Another Draft Day has come and gone, and Boston Celtics fans have been left with mixed feelings after seeing the moves made by their team. From the decision to select guards Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter in the first round, to picking Jordan Mickey and Marcus Thornton in the second round, Celtics fans don’t really know how to feel about this year’s Draft. While there is no doubt some real talent preparing to link-up with the rest of the squad for preseason training camp, some Boston supporters expected other areas of the team to be addressed. But there is enough time for general manager Danny Ainge to get busy in the free agency, and the franchise are clearly happy with the business they have done so far this offseason.
But while a lot of judgement has already been thrown at some of those players selected by the Celtics in this year’s Draft, especially in the direction of Rozier, it’s important that the Boston faithful give these rookies a chance to show what they can do. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a group of youngsters slipped under the radar and had an impact during their first season. While it remains to be seen just how big a role any of the four rookies can have next season, there are things to like about each one of the group. So just what kind of players have the franchise got on their hands from this year’s Draft?
Terry Rozier: Say what you like about Danny Ainge, but the Celtics GM isn’t afraid of making those brave decisions and none more so than using Boston’s opening pick to select a guard in Terry Rozier. The former Louisville sophomore arrived in the Draft on the back of an impressive season in which he finished fourth in the ACC scoring charts, earning a place on the Second Team All-ACC roster as well as being named in the ACC All-Rookie Team as a freshman. While the 21-year-old caught the eye enough to be on a list of 17 finalists for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award and a Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 contender for the country’s best player, Rozier had been overlooked in some areas of the media heading into this year’s Draft, but there will be plenty of eyes on him next season.
In terms of his defensive game, Rozier is just the sort of guard Ainge likes to have on his roster, one who isn’t afraid to get involved at both ends of the court. With Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley already on the Celtics roster, Rozier will be battling it out with one of the duo for a place in the starting line-up. He might not be very tall, but Rozier makes up for his lack of height with an effective leap and real agility. At the other end of the court, the rookie will bring with him the sort of speed that was dramatically missing last season until the arrival of Isaiah Thomas, and the Celtics will be a much more dynamic team with Rozier on the court. But despite his many attributes, there are areas of the youngster’s game that need working on if he’s going to have an impact on the team next season.
With a 30 percent success rate from the perimeter last season, Rozier won’t solve Ainge’s search for some reliable shooting options, and that will be one of the main aspects the new boy will need to improve. In his defence, the No.16 overall pick was carrying the Louisville offense for much of last season, but his shooting stats don’t do him too much of an injustice and the Celtics will be hoping Rozier can find a bit of consistency from the three-point line in the NBA. Coming up against the giants that will be marking him next season, the rookie will really need to work hard to find the room to shoot, and he needs to be making a better percentage of those shots than he did during his college career to prove he is the real deal.
The knives are already out for Rozier despite his stellar pedigree, but those critics will soon quieten down if the new man can start the new season well and begin establishing himself as a worthy NBA player. Celtics fans might be apprehensive about their first round Draft pick, but that might not be the case once they’ve seen the level of effort Rozier puts in on the court. If he can match his performance with his work-rate, the first round pick will have a role to play for Boston. They might not have given him the warmest welcome just yet, but Celtics supporters have shown over the years that if they think a player is putting in 100 percent, they’ll more often than not get behind him.
R.J. Hunter: For a player who could have gone anywhere in the first round, it could yet be considered something of a coup for the Celtics to have snapped up Hunter 28th overall. An exciting and consistent shooter from distance and with plenty of height, Hunter is another all-round guard capable of being an important player for Boston next season despite not being one of the strongest guys in this year’s Draft. It will be his shooting ability that Celtics need more than anything, coming off a season in which the team shot just 32.7 percent from the perimeter, the 27th best in the NBA. Having recorded 253 three-pointers during his time at Georgia State, Hunter has proven he has the distance shooting that could be a huge help to Boston next season. Hunter averaged 19.7 points for the Panthers last season, with 4.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists in his 35 appearances, shooting an impressive 87.1 percent from the free-throw line.
