Celtics ‘Eyeing’ NCAA Tournament Star in NBA Draft: Exec

Celtics team president Brad Stevens

Getty Celtics team president Brad Stevens

Given the situation the Celtics are financially, with Jaylen Brown’s supermax contract set to begin, Jayson Tatum up next for a supermax deal and both Jrue Holiday and Derrick White up next for contract extensions, the need for Brad Stevens to make good on upcoming draft picks is obvious. With the 30th pick in this year’s draft, there is one player the team is certainly eyeing: 7-foot-4 Purdue star Zach Edey.

Edey has been a dominant force for the Boilermakers this season, averaging 25.0 points and 12.2 rebounds, shooting 62.9% from the field. He has been even better in the tournament, averaging 30.0 points and 16.3 rebounds, including a 40-point showing in the Elite Eight against Tennessee.

But, when it comes to draft stock, Edey is not the type who gets the innards of the NBA scouting world churning—he is a traditional in-the-paint big man, does not shoot 3s, and does not have the athleticism to recover to defend the perimeter.

“There’s not a lot of teams that could plug Zach Edey into their rotation and just be like, ‘OK, this works, this makes sense,” one Eastern Conference GM told Heavy Sports. “That’s the tough thing about him in this draft. It is big upside draft, but he is kind of a finished product. If you’re Boston, you’re OK with that. They have had their eye on him all season.”

Zach Edey Slow of Foot, Could Struggle in NBA

Now, to be sure, the Celtics like 3-pointers as much as anyone. They lead the league in 3-pointers attempted (42.6) and in 3-point percentage (38.8%). They’re also quite good at defending the stripe, allowing 34.9% from the arc, second in the NBA. Playing a plodder like Edey could ding those numbers.

And the Celtics have Kristaps Porzingis starting at center with Al Horford under contract for next year and Luke Kornet having done a good job in the rotation. So, why Edey?

“They like to post you up,” one league assistant coach told Heavy. “The 3-pointers are what gets all the attention but they know how to get inside the defense and post you up. So, if you have a kid like Edey and he has all these drop-steps and moves and counters, they’re good with that, especially if you’re putting him on the floor for 15-18 minutes a game and just giving you a different look.”

Indeed, according to NBA stats, the Celtics run post-ups 7.5% of their plays, which is second only to the Nuggets, at 7.9%. But they are tied for first in the NBA with the Pacers for points-per-possession efficiency in the post, at 1.12. They were 24th in post-up frequency (2.8%) last year.

“That comes a lot from Porzingis,” the coach said. “Obvious, the thing about Porzingis is his versatility. Edey does not have that. If he did, we’d be talking about him as the No. 1 pick. But if you’re the Celtics and you want to lean in on that post-up play with your backup, well, there is no one better at it in the draft than Zach Edey.”

Celtics One of NBA’s Best Post-Up Teams

Edey’s performances in the tournament might well be a double-edged sword for the Celtics. He has shown just how dominant he can be even as a big man with limited athleticism, but he has also given the other 29 teams more reason to take a gamble on him in the draft.

“He could fall to the early second round once the workouts start,” the GM said. “But he has helped himself a lot in the last few weeks. His ceiling in the draft is in the late teens. It’s not a good draft, there could be some contenders who want a sure thing—Miami, Milwaukee, the Knicks. You can’t start him but you can play him right away and he’s cheap. Some teams will like that.”

Cheap is key for Boston, too. If they keep everyone together, the Celtics will need to be careful with every dollar they spend. That could mean trading away picks to avoid their guaranteed money—or making sure you get a solid rotation player with the picks you do make.

Edey is not likely to be an NBA star. But he has a role, and the Celtics certainly appear to be a team that would be open to him filling that role in Boston.

Read More