With fewer than two weeks to go until the NBA conducts its drafts, the Celtics are sitting on three first-round picks, including the final lottery pick, No. 14, from the Memphis Grizzlies, as well as their own pick (26) and the Bucks’ pick (30) from the Aron Baynes trade last summer. It has been known around the league that they have been looking to consolidate those picks to move up in the draft, and now, we may have an idea of which player they are targeting.
According to a report on NBADraft.net, the Celtics have a player in mind as they attempt to move up: USC freshman center Onyeka Okongwu, a shot-blocking rim protector who averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and a Trojan-record 2.7 blocks in his one season in college. He was a high school teammate of LaMelo Ball at Chino Hills in California.
There have been multiple reports that the Celtics will seek to move up in the draft. Two likely targets are the rebuilding Pistons, who are seeking multiple young players to help their efforts at a franchise restart and have the seventh pick, and the Knicks who have the No. 8 pick.
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According to the New York Post, New York has targeted James Wiseman and Ball in this draft and if neither falls to their spot—and it looks like they will not—the Knicks would be willing to move.
Celtics Have a Logjam at Center
Moving up would not guarantee the Celtics could land Okongwu—the Hornets, who badly need a young center, will have interest in him at No. 3 and Cleveland is a potential spot for him at No. 4. But if the Celtics can get into position to draft him, Okongwu would address some issues the Celtics have coming into the draft.
The most obvious is the need for a young center going forward. The Celtics went with a patchwork approach last season, with Daniel Theis as the starter and Enes Kanter as the primary backup. Robert Williams was hurt for a chunk of the season but showed some promise when given a chance. Rookie Grant Williams was a small-ball center for the team, and the rookie combo of Tacko Fall and Vincent Poirier only played limited minutes.
There is some promise in that group, but no clear rim-protecting big man to anchor the defense. Given time to develop—he is only 19—Okongwu could fill that role.
And there would be the added benefit of pulling together all of the Celtics’ picks and bringing in just one new young guy. One problem the Celtics had in trying to reach the NBA Finals last season was that too much of the roster was made up of rookies—five altogether, plus two rookie two-way players, Fall and Tremont Waters.
Bringing in another batch of three rookies this season would not make much sense for a team hoping to contend.
Danny Ainge: Celtics Will ‘Consider’ a Draft Trade
Team president Danny Ainge said already acknowledged that moving up in the draft was a possibility. The logic is there. But he also said that, because there is so much uncertainty among the players in this draft, it might not be a bad thing to have multiple picks.
“We’ll consider all of that,” Ainge said. “We have a lot of picks and it’s a draft where you might want a lot of picks. Or you might want to do different things. You hear you want to draft the best player available a lot, but sometimes you have to draft for need as well. So, we’ll take everything into consideration with the players on our roster and the players in this draft as well. Also, if we draft a younger player who needs some G-League time, we have that luxury as well.”