Recent Draft History Could Throw Cold Water On Boston Celtics’ 2020 Draftees

Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard could well be exactly what the Celtics need. They entered the NBA draft on Wednesday night with sterling records as shooters, Nesmith coming off a year in which he made 55.2% from the arc (on 8.2 attempts per game) and Pritchard having made 41.5% of his 3-pointers as a senior at Oregon. The Celtics felt the roster was lacking in elite shooting and these two guys come in with the pedigree to address that.

That is the hope, at least. The reality, though, is that with team president Danny Ainge at the helm over the past decade (and beyond), the Celtics have not done particularly well with players taken outside of the Top 6. There is no doubt that Ainge nailed his picks at No. 3 in 2017 (Jayson Tatum) and 2016 (Jaylen Brown), as well as the No. 6 pick in 2014 (Marcus Smart). For any organization, it is vital to get those picks right and Ainge deserves credit for doing so.

Those picks easily could have been Josh Jackson, Buddy Hield and Julius Randle, and we know where the Celtics would be if that had been the case.

But push Ainge & Co. beyond picking from the chalk-of-the-draft players and things have not gone so well. The cases of the picks from the past two seasons—Romeo Langford (No. 14) and Robert Williams (No. 27) are still undecided, but it is safe to say the Celtics busted on the two later picks from 2016, Guerschon Yabusele (No. 16) and Ante Zizic (No. 23). That was with Pascal Siakam still on the board, though to be fair, most of the league missed on Siakam except Toronto. But guard Dejounte Murray went 29th after being projected to go much higher.

Terry Rozier, picked 16th in 2015, was a success story, but is now in Charlotte. The team’s other pick in that draft was R.J. Hunter at No. 28, who is out of the NBA. James Young, who went 17th in 2014, is also out of the NBA. He was picked ahead of Gary Harris, Rodney Hood, Clint Capela and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Danny Ainge Rarely Moves Up In NBA Draft

If you were hoping that Ainge would package his three picks and move up, you should know, he has only really done that once, in 2013, when he put together two second-round picks in the following draft and moved up from 16th to 13th to select Kelly Olynyk. No doubt, Olynyk has had a productive career. But it might have been a better deal if the Celtics had moved up to draft Giannis Antetokounmpo (who went 15th).


Before that, of course, there was the string of disappointing big men—Jared Sullinger (who had injury trouble) at No. 21 and Fab Melo at 22 in 2012, JaJuan Johnson at 27th in 2011, four spots ahead of Jimmy Butler.

There was another late success in 2010, when the team took Avery Bradley with the 19th pick. But it is not a great slate for Ainge and the Celtics: Bradley, Olynyk and Rozier the only fair-to-decent successes against a history weighed down by Johnson, Melo, Sullinger, Young, Hunter, Zizic and Yabusele.

Ainge did tell reporters, after the draft, that he thought there would be more activity on the trade market, that Boston might have had more chances to move up except that teams shied away from major moves when the time came.

“There was a lot of trade discussion before the draft, so I think we anticipated there to be more during the draft,” Ainge said. “There was a lot of discussion, but not anything that was really tempting for us in the first part of the draft. It was not as eventful as we thought, but we did have some discussions about moving up and then about moving back.”

Thus a roster that was probably too young to be a true contender last season will get a little younger. Nesmith (who is 21) and Pritchard (22) are on the old side for draftees, but still, the Celtics intend to add two rookies drafted at 14th and lower to their mix.

Fingers crossed that it works out. But draft history has not been kind.

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