Celtics-specific 2020 Draft Big Board
Updated: Nov 6, 2020
I'm not at all a draft expert, as I try to make clear, but the draft is obviously an important and interesting part of team building. For the Winning Play podcast, Brian Robb and I talked to a host of the Prep to Pros podcast, Celtics fan Max Carlin, about this draft class and some of the specific prospects in it.
Out of that conversation, I've come up with my personal Celtics-specific prospect ranking. I'm still completely unqualified to do this so no one should take this too seriously, but it's not entirely a joke like my annual "No Video Big Board."
Tier 1: Empty
This tier is reserved for players who I would be willing to trade Jaylen Brown for; no one in this class rises to that level.
Tier 2: 1. Killian Hayes, 2. Patrick Williams, 3. Devin Vassell*
This tier consists of player who I would be willing to trade all of the 14, 26, and 30th picks for.
The most valuable archetype in the league is wings who can defend across a range of positions and also shoot and dribble. The Celtics are fortunate to have some of these but you can always use more. Boston's most obvious position of need for young talent is at point guard, specifically one who can sometimes shift off the ball on offense and who is big enough to not compromise a versatile, wing-heavy defense.
Hayes seems to be a somewhat higher level raw talent than Williams and Vassell and meets that specific team need so I'm placing him first. A Jayson Tatum - Jaylen Brown - Hayes foundation for the post-Kemba Walker era fits together and has a huge upside if the league continues to trend in the way it has for the past decade.
Williams slots in above Vassell because he's bigger, younger, more athletic, and doesn't carry the asterisk of "if he didn't spend the summer breaking his shooting form." After talking to Max, I've lowered my hopes for Williams as a "big wing stopper" but added a divergent possible path where he becomes the small-ball, playmaking, rim protecting center from this class in the mold of Draymond Green or Bam Adebayo. He seems to fit that profile more than even Okongwu, even if a more likely positive outcome is in the Aaron Gordon mold.
Max's take that Vassell might have untapped potential with his dribble means I slide him into this tier. A preternatural team defender on an upward development curve who can definitely shoot and possibly dribble is worth a major investment.
Tier 3a: 4. LaMelo Ball, 5. Onyeka Okongwu, 6. Isaac Okoro
This primary tier is for players who I would be hesitant to trade all of 14, 26, and 30 for but understand the argument for it as players.
I'm willing to accept that Ball could be the most talented player in this class with unique ballhandling and passing, but not that there's such a gap to other players to ignore what could be a troubling fit with Boston. The issue with Ball is not that he played in Australia, which seems to be a higher level of play than the NCAA, but that he has only ever played on teams that entirely catered to his game. Kevin Pelton highlighted his usage rate as a great statistical indicator but what does usage rate mean when you've got carte blanche to take 30' pull-ups without making them? Taking a ball-dominant point guard who is also a poor defender from that environment and putting them onto a team set up like the Celtics are would be a recipe for disaster.
Okongwu brings a different problem of how much the franchise wants to invest in centers. If he were available at 14 you would take him, of course, but that seems highly unlikely. Committing all three picks plus a mid-lottery salary and expectation for a major pay day on his second contract is simply a lot. How much of an upgrade over the Williams boys is he really, when the starting point is all of them playing the least valuable position on the floor? If you could get him for just 14 and 26 that would make more sense to me, as a cost mitigation.
If Okoro could shoot I assume he'd be the top pick in this class but he can't right now. He's also 6'6" instead of the 6'9" you get with Patrick Williams, which is a significant difference for a team that already has Brown and Romeo Langford as wing defenders at that size. He looks too much like what Justise Winslow has become and I don't think that's a good fit for the Celtics, particularly if it takes trading multiple picks to get him.
Tier 3b: 7. Anthony Edwards, 8. James Wiseman
This sub-tier is for players who I would be hesitant to trade all of 14, 26, and 30 for but understand the argument for it as trade assets.
Edwards seems like a simple bad fit. At least early in his career he's going to be a low-efficiency possession eater and a team with title aspirations can't go in that direction.
