Stevens did an excellent job replacing Ainge, avoiding late first-round picks and bringing in veterans who bolster the core of the team. With the trading deadline of February 9th approaching, the list is so deep and well written that he probably doesn’t have to make any improvements. This is my way of saying “Keep Payton Pritchard”.
But something else happened here as the Celtics rose to true championship contenders, if not favorites. Some of Ainge’s decisions, especially in terms of the draft, just keep getting better and better as time goes on.
From 2014 — the first draft in which the Celtics used earned capital in the mega deal with the Nets that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn — through Ainge’s final draft in 2020, the Celtics have selected an astonishing 27 players, 15 in the first round. .
Some shots had no effect. Some have never worn a Celtics jersey. But many of them have contributed to the current Celtics’ status as the team of highest hopes.
2014: Marcus Smart (First round, sixth overall); James Young (1, 17).
It’s simple and undeniable: Smart is the soul of the Celtics, and he doesn’t get enough recognition for reshaping his game and becoming a truly reliable point guard to better suit Tatum and Brown. (I’ll admit I was hoping Dante Exum would drop them in this draft if you will. Betcha Ainge was still going to take it, though.) Young had scoring ability—he bested teammate Julius Randle in the national championship game last year at Kentucky—but never looked anywhere near peak condition.
2015: Terry Rozier (1, 16); RJ Hunter (1, 28); Jordan Mickey (2, 33); Marcus Thornton (2, 45)
Funnily enough, when that draft was completed, Hunter’s selection attracted more fanfare due to his wild buzzer hitting in the NCAA Tournament and vague rumors that the Warriors were coveting him. Rozier, who averaged 12 points per game during his two years at Louisville, was treated as a shortstop. In the past, he would steal. Only four players drafted ahead of him — Devin Booker, Karl Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, and D’Angelo Russell — have averaged more points per game than Rozier (13.2) in the NBA.
2016: Jaylenn Brown (1, 3); Gershon Yabussel (1, 16); Ante Zizic (1, 23). Devonta Davis (2, 31, sent to Memphis); Rady Zagorac (2, 35, sent to Memphis); Demetrius Jackson (2, 45); Ben Bentel (2, 51); Abdel Nader (2, 58).
For me, Brown is Ainge’s boldest and best choice. Anyone can identify with his amazing sport. But he was so cruel that it was hard to imagine what he might become. In his single season at Cal, he shot 43.1 percent from the field, 29.4 percent from 3, and committed more turnovers (105) than both assists and steals combined (95-68 assists and 27 steals). Ainge acknowledged Brown’s determination and intelligence, and noted that Cal’s poor spacing on offense did Brown no credit. I’m not sure how many other teams would have taken him to this place. On a related note, Kris Dunn, the Providence star many Celtics fans coveted for the spot, has averaged 16.2 points this season in the G-League’s Capital City Go-Go.
2017: Jason Tatum (1, 3); semi-Ojeleye (2, 37); Allen Cream (2, 53); Jabri Bird (2, 56).
The trade with the Sixers in which Ainge fielded the top overall pick on his way to a No. 3 pick and a first-rounder the following season is clearly a slick game throughout, which fits perfectly with Red Auerbach’s album of greatest steals. At 24 years old, Tatum is an amazingly talented and skilled player who maximizes every aspect of his game, yet puts winning above all else. Related question: Do you ever laugh when you think about how Magic Johnson and the Lakers beat him for second—seemingly without giving him any consideration at all—while holding onto the Lonzo Ball?
2018: Robert Williams (1, 27)
Williams has played 187 regular season games for the Celtics, and another 36 in the postseason, and I can already say this with 100 percent certainty: There aren’t 10 players in the 40 years I’ve followed this franchise. Enjoy watching more. (Larry Legend, Engaged DJ, McHale when he was torturing defenders in position, Walton in 1986, KG in 2008…it’s an exclusive list) He would have emerged as a ridiculous athlete if he was shot-sized to protect. Watching her scurry around the court, hitting runs and hitting runs, is a joy she amplifies for him Fun. He looks very happy to be there after struggling with knee problems last season, and is it a relief to see him look like his pre-injury version.
2019: Romeo Langford (1, 14); Mathis Thibul (1, 20, sent to Philadelphia); Grant Williams (1, 22); Tremont Waters (2, 51).
2020: Aaron Nesmith (1, 14); Payton Pritchard (1, 26); Desmond Bunny (1, 30, sent to Memphis); Yam Madar (2, 47).
I am grouping these two drafts together because of their similarities and how they are likely to be viewed in the future. Langford and Nesmith were taken at the same point in the draft. Both struggled with the pace of the match, Nesmith because he was too aggressive and Langford not being strong enough at times. Both have been dealt with by Stephens to bring key, perfect pieces to the Celtics squad – Derek White and Malcolm Brogdon – and both are showing promise in their new positions. I find myself rooting for both of them to do well, though even if they do become stars, I would never regret these deals for a second. Also: Bane, who was already a cornerstone for the Grizzlies, would have fit in really well here, right?
Hey, nobody gets everything right. Ainge, and now Stephens, have been far better than most.