Celtics Draft Outlook: Dante Exum, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon In Mix

Aaron GordonNerlens Noel’s precipitous fall from No. 1 last year proved that nothing can be taken for granted in the lead-up to any NBA draft. But we’ll do it anyway.

With the NBA draft lottery still nearly a month off, the expected order is beginning to take some shape. It appears evident that Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will make up some order of the top three, right before the Boston Celtics are likely to pick.

The Celtics hold the fifth-best odds in the lottery, with a 10.3-percent chance of winning the top pick. The best odds have them placing sixth, however, and no statistical chance of getting fourth.

Since we don’t have anything better to do, let’s assume the Celtics land the fifth or sixth pick, and take a closer look at three players whose names are increasingly being floated around in that portion of the draft: Julius Randle, Dante Exum and Aaron Gordon.

Julius Randle, Kentucky (PF, 6-foot-9, 225 pounds)

Of these three, Randle might be the most desired commodity among Celtics fans, if only because he is the player they have seen the most. Randle was a monster for the Wildcats, averaging 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds in leading talent-laden UK to the NCAA championship game. He was a left-handed behemoth on the block and was relatively consistent for a college freshman; from late February through the Elite Eight of the tournament, Randle posted double-doubles in 10 out of 11 games.

The doubts with Randle concern his size and his shortage of midrange or perimeter skills. He lacks the length and explosive jumping ability that enables other players his height to compete with NBA power forwards. His jump shot somehow got worse in his one year at Kentucky and his ballhandling is nothing to speak of, so he can’t easily be switched to the three as a pro. He is also extremely left-hand dominant, to the point that he takes awkward left-handed fall-away hooks from the right side of the basket, rather than attempt a simple right-handed layup.

Dante Exum, Australia (G, 6-6, 188)

It is not hard to find experts on the Internet who rave about Exum. The 18-year-old Australian guard is an “X-factor” or an “ideal fit” based on his size, instincts and potential to play both backcourt positions. His ballhandling and passing skills come highly rated and his wingspan could make him a disruptive defender on the ball and in passing lanes.

The problem is, how do scouts properly evaluate him? There have been plenty of showcase events and international competition to judge Exum as a really good player, but is he top-five good? Some team is likely to take him that high, with a few outsiders even claiming he could be the best player in the draft. If the Celtics snatch Exum and he fails to develop, lots of critics will cry that they blew the pick — even though those critics probably would have made the same pick themselves.

Aaron Gordon, Arizona (F, 6-8, 210)

Stop it with the Blake Griffin comparisons, please. While we’re at it, can we stop all comparisons of incoming draftees to current All-Stars or past Hall of Famers? The one about Embiid and Hakeem Olajuwon needs to go, too.

Gordon is the uber-athletic swing forward who dazzled observers with his defensive instincts and startling shot-blocking ability for his size. Some have said he could be a lockdown NBA defender immediately. Big games in the NCAA tournament — including back-to-back games against Gonzaga and San Diego State in which he scored a total of 33 points on 15-for-19 shooting — bolstered his stock.

But if a team takes a player at Nos. 4, 5 or 6, it wants more than just a defensive stopper. Gordon’s offensive skills might be a bit underrated, but nobody disputes that he is still developing as a shooter, passer and dribbler. In other words, pretty much everything involved with basketball offense. Analysts will repeat his 42-percent free throw shooting mark all day long, and his .495 field goal percentage seems low for a player who dunked so much. Even more than the other two players listed here, Gordon could be the longer-term pick.

For more on Randle, Exum and Gordon — and to see where they fit within the rest of the field — check out the first draft of NESN.com’s 2014 NBA mock draft lottery and see some of the other burning questions in this draft.

Photo via Facebook/Aaron Gordon

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