see him) Gordon Hayward was a big success. The young duo of Tatum and Brown are quickly growing into elite two-way players who look primed and ready to lead the Celtics to long playoff runs for years to come.
However, with Walker struggling to stay healthy heading towards the back end of his prime and Hayward’s future in Boston being a major question mark, it is becoming unclear just how long the Celtics window to reach championship gold will stay open. This offseason is crucial for Boston who are battling tight cap restrictions along with Tatum entering the last year of his rookie contract and Hayward (probably) accepting his player option. Only time will tell if “Trader Danny” decides to make some moves, but in the meantime, here are some potential shake-ups the Boston Celtics could use to reload for the 2020-21 NBA season.
Perspective 1: Draft Day Dealing
The Boston Celtics will have 14 players under contract should they keep the services of Semi Ojeleye and Javonte Green for the 20-21 season. So, it is highly unlikely that Boston intends to use all four of their picks (14th, 26th, 30th, and 47th) in this year’s draft. One team in need of these picks would happen to be the owners of the 7th overall pick in the draft - the Detroit Pistons. Detroit will potentially have 9 players under contract for the 20-21 season if they pick up Khyri Thomas’ option, which seems doubtful. In a draft where there are few undisputed ‘top’ picks, it would make sense for the Pistons to shop their pick to Boston in exchange for picks 14, 26 and 30. This would give Detroit the ability to fill out the majority of their empty roster space with solid young talent, while the Celtics have the opportunity to draft somebody who can contribute right away on a playoff roster.
Obi Toppin (6'9" SF/PF, Dayton)
But who would fill such a role with the 7th overall pick? Despite his quickly-rising draft stock, I believe it is not outside the realm of possibility that Obi Toppin is still available when the 7th pick rolls around. Toppin, a 20 point per game (ppg) scorer at Dayton this season, would be a major offensive boost to the lackluster Boston bench who were 29th in ppg in the regular season and 14th in the playoffs this year. This would also give the Celtics a quality player at the SF/PF spot who could fill the gap if Ainge decides to part ways with Hayward. The acquisition of Toppin would also give Boston some much-needed size on the defensive end. Currently listed at 6'9", Toppin provides serviceable rebounding skills (7.5 rebounds per game) with the size and potential to become yet another highly skilled two-way player for Boston to utilize. While Toppin’s main weakness has been identified by most to be on the defensive side, he did average one steal and 1.2 blocks per game during the 19-20 campaign and has shown that he has the length, vertical and IQ to develop into a solid defender. Overall, drafting Toppin would be the best-case scenario for the Celtics. He is a team-first, high motor player who has the potential and skill set to take Boston to the next level.
Onyeka Okongwu (6'9" C, USC)
In the event that Okongwu makes it past the top five, the USC big man’s athleticism combined with his rebounding ability and defensive skill set would be a perfect addition to Boston’s struggling center rotation. Despite being listed at 6-9, a bit undersized in comparison to most centers, Okongwu has the length (7'2" wingspan) to make up for it, averaging 2.7 blocks and 1.2 steals during his 19-20 USC campaign. As a rebounder, his verticality sets him apart from most centers in this draft and allows him to contest and block shots without committing too many fouls. Additionally, his ability to defend the perimeter makes Okongwu a must-have asset, especially in today’s NBA with multiple defensive switches and quick rotations. What really sets him apart from the other centers in this draft class is his ability to work off-ball. Okongwu is an elite pick-and-roll player, moving effectively without the ball to get ideal positioning and uses his athleticism and vertical to finish when he is fed. Okongwu’s strength allows him to maintain positioning on the inside where he uses his explosive athleticism to easily get to the rim without settling for a tough jumper. The young center has the ability to finish on either side of the rim with both hands efficiently (61% FG) and shows a great sense of drawing contact (74% FT). While the main knock on him thus far is that Onyeka relies too much on his physicality and athleticism offensively at times, he has shown the potential to greatly improve in this area with a move-set that includes spin moves and crafty footwork down low. Okongwu’s ability to defend, rebound and effectively play the pick-and-roll checks all of the Celtics’ center needs and makes him a tough prospect to pass on if he is still available.
Killian Hayes (6-5 PG, France)
With Brad Wanamaker most likely gone in free agency, the Boston Celtics are in dire need of a guard who can produce when Kemba Walker heads to the bench. Killian Hayes seems like another perfect answer to Boston’s lackluster bench. Hayes has the size to be effective at either guard position, standing 6'5" with a 6'8" wingspan. While he isn’t the most explosive in the draft, Killian has shown that he is still a versatile athlete who can become a one-man fastbreak at times. He has a great sense of changing speeds and directions, which allows him to create his own shot and get to the basket with great body control. The greatest strength for Hayes has to be his basketball IQ and overall feel for the game. While he is only 19, Killian has already developed effective counters when he is denied the drive and is further improving upon his ability to shoot the ball. This past season showed great progress for Hayes as he continued to build on his great pull up game by incorporating setbacks and improving on his range in the spot-up game. He has also proven himself to be a capable playmaker with a sizeable move-set with the basketball.
Killian is a creative passer who regularly makes good reads and has the ability to find the open man in almost any situation. While he is at his best in transition, Hayes has become quite effective when running the pick-and-roll, making him dangerous in drive and dish/kick situations. Although he is not an elite defender, Killian knows how to use his size/length on the defensive end and has shown that he can be a good team defender. He is dependable when defending the pick-and-roll and has the quick hands to help him when defending the ball handler. While Hayes is still trying to cut down on forcing turnovers and rushing the tempo by trying to do too much, the playmaking ability of the Celtics core will help him ease into an effective two-way combo guard who can take over for Kemba once his prime is over.
Honorable Draft Considerations at #7:
Isaac Okoro (6'6" SF, Proj. Top 10)
Precious Achiuwa (6'9" PF, Proj. Lottery)
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