The Boston Celtics have a trio of first-round picks at their disposal in the 2020 NBA Draft. What players should they target with the No. 14 pick?
Establishing oneself as a legitimate title contender in the NBA requires so much to go right.
It requires the right coach to maximize a roster, it requires a supporting cast that gels and is viable on offense and defense, and it requires top-tier talent. Most importantly, it requires a player firmly entrenched in the upper echelon of the NBA.
This doesn’t mean a perennial All-Star, not does it mean a player worthy of All-NBA honors. Teams who truly compete and win championships are led by top-10 players, genuine MVP candidates, bona fide superstars with an unimpeachable impact on winning basketball games.
There are only so many players who reach such a threshold. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Dončić, James Harden, Steph Curry. A few other players fall on the fringes of such a description (Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokić, Damian Lillard, etc.), but the bar is high. Few teams have such stars.
But with the sudden ascendance of Jayson Tatum — who astonishingly went through a series of distinguishable, defined leaps throughout his third season in the league — do the Boston Celtics now have such a player?
Tatum’s 2019-20 season was a banner campaign. The 22-year-old wing out of Duke finished the year with career-highs in points (23.4), rebounds (7.0), assists (3.0), steals (1.4), blocks (0.9), and three-pointers (2.9) per game, culminating in All-Star and Third Team All-NBA honors.
His impact on both ends was immense, with his Player Impact Plus-Minus of plus-4.40 ranking eighth in the entire NBA, with his remarkable shot-making and elite wing defense helping power a Celtics team that finished top-five in offense (112.8, fourth), defense (106.5, fourth), and net rating (plus-6.3, third).
His improvement throughout the season was distinct and overwhelming, with two elements of Tatum’s game — his pull-up shooting from beyond the arc and his comfort as a pick-and-roll creator — seemingly coming together in two distinct leaps. The first came in January in the form of blazing efficiency from downtown, and the second came in the playoffs (!!!) with Tatum morphing into a legitimate 6’9 offensive engine.
Tatum finished the year as one of the best pull-up three-point shooters in the entire league, with his 40.4% mark ranking first among players who attempted four or more pull-up 3s a game. And in the playoffs, Tatum would go on to average 25.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 2.2 stocks on moderate efficiency (.563 TS%), getting to his spots and hitting open teammates against Philadelphia, Toronto, and Miami.
Jayson Tatum is in that upper tier of NBA players. If one wants to be conservative about such high acclaim, then it’s certainly fair to suggest that he is on the trajectory to hitting such upside. And this development is one that can’t be understated for the future of the Boston Celtics.
They have someone who can be the guy, meaning it’s now up to executive Danny Ainge to continue building a championship-contending roster around him.
Kemba Walker was a positive addition as an amicable teammate and potent scorer (20.4 points, 38.1% 3PT). Jaylen Brown was maximized on offense, hitting career-highs in scoring (20.3 points) and three-point shooting (2.3 3PM) while establishing himself as a premium spot-up scorer.
Gordon Hayward seemingly returned to his pre-injury comfort, offering a well-rounded stat line of 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists. Daniel Theis was impressive in his first year as the team’s starting center, with his interior defense and immaculate screen-and-seal game supplementing the team’s creators to an incalculable degree. And Marcus Smart was, well, Marcus Smart, doing the things that only he can do.
There is a foundation in place, but it’s one subject to change. Hayward and backup center Enes Kanter have player options, set at $34.2 million and $5 million respectively, and may not be long for the team even if they opt-in. Semi Ojeleye and Javonte Green, two end-of-the-bench reserves, are both on non-guaranteed deals. The Celtics will have the mid-level exception at their disposal to acquire bench help, along with a trio of first-round draft picks (14, 26, 30) to acquire young talent, but Danny Ainge is as unpredictable of an executive as any.
Boston is said to be monitoring the trade market and could angle for major roster shake-ups, even after making the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four seasons. Those picks, along with the team’s young talent (Grant Williams, Romeo Langford, Robert Williams III) — and perhaps some of the starters, too — are not safe. This will be a very, very interesting offseason for the Celtics.
But speculation on who they could sign or trade for can be saved for another day. As of today, the Boston Celtics own three first-round picks, the earliest of which can be used on adding a young piece to the long-term core. While Ainge may be interested in the likes of Killian Hayes, Onyeka Okongwu, Devin Vassell, and Patrick Williams, such prospects are unlikely to be on the board at 14, and would consequently require the packaging of picks to move up for.
There is reportedly real interest in trading up into the mid-lottery, but if Boston stands pat, there are interesting prospects who should be available in that range. Since the C’s could use an heir apparent to the aging and oft-injured Walker, let’s look at some guard prospects Boston could consider with the No. 14 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.