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The NBA Draft lottery wasn’t kind to the Celtics, who entered it with the fifth-best odds of getting the top pick but wound up with the sixth selection. Boston will also have the 17th overall pick as a result of the blockbuster that sent the remaining members of the Big Three to Brooklyn, and which will continue to pay dividends for the C’s until the 2018 Draft. The Celtics will not, however, have a second-round selection, as they traded theirs to Dallas when they moved up to take Kelly Olynyk last year.
So, while Indiana, Miami, Oklahoma City and San Antonio continue to compete for the 2013-14 Championship, in Boston it’s time to start looking at some of the prospects the Celtics could target on June 26, starting today with the sixth pick (and leaving aside, for now, the Kevin Love trade rumors). Considering, as it currently seems, that the top three will feature some combination of Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’s Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, the first prospect on our radar is Julius Randle of Kentucky:
Name: Julius Randle
Position: Power forward
Stats: 6’9″, 250 lbs.
Randle went to high school at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, Texas, and already then he was viewed as one of the top players in his generation. As a senior, he earned co-MVP honors at the 2013 Jordan Brand Classic, along with Parker, who was attending Simeon Career Academy in Chicago.
In his only college season, Randle averaged a double-double for Kentucky with 15 points and 10.4 rebounds in 30.8 minutes per game, while shooting an even 50% from the floor. He led a very young Wildcats team in both scoring and rebounding, and didn’t miss a game all season as Kentucky finished second in the Southeastern Conference and lost to Florida by a single point in the tournament final on March 16, where Randle did not have a good performance.
He made up for it in the NCAA Tournament, however, recording double-doubles in each of the eighth-seeded Wildcats’ first four games as Kentucky knocked off #9 Kansas State, #1 Wichita State, #4 Louisville and #2 Michigan to shockingly reach the Final Four. He had 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting in a national semifinal win over Wisconsin, but scored just 10 in the championship game loss to Connecticut. Still, he averaged a very solid 14.8 points and 9.8 boards in six Tournament games.
The Celtics absolutely need help up front. Boston’s two young bigs, Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, both had stretches of very solid play during the 2013-14 season, but while Sullinger genuinely looks ready to play big minutes on a regular basis, Olynyk’s rookie numbers of 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds were somewhat underwhelming. Brandon Bass has also been disappointing more often than not, although he had something of a rebound year after a poor 2012-13, and Kris Humphries, who ended the season in the starting lineup, is a free agent and not likely to re-sign.
More importantly, the Celtics were frequently outrebounded, with nobody averaging more than Sullinger’s 8.1 boards per game, which was tied for 29th in the NBA. Randle is a very athletic player who would definitely help Boston win some battles on the boards. The concern with him is his defensive ability – while his offensive game has been favorably compared to that of Grizzlies All-Star Zach Randolph, he could struggle defensively at the pro level.
Those issues notwithstanding, Randle would absolutely not be a reach at number six. He has the size and the potential to be an NBA star, and while the Celtics may not relish the prospect of having three top frontcourt players with less than three years of professional experience next season, Randle’s talent could very well be worth the wait.