Wiseman, on the other hand, has a lot of supporters among Celtics fans. My problem here is just that 7', non-shooting, drop-coverage centers basically never pay off right now. The bar for being that player and a positive value on your second contract is being bad enough to not sign for much before then breaking out, or being a Rudy Gobert-level defender. Andre Drummond, Steven Adams, Jusuf Nurkic, Jonas Valanciunas, Hassan Whiteside... these are all successful players and yet bad contracts. It's not a market I want to play in when I can get Daniel Theis back-lining a top-5 defense for $5M.
Tier 4a: 9. Josh Green, 10. Cole Anthony, 11. Deni Avdija, 12. Saddiq Bey, 13. Tyrese Haliburton, 14. Robert Woodard II
This primary tier consists of players I would be happy taking at 14, meaning I would not trade up from 14 for any specific one. However, having used the 14th pick on one, I would consider then trading 26 and 30 together to get a second one, but not where there is direct positional overlap between the two.
I like Green because of the raw materials. Max telling me that he's a hilariously bad rim finisher is a concern, as is his being an older freshman, but with his athletic tools it's also something that he could hypothetically improve. Is it substantially less likely to improve than the poor jump shooting that we often assume other prospects can fix? He's 6'6" with great defensive potential who can dribble, pass, and shoot (some). I'm in that market.
The bet on Cole Anthony is simply that if he had torn his ACL in his first college game and then had successful surgery and sat the season, he'd be a top-5 pick. Instead he struggled in a weird college season that included a lesser injury and dropped down boards. I'll bet on his history, fit with Boston needing young point guard depth, and the success of scoring guards under Brad Stevens.
With Avdija we're moving into the guys who seem to have little star potential. I'll take his size and passing over Bey's more traditional 3-and-D shooting, particularly with Brown and Tatum already in place.
Haliburton isn't going to slide this far but at some point, even with a questionable fit on the Celtics, you would have to take him. The Celtics need a point guard of the future but Haliburton's profile looks more like that of a smart but non-athletic 2-guard than an NBA caliber primary ball-handler, which I'm not all that interested in.
With Woodard I'm still looking for a big complementary wing to put next to the Jays who isn't a straight defensive overlap with Langford. If his handle improves it seems like there could be a valuable playoff rotation player there.
Tier 4b: 15. Obi Toppin
This is a sub-tier for a player who I would not want to take but if they were available at 14 you would consider taking for trade purposes or, ideally, would result in getting a good offer to trade out of the pick with a team who values him more highly.
Toppin isn't a good enough defender to play small-ball center for a team like the Celtics. He's not going to be an offensive focal point on a team with Tatum, Walker, and Brown. Brad Stevens doesn't even think the power forward position exists and that's what Toppin is.
Tier 5: 16. Tyrell Terry, 17. Kira Lewis Jr.
This tier is for players who I would be less inclined to take at 14 because better options will be on the board but would understand selecting, and might trade 26 and 30 to move up to get if a player with positional overlap was not already taken at 14.
Brad Stevens has had success with different types of scoring point guards and as previously stated there's a need there down the road. I'd shade towards Terry's shooting as a player who could easily share the floor with Marcus Smart and Tatum over Lewis's speed and penetration.
Tier 6a: 18. Leandro Bolmaro
This sub-tier is for players who are not separated from the primary tier by talent but would be more valuable to the Celtics for their known willingness to be stashed overseas.
I think Bolmaro's future on the Celtics would be off the bench but that's fine once we get into this draft range. The question for all playmaking wings like him, if they aren't shooters who defenses will respect, is if their playmaking is better than what you get from a traditional NBA-level point guard. It's usually not at the top end, but can work better as a versatile rotation piece. Realistically, the Celtics would be taking him as a self-controlled trade out into next season with the hope that he develops a shot or gets traded as a mystery box down the line.
