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Celtics Address Backcourt in Draft: Analysis and Roster Implications

Adam Silver, Marcus Smart (Boston.com)

Prior to Thursday night’s NBA Draft, there was a lot of talk about whether the Celtics should take highly-touted, but injured, Kansas center Joel Embiid, once a candidate for the top pick, if he were available at number six. Soon, the 76ers threw all that discussion right out the window by selecting Embiid with the third overall pick. Three selections later, Boston was on the board with plenty of talent to choose from in one of the deepest drafts in years, including, unexpectedly, Indiana power forward (and Haverhill native) Noah Vonleh, whose stock fell sharply in the last days before the draft.

General manager Danny Ainge, however, took Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, and later added another perimeter player, shooting guard James Young out of Kentucky, with the 17th pick. While it’s no surprise that Ainge addressed the backcourt considering that the Celtics’ two SGs, Jerryd Bayless and Avery Bradley, are set to become free agents, the selection of Smart ensured that the conversation immediately turned to the future of Rajon Rondo. Let’s take a look at the two newest Celtics, and at what their selections could mean for Boston’s roster over the remainder of the offseason:

Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State

Smart pre-Draft profile.

Smart was a starter both as a freshman and a sophomore at OSU, averaging 18 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.9 steals last season, one year after already being named the USBWA National Freshman of the Year, a Second-Team All-American and the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year. Smart is a very solid, physical defender and perfectly capable of keeping up with the speed of NBA point guards even at 6’4″, and Boston can be happy to have got him at number six.

Many of Smart’s post-Draft comments have been about how excited he is to play with and learn from Rondo and, although they’re not that similar (Smart is bigger and more of a scorer than the pass-first Rondo), they do have one point in common that the Celtics will want Smart to work on: poor outside shooting. Smart shot just 29% from three-point land last season, compared to Rondo’s nearly identical 28.9% accuracy.

James Young, SG, Kentucky

Young pre-Draft profile.

Young entered the Draft after just one season at Kentucky, where he recorded 14.3 points and 4.3 boards for the surprising NCAA runner-up Wildcats. Young is primarily a scorer – he hit 40.7% of his field goal attempts last year, including 34.9% from beyond the arc, but was very streaky all season long. He had nine 20-point games, including the Championship game against Connecticut, but also had 10 where he failed to reach double digits at all.

The other knock on Young is his defensive effort, which seemed to be lacking at times during his college career. Still, his scoring ability and athleticism are what attracted the Celtics to him, and what should make him a good contributor, if not a starter, in the NBA. Young needs to be able to hit shots more consistently, and he has to use his physical ability to his advantage on both ends of the floor. The good news is he’s not even 19 yet, and the Celtics are clearly being patient with the rebuilding process and will take time to groom him, so there’s every reason to expect that he will be able to do both those things well before he reaches his prime. Oh, and Bill Simmons loved the pick:

What does this mean for the Celtics’ roster?

As has usually been the case whenever the Celtics make any move for a few years now, the question is, What about Rondo? The fact is, there’s a good chance that Rondo will remain Boston’s starting point guard at least to begin the 2014-15 season. As mentioned above, Smart has been quick to talk about how he looks forward to having Rondo as his teammate, while Ainge has said that they don’t plan to rush either of the two rookies into a starring role.

The Celtics’ rebuilding process has entered its second stage, the one where they start actually using all the Draft picks they’ve been acquiring over the last calendar year, whether as Draft picks or as trade chips. In other words, if Rondo is dealt, it shouldn’t be for more future assets – any package Boston receives in return should include a point guard that can start ahead of Smart, at least for a year.

The possibility of Smart playing the shooting guard position alongside Rondo has also been discussed, but that doesn’t really address the fact that Boston still needs a starting two-guard. Ideally, that would be a re-signed Bradley, who is a restricted free agent, and whose return Ainge should pursue aggressively. If Bradley can’t be re-signed, than the Celtics will have to look for another SG in free agency, because that would open up plenty of possible combinations for head coach Brad Stevens to tinker with.

There’s a chance that Young will need time to develop before he can contribute big minutes, which could indeed see Smart playing the wing for significant stretches, while Phil Pressey backs up Rondo at the point. If Ainge doesn’t want to put overdue pressure on his rookies, than the first step is to make sure that Smart isn’t forced to be an NBA starter at a different position than the one he played in college.

About Nick García - @N_A_Garcia

Nick is the Celtics and college sports editor at Sports of Boston. He writes about basketball, football and anything else that comes his way. Follow him on Twitter @N_A_Garcia

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