The NBA Finals are officially over, so now it’s time to turn our attention to the NBA Draft, an event that’s just nine days away. The Golden State Warriors earned the spotlight last night in the midst of their champagne showers and awkward hands while holding trophies, but the Boston Celtics were deep in the shadows, continuing to plot for
world NBA domination. Boston is in a unique position: they can compete now while also planning for the future. Their plan is already in motion with players like Isaiah Thomas (now), Al Horford (now), Marcus Smart (future), and Jaylen Brown (THE future), but the team is set to add another big piece next Thursday.
Owning the #1 overall pick comes with a lot of pressure, but at the same time, there isn’t a lot of pressure because there are very few things that a competent front office (like Boston’s) could do to mess this up. With a top-heavy draft class, here’s a complete list of players that the Celtics should consider next week:
Yup, that’s it; the list ends with Markelle Fultz. It’s painfully simple. Often, we get into the habit of overanalyzing things before the draft, and it gets to the point of us talking ourselves out of prospects for a variety of reasons – some warranted, some not. Markelle Fultz is the best prospect in this draft class, and that’s the basic and undeniable consensus. Top scouts agree. Top executives agree. NBA players agree. The people who don’t agree are largely armchair GMs on Reddit and Twitter who just want to be different. Don’t forget barbershop guys; they don’t like Fultz as much either. There are people whose entire livelihood depends on knowing the ins and outs of every prospect on the planet, and they’re all saying the same thing about Fultz for a reason. He’s the guy.
Of course, Fultz is not a perfect prospect. He’s got some holes in his game, including his selective defense, lackadaisical approach to the game at times, the Huskies’ 9-22 record, shot selection and other shortcomings. He’s not going to come into the NBA and be a world-beater immediately because, well, he’s 19 years old. In spite of all these things, Markelle Fultz is easily the most talented player in his class. Even his weaknesses are correctable.
Selective defense? How many of the players his age come into the NBA being strong defensive sports men? What’s more important is that he has the physical tools to defend. He’s a 6’4″ guard with a 6’9″ wingspan and a 8’5″ standing reach. He can defend, and he’s shown brilliant flashes with his chase down blocks and good footwork. Obviously, it’s somewhat concerning that he doesn’t bring it on the defensive end every trip down and that his team was pretty terrible this year (228th in the nation in defensive efficiency), but it’s no indication of what Fultz will do in a great defensive system like Boston’s.
Lackadaisical approach to the game? His team sucks? Valid points, but look at his team and then look at the numbers he put up in spite of his team. 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, and 1.6 steals per game all while facing all of the opposition’s defensive attention. If that’s “lax,” sign me up. It’s incredible that his strongest asset is his ability to make tough shots. Like, that’s a real skill at which he excels.
To succeed in today’s NBA, you need guys to hit shots, open or not. That was the difference between Boston getting swept and losing in five; Marcus Smart hit some tough shots, and Avery Bradley knocked down a well-designed open look. All the defense in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t make shots. Currently, Isaiah Thomas is the only one on the roster who possesses this ability consistently. Adding Fultz is a no-brainer because every championship-caliber team has at least two guys who can score.
Here’s Fultz coming off a screen to hit a tough 3-pointer over two defenders:
While we’re talking about tough shot-making, here’s one of his best finishes at the rim through four defenders:
That’s a big argument against anyone hoping to add Lonzo Ball to this Boston team. Ball has unlimited range, sick handles,
an obnoxious father, an excellent transition game, and superb passing, but he doesn’t possess tough shot-making ability. Boston needs shot creation. They already have excellent passing by the design of their system. They already have excellent passers in Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, and Al Horford. You can’t give Ball the ball (heh) and ask him to score on three possessions in a row. This seems like a painfully simple approach to the game, but, again, the choice that the Celtics have in front of them is painfully simple: take the best player.
If we hang ourselves up on all the reasons why not, we’ll miss all of the reasons why. Why not take Kyrie Irving #1 overall? He couldn’t play defense, he only played in 11 college games at Duke, and his injury history was concerning. The Cavs took him anyway, and because of his play last year in the Finals (along with that LeBron James guy, not sure if you’ve heard of him), Cleveland finally ended their 50-year championship drought.
Boston is in a unique position to add current talent while building for the future; Markelle Fultz is a centerpiece of that future. Don’t overthink this. There will be no trade, and there will be no selection of any other prospect. Danny Ainge finally has a chance to add a superstar talent, and he has to take it. That superstar talent might not manifest itself immediately, but Boston has bought itself the luxury of patience. They’re playing the mid-range game: looking toward the future while playing the long game with assets. If they make the easy choice, patience will pay off.