It’s time for a new guessing game.
The Boston Celtics shook up the 2017 NBA Draft landscape by dealing the No. 1 overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers, dropping two spots to No. 3. Celtics fans might not be thrilled with president of basketball operations Danny Ainge trading the franchise’s first No. 1 pick in over 50 years. If you’re a fan of drama, though, Boston’s bold move adds a whole lot more mystery to what the C’s will do on draft night.
In one sense, the top of the draft shouldn’t be too suspenseful: Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball are expected to go first and second overall, respectively, on Thursday night, and the Celtics are expected to choose between Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum at No. 3. But the key word there is “expected:” Ainge also could trade the pick, an option that has gained steam amid reports that the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks are interested in Jackson.
Draft Jackson, draft Tatum or trade the pick — that’s what the Celtics could do. But what should Ainge and Co. do on draft night? Let’s explore the possibilities.
1. Draft Josh Jackson
Case for: Jackson arguably has the highest ceiling of any player in the draft. He’s incredibly explosive on offense and exceptionally versatile on defense, with the ability to guard multiple positions at 6-foot-8. A three-man punch of Isaiah Thomas, Jackson and Jaylen Brown could give teams fits on both ends of the floor for years to come.
Case against: The 20-year-old comes with plenty of baggage after an ugly incident involving a women’s basketball player at Kansas. He also is a subpar shooter (like the Celtics need another one of those…) and hasn’t even worked out with Boston yet. The high reward comes with a high risk.
2. Draft Jayson Tatum
Case for: While less athletic than Jackson, Tatum boasts a more polished, well-rounded offensive game, and his maturity at age 19 has drawn rave reviews. The Duke product reportedly had a positive workout with the Celtics as well, and could give Boston a serious scoring threat on the wing to pair with Brown.
Case against: Is Tatum NBA-ready? Sure. Is he the most exciting player on the draft board? Not really. As mentioned above, Jackson boasts a higher upside than Tatum and also is better on the defensive end. Besides, the C’s just drafted Brown to be their wing of the future, so you could argue taking Tatum is a bit redundant.
3. Trade the pick
Case for: The Cleveland Cavaliers just fired their general manager. LeBron James might jump ship in 2018. In other words: The door in the Eastern Conference is open. If Boston can land either Jimmy Butler or Kristaps Porzingis by dealing the No. 3 pick, it will immediately position itself as a title contender, and the Celtics still have plenty of assets to keep building through future drafts.
Case against: This draft has been hailed as one of the strongest in recent memory, and now Boston is trading out of it? Even if trading the pick nets an All-Star, that probably won’t be enough to topple the mighty Golden State Warriors. The play is for the future, and there are two ideal building blocks staring Ainge in the face.
VERDICT: Draft Jackson
Ainge’s explanation for swapping picks with Philly suggests he’s enamored with one player in this draft, and most signs point to that player being Jackson. Passing on Butler or Porzingis might mortgage an immediate championship run, but let’s face it: No one is beating the Warriors right now. Using the pick on Jackson would give the Celtics enough salary-cap room to sign Gordon Hayward in free agency, improving their roster in the present without mortgaging a single future asset. That sounds like a win-win to us.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images