Tier 6b: 19. Aleksej Pokuševski, 20. Xavier Tillman, 21. Tyrese Maxey, 22. Desmond Bane, 23. R.J. Hampton
This primary tier extends through all players who I would be happy to take at 26, would not trade 26 and 30 to get, but would trade 26 and 47 for. These are the last players who it would not seem odd to take over any player in Tier 4 or 5, regardless of positional overlap.
Once you're this deep in the class you're just hoping to get a nice bench contributor so it becomes worth taking one wild swing before settling for that. Pokuševski is that swing. If it ever becomes actualized, his shooting and length could open up a lot for the more traditional style players the Celtics are built around.
Tillman is another Max Carlin special. He sold me on his potential as a long-term replacement for Theis in the somewhat likely scenario that Theis gets priced out of Boston's budget after this coming season. A smart, stout, reliable center who can pass will always have a spot on a Stevens team and he'll have at least a year to work on his spot-up shooting from three.
Maxey, Bane, and Hampton are hunting for bench scoring in a variety of styles, and for players to push Langford in a direct competition for minutes.
Tier 7a: 24. Killian Tillie, 25. Isaiah Joe , 26. Aaron Nesmith, 27. Tyler Bey, 28. Paul Reed, 29. Grant Riller, 30. Jalen Smith, 31. Jaden McDaniels, 32. Tre Jones, 33. Malachi Flynn
This primary tier covers all the players who would be considered at picks 26 and 30 but likely will not need to be because players from a higher tier will still be available. It would not be a surprise to take any of them over someone from Tier 6, particularly when factoring positional overlap of picks.
This group are mostly guys where you're betting one skill can prop up an NBA career. Before we get to that, like with Pokuševski, I'd take a swing on Tillie's offensive potential. If he's never healthy, c'est la vie.
For Joe, Nesmith, Bey, Riller, and Smith I'm taking shooting and seeing if that ends up being valuable as a 9th man in the rotation when the first eight have so much versatility baked in. Reed is going for the value of big wing defense with a hopefully better rest of the package than what Semi Ojeleye has provided. McDaniels is one more flier where the talent eventually becomes worth bypassing more projectable role players. Jones and Flynn don't solve the long-term PG position but stable back-ups are useful and more likely these would be guys taken at 47 and take Tremont Waters' place on a 2-way in Maine as Tremont moves onto the full roster.
Tier 7b: 34. Theo Maledon
This sub-tier is for players who would be in consideration at 26 or 30 if they were willing to be stashed overseas, all three picks were being made, and a better stash alternative were not available.
Maledon slots in as another potential career back-up PG but if he's willing to be stashed overseas and Bolmaro is already gone and no better options for getting out of carrying three first round pick rookies into the new season present themselves, he becomes an option.
Tier 8: Cassius Winston, Precious Achiuwa, Devon Dotson, Ty-shon Alexander, Cassius Stanley, Sam Merrill, Immanuel Quickly, Vernon Carey, Jahmi'us Ramsey, Nico Mannion, Payton Pritchard, Udoka Azubuike, Zeke Nnanji, Elijah Hughes, Yam Madar, Isaiah Stewart, Daniel Oturu...
This tier is "everyone else" who are probably just as good as the Tier 7 guys but who I know less about for whatever reason. They are not ordered and the list is incomplete.
The reality is that at least Tiers 5, 6, and 7 should all be bigger with Tier 7 in particular being very large. There's likely almost no difference in terms of prospect quality between whoever a person puts at 25 and 50 on a ranking. Some players from in there will break out and other will never be heard from again, with a lot of that being related to team situation, injuries, physical development, life goals, and just blind luck.
In general, as you may have gathered if you've read this far, my positional preference order is big wing, possible starting point guard, normal sized wing, versatile big man, combo guard, back-up point guard, then traditional big man. If the team were to make other moves in concert with the draft that would change, as it would change as each pick is made and the team needs begin to shift. The players I listed here are just more names. I know little or nothing about them and there are certainly others who could be put in the same group. If any of them were chosen over someone in Tier 6 or 7, it would not be particularly surprising.