By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Everything appears on the table for the Boston Celtics.
Entering the 2019 NBA Draft with three first-round selections -- the Celtics have the No. 14, No. 20, and No. 22 overall picks in Thursday's draft -- Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge finds himself as a man scurrying to find the direction of his franchise. With both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford expected to bounce as free agents as early as June 30, but with hopes of landing another veteran to keep the C's championship dreams alive, Ainge is considering everything.
But assuming everything goes to hell and the Celtics are indeed picking at these three spots tonight, here are 10 names worth keeping an eye on entering tonight's festivities...
Darius Garland (Guard, Vanderbilt)
If this year's first round plays out as expected with a Williamson-Morant-Barrett combo going with the first three picks, many have pegged Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland as the next-best option. Garland has been linked to the Celtics, too, with the Celtics among the teams reportedly interested in potentially swinging a trade to move up and nab the 6-foot-2 guard.
Given his interest around the league, this selection would require the Celtics pulling off a trade, likely with New Orleans for the No. 4 overall pick the Pelicans obtained in the Davis-to-LA trade. The good news on that front is that the Celtics probably know what it is that David Griffin is looking for thanks to their (unsuccessful) Davis talks last week. But do they have the appetite to pay what it would cost to get the Pelicans to pass on stockpiling the rebuild with a second top-five pick?
Update: The Hawks have acquired the No. 4 overall pick from the Pelicans, but are targeting Virginia's DeAndre Hunter with the pick, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Considered an aggressive scorer with quickness to create his own looks and develop into a legitimate NBA threat, Garland averaged 16.2 points in an knee injury-shortened five-game 2018-19 season for the Commodores, and was a lethal shooter, with makes on 29 of his 54 shots (53.7 field goal percentage), including an 11-for-23 mark from deep.
Darius Bazley (Forward, N/A)
A client of Rich Paul and Klutch Sports, Darius Bazley's decision to skip out on playing college ball (and playing at all, in fact) was an interesting one. But it hasn't necessarily scared teams away after what was a reportedly impressive showing at the combine and in workouts. A combo forward, scouts believe that Bazley can do it all on the court, with the athleticism and on and off the ball smarts to push him into the first round (and right about where the Celtics will be making their picks).
The Celtics actually brought the 6-foot-9 Bazley in for a last-minute, second workout with the team earlier this week, too, essentially confirming that there's some legitimate interest in adding the forward to their future.
Keldon Johnson (Guard, Kentucky)
A 6-foot-6 guard out of Kentucky, Johnson averaged 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game for the Wildcats last season with a 46.1 percent success rate from the field (Johnson shot 38.1 percent from deep). Not considered a shoe-in for a legitimate NBA role out of the gate, what could make Johnson an interesting project for the Celtics is his willingness to compete. If harnessed properly, and with some improvements in his awareness and defensive game, Johnson could seem like a solid fit for the C's.
Brandon Clarke (Forward, Gonzaga)
Nearly every scouting report on the 22-year-old Brandon Clarke says the same thing: He's an aggressive, energetic defender. Some even want to say that he's the most dynamic forward in this draft once Zion Williamson falls off the board. That's high praise, but certainly seems earned after a year in which Clarke averaged 16.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks for a Gonzaga squad that won all but four of their 37 games. The blocking aspect of Clarke's game is a fascinating one, I must admit, as Clarke finished with an absurd 117 blocks in 2018-19 and checked in with the combine's third-best vertical (40.5 inches).
It's not crazy to imagine Clarke stepping in as a direct replacement for somebody like Marcus Morris should the fiery Morris indeed find his way out of Boston by way of an unmatchable payday as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Tyler Herro (Guard, Kentucky)
If the Celtics are determined to find a 2019-20 boost with one of their three first-round picks, Kentucky's Tyler Herro seems like an obvious fit. Considered to have lethal three-point range (Herro knocked down 57 three-pointers last season, the 12th-most in the SEC), Herro enters this draft with what many are calling an "NBA-ready" shot. Herro also comes with some positional versatility, as the 6-foot-6 guard can play the two, three, and has even shown the on-floor smarts to be a one when needed.
Herro also sounds like a player who doesn't try to be something he's not and is more than mindful of the role he'd have on a team with superstar dreams like the Celtics given his experience at Kentucky.
"At Kentucky you've got to make sacrifices," Herro told the Indianapolis Star earlier this month. "There's usually 10 top-10 guys going there, so everyone brings something special; I brought my shooting."
