Austin Ainge speaks to reporters Wednesday in Waltham. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)
WALTHAM – A show of hands: Who remembers, without Googling, when John Stockton was taken in the 1984 draft?
If you answered 16th, you win the prize for best understanding where we’re going with the following premise. As much as will be made of the significance of the third overall pick in the NBA (and understandably so), the Celtics also own the 16th and 23rd picks in the June 23 restocking exercise called the NBA draft.
In that ’84 draft, everyone remembers eventual hall of famers Hakeem Olajuwon went first overall to the Rockets, Michael Jordan third to the Bulls and Charles Barkley fifth to the Sixers. But it was another future hall of famer, in Stockton, who slipped through the cracks and fell to the Jazz at 16.
There was a lot of talk this week from the Celtics about why those second two first-round picks shouldn’t be forgotten. One high-ranking executive told me, “We are in a great position. The Nets did the losing for us to get the third overall pick and we have Dallas’ and our own. This should be a lot of fun for Danny.”
Indeed, the Celtics president of basketball operations and son, Austin, the director of player personnel, will not only have multiple scenarios for No. 3 but 16 and 23 as well.
“Obviously, you have to prepare for the entire draft, and we do that with every draft. It doesn’t really change that much for our preparation,” Austin Ainge said. “But obviously, toward the top of draft, it usually has a bigger impact on your franchise so you try to focus a lot on those guys. But there are franchise that have been drafted in every range and that’s the benefit of having multiple picks, multiple swings at the bat.
“It’s all in context. You have their high school career, their college career, their workouts, their measurements, some of the background information we collect. It all just adds up so it’s all just small bits of information adding together. Can’t let one bit sway everything and certainly a workout won’t but it helps us.
“I think that’s the case in every draft, and it’s not that they end up being the same, it’s just hard for us to tell. We always say six of these next 40 picks are going to end up being really good players. It’s just that we don’t know which ones. It’s hard.”
Since 1970, the Celtics have picked 16th three times, Troy Bell (2003), Lucas Nogueira (2013) and Terry Rozier (2015). Rozier is the only one to have played with the Celtics. In that span, Boston has chosen 23rd twice, in back-to-back years, when they took Charles Bradley in 1981 and Darren Tillis in ’82.
“The higher the draft pick, you have a better chance,” Austin Ainge added. “There’s going to be really good players available at 16, there’s going to be really good players available at 23. It’s just harder to identify in that range. It’s a little harder. We’re going to work really hard to do the best we can.”
The guard-rich Celtics certainly don’t figure to be in need of a guard, and they weren’t last year. But that didn’t keep them from taking Rozier and Hunter. The case could be the same this year if they feel a particular guard out of a good program could help them win.
On guard: Keep a very close eye on Ryan Arcidiacono. The senior out of Villanova who flipped the title-winning assist to Kris Jenkins at the buzzer in Houston worked out this week for the Pacers and has many of the same characteristics that Stockton had but – at 6-foot-3 has a bigger frame. He was not an NBA prospect before this season but then he led Villanova to another 30-win season and shined in the tournament. He’s got all of the intangibles (toughness, great internal clock, intelligence, leadership) that someone like Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens look for. He led a high-profile program to a national title and handled himself in a way that causes NBA GMs to take notice. The team that takes a chance on him could wind up with a hidden treasure.
“Toughness is a big part of our program,” Austin Ainge said. “We value that so putting them in strenuous situations and see how they react matters.”
The Sixers are such a team in desperate need of a point guard and while they certainly love the elite skill of Providence’s Kris Dunn, Arcidiacono is a player who went up against him in the Big East. Archie was 5-1 head-to-head against Dunn. One player can’t turn everything around overnight but a guy like Arcidiacono, who played up the Main Line from Wells Fargo Center, could certainly give the Sixers a more professional look.
The Celtics took a close look at Arcidiacono’s backcourt teammate Josh Hart this week. The junior out of Nova had an uneven shooting performance at the Combine in Chicago but is still regarded as an NBA prospect. He’s said many times that’s he’s 50-50 as to whether he might commit to the draft. He tweeted Saturday that he still hadn’t made up his mind but it’s sounding more and more like he’ll return to the Main Line.
The same could be said for many of the prospects that work out early in the pre-draft process for NBA teams. Hart, Sophomore Abdul-Malik Abu (N.C. State), Sophomore Trevon Bluiett (Xavier), Junior DeAndre Bembry (St. Joe’s) are all underclassmen who have until this Wednesday to make up their mind to stay in or go back to school.
“They’re just here for feedback so we’ve been in communication with their college coaches, talk to them a little bit, try to give them some honest opinions, try to help them make them make their decisions. Big decision for those kids,” Austin Ainge said.
Abu is a 6-foot-8 forward who played with the Ainge family at Marblehead High before transferring to Kimball Union prep and moving onto N.C. State.
“Malik’s a great kid. He played on my little brother’s high school team,” Austin Ainge said. “I’ve seen him play a lot, play a lot. He’s a great kid, really athletic, still a little raw skill-wise. He’s made improvements on his body and his game in his two years at N.C. State. He’s got a tough decision to make.
“As with all the kids, we have a pick in just about every range. We’ve been able to get a lot of these kids in. And we targeted them. We got a lot of kids in that we know will probably go back to school. It just helps in our evaluation for the future.”
Danny Workout Warrior: The Celtics had 12 more players in for workouts on Wednesday. All the workouts can get repetitive which is why Danny Ainge gets personally involved.
“He’s out there. He likes to interact with them a little bit to try and get a feel for them,” Austin said of dad. “As much as strategy, I think he’s kind of bored and having fun as well.
“We’ll have few more [workout players] than normal but that has more to do with the rule change than the number of picks we have. We always try to work out guys in every range, partly because we don’t know the range yet. Top 10 or 15 might be kind of vaguely in a range but then after that, it’s really all over the place. We have more guys coming in but that’s more due to the rule change, and the fact that we they will come in with the number of picks we have.”
Going Big: Dragan Bender is not the only 7-footer that has the interest of the Celtics. Chinese big man Zhou Qi (Joe chee) is 7-foot-1 and he came to Waltham this week to work out. While not as advanced physically or well known as the Croatian 18-year-old, Qi was someone who piqued the interest of Austin.
“I went to China and saw him play. We’ve known about him for a couple of years,” Ainge said. “He’s probably the third or fourth-most recognized name in Chinese basketball so he’s a known commodity. But it was great to have him in today and have him work out. He doesn’t speak a ton of English. I compare him to kind of when I took Spanish I in junior high, kind of that level of English. But he knew basketball stuff real easily and picked it up quickly.
“He’s so long. He’s got a good touch, just real skinny still.”