As Lakers falter, a top pick for Celtics comes into focus


 If you’re a Celtics fan, seeing the Los Angeles Lakers (15-27) struggle this season is almost as joyful as seeing the Celtics (34-10) on top of the East.

Still, the pleasure taken in seeing their long-time rival get smacked around repeatedly is even sweeter, knowing that as the losses by La La Land’s not-so-finest continue to stack up, it increases the likelihood of that high draft pick coming Boston’s way in June.


Part of the compensation the Celtics received in trading the No. 1 overall pick to Philadelphia before the draft last June could be the Lakers 2018 first-rounder owed to Philly from a previous trade 

If the pick falls between the No. 2-5 draft slots, it belongs to Boston.

Going into the weekend, the Lakers have the fifth-worst record in the NBA. If they stay there after the draft order is set, the Celtics would have the No. 5 pick.

So, with the potential to add another high lottery pick (top 14) for the third time in four years, it’s worth looking at the top five college players (listed in alphabetical order) and examining just how they would fit in as Celtics.

DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona
Arizona losing three in a row early in the season certainly didn’t help Ayton’s draft stock. Arizona has since rebounded to win 10 of their next 11 and the play of Ayton has been instrumental in that success. A 7-footer with a frame that holds about 260 pounds, there are stretches of play when the game seems to come too easy for him and to be candid, he looks bored. It raises questions about his motor and whether he’ll bring the kind of intensity he’ll need to be successful at the next level.

As far as him fitting in as a Celtic, talent-wise that won’t be an issue. With his size, athleticism and touch, Brad Stevens will finally have a young big man to mold into what he and the franchise need going forward. The big concern with him is his motor to play with a high level of intensity on a consistent basis. Fortunately, he would have in Stevens a coach who understands intensity doesn’t always have to be a lot of screaming and yelling. True intensity comes down to playing hard, something that Ayton has not done as good a job with as he’ll have to at the next level. But if he’s on the board and the Celtics are picking in the 2-5 range, he would be a solid addition in large part because of his potential upside.

Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas
Of the players on this list, if the Celtics are holding the No. 5 pick, there’s a very good chance that Bamba will be the guy on the board. Because of the players in this top-of-the-draft class, he’s easily the least polished in terms of scoring the ball. But a 7-footer with a 7-9 wingspan whose game is predicated heavily on his defense can help any team that selects him.

In terms of fitting in with the Celtics, he would provide a defensive dimension that, as good as Boston’s defense has been this season, they still lack a consistent, shot-blocking presence around the basket who would make life so much easier on the guards on those nights when they have trouble defending ultra-quick guards.

Marvin Bagley III, F/C, Duke
There’s a lot to love about Bagley’s game. He has tremendous length, can score in a lot of ways and doesn’t shy away from the moment. But what has really stood out among NBA executives has been how quickly he picked up and dominated the college game. Remember, he was expected to spend this season in high school but opted to not re-classify and just head to Duke.  For the 6-11, 234-pound teenager to have made such a seamless transition is noteworthy.

As far as fitting in with the Celtics, that’s unlikely to be an issue. He has shown the ability to pick up on what he needs to do in order to be effective, which will put him in Stevens’ good graces early on. But if he doesn’t come out delivering on a high level, that’ll likely have more to do with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who made an immediate impact as freshmen. Still, his length, size, athleticism and just basketball smarts will allow him to be a rotation guy sooner rather than later.

Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri
After undergoing lower back surgery in November, which is expected to keep him out all of what was supposed to be his lone season at Missouri, it all but ruled him out as the No. 1 overall pick this June. There’s a lot to like about Porter’s game, which reminds some of Kevin Durant due to his ability to catch-and-shoot from several points on the floor in addition to him being nearly 7-feet tall but handling the ball like a shooting guard. He has a well-balanced game offensively, having shown the ability to score from a multitude of spots on the floor, whether it be long-range 3’s or mid-range 2’s, Porter Jr. finds a way to get buckets.

The Celtics would love to add a player of Porter Jr.’s talent, but there may be some duplication issues if you’re trying to work him into a mix that already includes Brown and Tatum. Still, if you’re Stevens and the Celtics that’s the kind of problem you don’t mind having.

Trae Young, G, Oklahoma
This season has seen a number of freshmen make an immediate impact, but Young and his long-ball heroics stand out. Most of the top prospects are big men, so Young will likely be the first college guard drafted (Luka Doncic of Real Madrid likely top-2 pick). He has seemingly limitless range on his shot, and knows how to attack off the dribble and finish around the rim despite his lithe frame. And while folks obsess over his scoring, Young has shown he can be a good passer as well. As talented as he is and projects to be at the next level, there would have to be some notable roster changes between now and the NBA draft for Boston to seriously think about drafting Young. Boston would likely be trading one of their top reserve guards (Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart), or the C’s would have to get word that Kyrie Irving doesn’t plan to re-up when the time comes. But those scenarios for now at least, are a bit far-fetched and unlikely to come to fruition.  


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