By: Kenny Doyle
Ever since Danny Ainge took over as president of basketball operations for the Celtics, he’s loved to draft a certain type of player. When he traded the #1 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, everybody was stunned. Fultz was supposedly a lock to go #1, but despite what the experts say, Ainge made it clear that he doesn’t think Fultz is the best player in the draft. He said earlier this week that he feels confident he’ll be able to draft the same player at #3 that he would have at #1 and all signs point to either Duke’s Jayson Tatum or Kansas’ Josh Jackson.
Ainge has his eyes on one of the two. Jackson is an insanely athletic wing with great playmaking abilities, but has a lackluster wingspan along with a poor jump shot form and isolation game have diminished his draft stock. Tatum is not the athlete that Jackson is, but is an amazing isolation player and he has drawn some lofty comparisons to Paul Pierce for his ability to hit tough contested jumpers. Both have great defensive potential, although Jackson had a better season on that end. Both are great prospects in their own right, but Danny Ainge’s fixation for them goes beyond just their skill. Ainge has always loved the wing prospect in the draft.
This isn’t the first time Ainge has wanted the wing prospect. Looking at Ainge’s draft history, this is the position Ainge likes to target for superstar players that can lead a team to a championship. Although the NBA has changed into a league where point guards can be the best player on a championship team, Ainge’s philosophy hasn’t. He wants the wing player.
In 2006 with the Celtics looking for a star to pair with Paul Pierce, Ainge drafted a young player out of high school named Gerald Green. The first in a long line of players Ainge would target in this mold. In 2007, Ainge made it very clear that he loved Kevin Durant. He was spotted at nearly every Texas game talking to Durant’s mom while watching him play. When Ainge couldn’t get Durant, he drafted Jeff Green. An athletic 6’9” forward. Green was then traded to Seattle for Ray Allen, but that had nothing to do with how Ainge felt about Green, as just a few years later Ainge traded Kendrick Perkins to get him back.
Once the big 3 era ended and the Celtics were once again in desperate need of a superstar, Ainge went back to searching for one in the same place he always had. In 2014 he drafted James Young with the 17th pick. A 6’7” player out of Kentucky who showed flashes at times, but ultimately hasn’t panned out for the Celtics thus far. In 2015 Ainge ultimately drafted Terry Rozier, but not before the he reportedly offered 6 first round picks, including the Brooklyn picks, to try to trade up and draft Justise Winslow. Thankfully the Hornets declined the Celtics offer and saved Danny Ainge from himself, but Ainge’s infatuation with Winslow, the 6’8” athlete out of Duke, made it even more clear that he wants that type of player.
In last year’s draft, Ainge shocked most of the NBA when he took Jaylen Brown #3 overall. Brown was projected to be a lottery pick, but no one expected him to go that high. He was slotted on most boards at around 7 or 8. Danny wasn’t afraid to reach on Brown because he likes that type of player. It’s ironic that the one time Ainge passed on the wing athlete is the time that he shouldn’t have, drafting Kelly Olynyk 2 picks before Giannis Antetokounmpo was picked.
With Jaylen Brown and Jae Crowder already on the roster and the Celtics having eyes for Gordon Hayward in free agency, drafting another wing player doesn’t make much sense. Even if the Celtics plan on playing Jackson or Tatum as a shooting guard, they already have Rozier, Thomas, Bradley, and Smart to give minutes to, and finding playing time for all of these players would be next to impossible. Nonetheless, the Celtics will have to figure it out if the Celtics draft one of those players at #3.
In his conference call this week Ainge brought up how the Celtics have been “scouting these players for years”, implying that the Celtics base more of their scouting on these players high school careers than most do. That would appear to hold up. Going into the 2015-16 college basketball season Jaylen Brown was projected as the #2 pick in the draft and going into this past season Josh Jackson was legitimately in consideration to be the #1 pick.
It looks like Ainge plans on drafting either Tatum or Jackson if he doesn’t end up trading the #3 pick, despite the fact that no one ranks them ahead of Fultz. It’s strange that Ainge is so reliant on this draft strategy considering he is yet to draft even one superstar caliber player using it. Whether Brown or this pick turns into one will be a huge defining moment for Danny Ainge’s tenure as Celtics GM. If he is right about this pick, it will just add to his long list of heist trades. But, Ainge better be pretty certain that Fultz isn’t a transcendent talent. Trading the #1 pick that turns out to be a legend is about as bad as it get. If Ainge got this wrong. It hangs on his head forever.
Photo: (Boston Globe) (Newsday) (CBS Sports)