During his college career, Hunter was a two-time All-American Honorable Mention, becoming the first player in Georgia Tech’s history to be named as the conference player of the year and earn three consecutive First-Team All-Conference honours. Over the course of three seasons, Hunter established himself as Georgia’s all-time leading scorer with a mammoth 1,799 points, breaking records for three-pointers made, free throws made, as well as a host of other feats. The guard made national headlines last season with his late three-point winner in the NCAA tournament against Baylor, and that shot sums up everything good about Hunter’s shooting. Even in games he might not be firing in, the youngster still has the confidence to take those shots that others wouldn’t, and more often than not, make them.
One of Hunter’s strengths as well his weaknesses is his quick release. While this can open up chances that many wouldn’t see, it does often result in a frustrating night for his team-mates if his eye isn’t in. Hunter may lack the physical attributes of Evan Turner and the sound defensive game of Avery Bradley, but the rookie guard will definitely have a role to play when it comes to three-point shooting. Weighing just 185 pounds, Hunter has had to adapt his game to compete against bigger players. The question is now whether he can handle playing against the 250-plus pound monsters that he’ll come up against in the NBA this season. Despite the presence of more rounded and experienced guards on the Celtics roster, Hunter’s reliable shooting radar should make it so he gets a decent amount of court time in his first year in a Boston team that have a lot to do if they are going to have lots of people betting on them this season (at the time of writing they are as long as 100/1 for the NBA championship).
Jordan Mickey: In a break from signing guards, the Celtics used the 33rd overall pick to snap up forward Jordan Mickey. Having led the NCAA D-1 in blocks per game with 3.64 as well as topping the SEC with rebounds with 9.9 a game, the LSU youngster also earned his place in the First-Team All-SEC by the league’s coaches and media. Mickey will arrive in the NBA with a reputation for his blocking skills having become only the second player in LSU’s history to block 100 shots in a season, achieving that feat twice, with 106 in 2014 and 113 in 2015 – the only other player to previously broken that barrier being Shaquille O’Neal. While nobody is claiming Mickey is the second coming of Shaq, if he can bring some of those blocking stats with him into the NBA, he’ll certainly have a role to play with Boston next year.
Despite the fact he made it to the elite levels of being included in the Draft, Mickey could be carrying a chip on his shoulder that he wasn’t selected higher than 33rd. This could work in Boston’s favour, with the rookie keen to show the rest of the league what they missed out on by overlooking him in the first round. The Dallas-native established himself as one of college ball’s most dominant shot blockers and defensive rebounders, and the Celtics might have pulled off another smart piece of business by selecting the big man ahead of their rivals.
Mickey’s physical attributes make him effective at both ends of the court, and his shot blocking is matched up with a real knack for snatching up rebounds near the rim and helping himself to points. LSU essentially built their offense around Mickey, and the forward more than shone in a season in which there was a lot of pressure on his shoulders. The one concern for Boston’s management, however, will be the 20-year-old’s tendency to go missing offensively when coming up against defenders who can match him physically. There are a lot more big men in the NBA than in the college game, and we’ll soon see whether or not Mickey has what it takes to make it against the best in the world.
Marcus Thornton: You guessed it, another guard. Having signed Rozier and Hunter earlier in the Draft, Ainge clearly felt he hadn’t stacked enough options at guard for next season so went out and used the Celtics last pick to select Marcus Thornton. Granted, another guard might have not been high on many Boston fans’ wish-lists, but they could have done a lot worse than signing a player who was the CAA Player of the Year as well as an AP Honorable Mention All-American. A prolific scorer at college level, it remains to be seen whether he can score the same level of points in the big leagues, although Thornton has definitely shown during his time at school that he could be a useful option to have on your roster. With so many other guards on the Celtics roster, though, the 45th overall pick undoubtedly has his work cut out over the next few months to try find room in a packed backcourt now featuring three new faces.
During his three years at William & Mary’s, the guard wrote himself in the school’s record books for points scored with 2,178, three-pointers with 325, games played with 127, three-pointers made in a game with a 2.56 average, minutes played with 4,328 and minutes played per game with 34.1, during a successful college career. Coming off the back of a year in which he averaged 20 points a game, Thornton had attracted the interest of a number of other teams, but it was the Celtics who took the gamble. But despite signing the guard, it looks as though Boston intend on sending the rookie out to either the D-League or European basketball in order for him to continue his development. Thornton will have the chance this summer to prove he is worthy of some involvement next season, though, and it will be up to him to show the Celtics management that he is capable of stepping straight into the NBA despite some doubters.
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