The Celtics have 'serious' interest in Herro, according to Sports Illustrated.
Bol Bol (Center, Oregon)
The son of former NBAer Manute Bol and standing at a towering 7-foot-2, but with trouble handling the physicality of college basketball players, there's obvious risk tied to any first-round pick spent on Bol, who played just nine games for the Oregon Ducks last season. But with the draft looming, there's a growing belief within NBA circles that the Celtics will not let the high-ceiling Bol slip past them if he's still lurking around on the draft board at No. 20 or 22.
The boom-or-bust factor with one of those picks is very real for the Celtics given who they've been linked to (more on that as you scroll), and Bol certainly fits that bill, with 21 points and 9.6 boards per game before his season-ending foot injury.
(As a meaningless sidenote: If the Celtics do indeed draft Bol, I need Isaiah Thomas to sign a league minimum contract to return to Boston, where IT and Bol can team up on a second unit that will be called the Guardians of the Parquet, with Thomas playing the role of Rocket to Bol's Groot. I will accept all credit -- and financial thanks -- for this idea. Thank you.)
Nicolas Claxton (Center, Georgia)
If Al Horford is indeed on the outs in Boston as expected, Nicolas Claxton could represent Boston's (rather slim, I'd admit) hope of finding a Future Al to help their next wave of youth. That's not to suggest that Claxton is going to be Al Horford. That's silly stuff. But it's defensive versatility, from spacing to switching to playing like a wing at times, that's made Claxton an intriguing first-round option for any team looking for center help in a league undergoing serious reassessments of the center position.
A 6-foot-11 big, Claxton finished 2018-19 with 12 double-digit rebound games, averaged the third-most rebounds per game in the SEC (8.6), and actually led the SEC in defensive rebounds per game, with 6.3 per night.
The Celtics finished the 2018-19 season ranked 22nd in rebounding last season.
PJ Washington (Forward, Kentucky)
A breakthrough star for the Wildcats, 6-foot-8 forward PJ Washington enters the draft after having led Kentucky in points per game (15.2), rebounds per game (7.2), and three-point shooting (42.3 percent) last season. With a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Washington could represent the perfect piece as Brad Stevens continues to shift towards a "positionless" system of basketball.
Kevin Porter Jr. (Guard, USC)
If what you've been led to believe is true, USC's Kevin Porter Jr. seems like your classic headcase.
But he gets people talking, that's for sure.
"He dealt with quad and ankle injuries as well as a suspension during the season, all factors that clouded the 18-year-old’s stock. But several NBA executives selecting near the top of the lottery in Thursday NBA Draft told The Athletic that Porter is a sneaky name on their board. “He has the gifts to be a top-5 pick — easily,” one executive said.
And when you have three first-round selections, and when you're talking about a player with what almost everybody agrees is lottery pick talent, Porter Jr. may just be the perfect gamble for the Celtics at No. 22.
A player with his share of off the court issues -- Porter Jr. has drawn comparisons to JR Smith (not always a good thing, especially if it's the fourth quarter of an NBA Finals game) and the Trojans actually suspended him indefinitely last season due to 'personal conduct issues' -- there's no denying the talent Porter Jr. displays when on the court. A volume scorer with solid range (Porter Jr. connected on 25 of his 62 attempts from downtown last season), the 6-foot-6 guard's aggressive is often rewarded, as shown with 11 And 1s in just 21 games last year.
Quite simply, he's a boom-or-bust guy. And at No. 22, there's worse gambles for the Celtics.
Goga Bitadze (Center, Buducnost VOLI)
Oh, we're talking gambles? How about Georgia-born center Goga Bitadze.
First of all, love the name. Secondly, love Bitadze's Euroleague game even more. Playing for Buducnost VOLI of the ABA last season, the 19-year-old put up 16.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per night, and took home honors as the league's best young player, was part of the ABA's Ideal Starting Five, and finished his season by grabbing the league's MVP honors.
Bitadze also shot over 55 percent from the field, and knocked down three's at over 30 percent during the season (not horrible for a big who also possesses the ability to block shots on a fairly consistently basis).
Like any EuroLeague standout, Bitadze is a complete gamble. Hi, Ante Zizic! but we're now living in the Luka Doncic Era, and Bitadze's game has drawn early comparisons to talents like Nikola Vucevic. Not the worst comparison, if we're being honest.
The 2019 NBA Draft begins at 7:30 p.m.