Celtics Address Need for Size While More or Less Drafting ‘Best Available’ Players

Celtics Address Need for Size While More or Less Drafting 'Best Available' PlayersJared Sullinger and Fab Melo were better players than Perry Jones III.

That was the implicit message the Celtics sent by taking Sullinger and Melo in Thursday's NBA draft, then saying after the picks that they held true to their philosophy of drafting the best available player rather than drafting for need.

Whether that turns out to be true depends on the state of Sullinger's back, Melo's development and Jones' work ethic. Regardless of whether the two players Boston drafted truly end up being better than Jones, the Celtics pulled off the often complicated trick of filling needs while more or less choosing the best players available.

Although it is debatable whether Melo was the "best available" player at pick No. 22 — Sullinger, if healthy, definitely was at No. 21 — neither of the Celtics' first-round picks were such distant reaches as the one the Cavaliers made with Dion Waiters or the Raptors made with Terrence Ross. Melo and Sullinger were close enough to the "best available" to justify their selections, especially since they filled two yawning holes for the Celtics.

"We didn't necessarily draft on need, although big guys are hard to find," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said. "Quality bigs are the most challenging position to find in the draft and free agency, so we're very excited about the results tonight."

For all their defensive excellence last season, post defense was a constant concern for the Celtics. Whenever Kevin Garnett left the floor, Celtics coach Doc Rivers could only hope Jermaine O'Neal, Chris Wilcox, Greg Stiemsma and later Ryan Hollins could hold up long enough for Garnett to get a sufficient rest. Anthony Davis and John Henson represented the most polished interior defenders in this draft, but the Celtics had no shot at them without moving up, which was unlikely.

Melo comes with questions, since the Brazilian only came to basketball in his late teens after spending his childhood playing soccer. Yet the 7-footers taken earlier Thursday were not without questions, either. Andre Drummond, Meyers Leonard and Tyler Zeller are promising players, but have sparked concerns due to a lack of a mean streak (Drummond and Leonard) and the need to add muscle (Zeller). Had an eligibility issue not kept Melo from playing in the NCAA Tournament this year, Syracuse might have had a longer run, Melo might have gotten more exposure and the Celtics might never have had a chance to draft him at No. 22.

Sullinger, if healthy, addressed the Celtics' need for a ferocious rebounder while also bringing a promising midrange game that should fit nicely into Boston's jumpshot-happy offense. Jones is capable of all these things, too, but every player in the draft is "capable" of something. The major unknown with Jones is whether he will consistently perform up to his capability, which is why 20 picks went by without any team picking him before the Celtics, and why five more teams passed on him until the Thunder finally took a chance at No. 28.

Aside from Garnett's free agency, the Celtics also could lose Stiemsma, Hollins and Wilcox this offseason, although all three have expressed a desire to return. Only Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and JaJuan Johnson are under guaranteed contracts for next season or beyond, adding to the Celtics' need to retool their frontcourt for the future.

"We obviously do need frontline depth," Celtics assistant general manager Ryan McDonough said. "I believe three of the four players we have next year under guaranteed contract are backcourt players, so any time you can add depth, and between the two guys we feel we got great rebounding, shot-blocking, charge-taking… we feel like we covered potentially a couple areas of need."

In this case, filling their needs may have been the Celtics' "best available" option.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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