Unless a major trade happens (fingers crossed!) Boston has 12 players under contract, not counting any of their rookies, meaning their roster has more or less taken shape. The NBA hard-caps rosters at 15, so the Celtics have room to sign three rookies if they’d like, something I’m sure they’ll wait to do till the very last moment to have maximum trade flexibility.
So, with the roster potentially set, let’s draft the Boston Celtics, not in terms of fantasy value or value this year, but taking into account their contract, team control, and potential. The first overall pick would be the player that you would most want to build your team around, the second pick would be the next player you would want to build your team around, and so on. Since it isn’t perfectly clear yet which rookies the Celtics will sign (or which ones are staying overseas) for the purposes of this exercise I’m working with the 12 players Boston has under contract plus Jaylen Brown. To see the bottom half of the draft click here. Starting with Terry Rozier, here is the top half of the draft, the 6th-1st picks.
Putting Rozier above Bradley is pretty insane just looking at the stats; he averaged 1.8 pts/game last year while shooting 27%. Atrocious. He played much better in the playoffs though: while getting about 20 minutes a game he showed a passable three point stroke and a great rebound rate for a guard.
Rozier is already 22, only three years younger than Bradley, who played a much larger role at a similar age, but still has three years left on his rookie scale contract with team-controlled restricted free agency afterwards.
Rozier balled out in summer league this year putting up 21 pts/game while shooting 57% from three. The reason I put him above Bradley is they project to be very similar players: undersized two guards, defensive specialists, slightly above average three point shooters, but Rozier is younger and on a better contract. He still has the potential that maybe he turns out better than Bradley as a ball handler or a shooter, and therefor enjoys a better peak.
I expect Rozier to earn a regular spot in the rotation this year, and to take a decent chunk of the 28 minutes Evan Turner left available by taking an insane $70 million contract from Portland. Having him listed above Bradley is me projecting his future performance, but I’m optimistic that he’ll earn this position during the 2016-17 season.
Olynyk makes this spot on the basis of his skill as a stretch big man. Meyers Leonard, Olynyk’s best NBA comparison, just got a $40 million from Portland and Olynyk is a more well rounded offensive player and a superior defender. With one more year on his rookie deal before restricted free agency, he still has a significant amount of team control ahead of him and should perform better after an injury-riddled season.
Already 25, there isn’t much room for growth – Olynyk will improve but is more or less the player he already is. But there is significant value for what he already is and that must be represented in his draft position.
Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown
Smart and Brown can have their sections together due to the similarities in their appeals and flaws. Smart ranks clearly above Brown in these rankings. Brown, the third pick in the 2016 NBA draft, had an up-and-down summer league involving lots of free throws but several poor shooting efforts. He’s a guy who, like Smart, often looks great on the court – he’ll show off a great move, beat his guy, and take a hard, athletic drive to the rim, only to miss the lay up. Ultimately, Smart and Brown’s careers will be defined by whether they learn to score the ball efficiently.
Brown’s youth and rookie status make him valuable in a NBA landscape of increasing salaries, as do Smart’s two remaining years on his rookie deal. Both players fit the archetype of the new NBA: versatile players who can handle the ball, make plays, and defend multiple positions. Both players just need to figure out the shooting to truly become stars.
Smart has shown he can do everything but shoot effectively at an NBA level, and a few times he’s shown star potential; he put up 26 points (including 5 made threes) with 8 rebounds in a win over the Thunder, for example. Brown has yet to show if he can perform in the NBA, putting him below Smart.
Now we’re up to the Celtics Big Three. Signing Horford was the Celtics’ marquee move this summer – he’s a four time all-star who was the second best player on a 60 win team only two years ago. But, he’s 30 years old, and his peak years are behind him. His max contract will almost definitely be an over pay for its last two years and those years count when deciding value. Paying $30 million to a 34 year old is probably not a great way to build a team.
In the present, Horford is at the tail end of his peak and arguably a top 30 player in the league, so there is immense value in that. He’s the type of player who could play anywhere: he’s added a three point shot, rebounds well, and his a gifted passer and defender.
Those last two years are scary though and make it impossible to put him above the other two players on this list.
Thomas coming in second is probably another surprise. The Celtics’ best player last year, Thomas was an all-star, leading scorer, and crunch time weapon for a 48 win club. He’s on a team friendly deal, around $6 million a year for the next two seasons, and is squarely in his prime.
There are three main weaknesses keeping him from the top spot.
First, he only has two years left on his contract. Adding even one more year to that would be immensely helpful for a GM to have roster assurance going forward.
Second, Thomas is small guard and small guards rarely age well. If a team wanted to make the investment on Thomas, knowing they will probably have to over pay him once his current deal expires, they’re making a risk that he won’t fall off a cliff at age 30.
Third, Thomas is not a plug-and-play type of guy. He needs the ball in his hands, and needs to over dribble, to be his most effective. Thomas can’t switch on defense or really defend good point guards; he must be hidden on the other team’s worst player. This doesn’t mean he’s bad, Thomas is one of the 30 best players in the league, it just means he can’t fit in every situation, which decreases his value.
Crowder catches the top draft slot based on the reasons Thomas didn’t; he has four years left on a extremely cheap contract that’ll take him through his prime and he is a plug-and-play guy who can fit in any system or roster. Allen Crabbe, a decidedly worse player, will be paid $75 million over the next four years. Smart will make $29 million. Some of the smartest people in basketball openly wondered if Crowder was the Celtics best player last season and the team immediately dropped four games in a row when he missed a series of games due to injury.
Crowder ended the season shooting a tick above 33% from three on five attempts per game, that shooting, along with an 82% free throw stroke, are great signs that he’ll be a league average shooter going forward. He was also one of the ten best defenders in the NBA, despite not making an all-defensive team, based on his versatility and 1.8 steals per game.
It’s easy to make an argument that Crowder is actually the Celtics third best player, but taking into account all the other stuff that matters when building a team, if I were drafting, he’d go first.