The Celtics entered the 2019 NBA Draft on unsteady ground. Boston was coming off a second round playoff exit that capped a disappointing season plagued by inner-team drama. Their best player (Kyrie Irving) and their most important (Al Horford) were headed for unrestricted free agency with whispers both could leave. The franchise held three selections in the middle of the first round, but the conventional wisdom said this was a top-heavy class.
Boston did lose Irving and Horford, later replacing them with Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter in free agency. The Celtics might not be as talented as last season, but it does feel like the organization now has a more stable foundation for the future than it did early in the summer. That’s because Boston crushed the draft.
Here’s a neat list of everything the Celtics did on draft day:
- Stood pat with their first pick, No. 14 overall, selecting Indiana one-and-done off-guard Romeo Langford.
- Traded its No. 20 pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for selections No. 24 and No. 33 after the Sixers had telegraphed their desire to pick Matisse Thybulle (so far, so good).
- At No. 22, the Celtics took Tennessee junior forward Grant Williams.
- Boston flipped No. 24 and Aron Baynes to the Phoenix Suns for the Bucks’ first round pick in 2020. At No. 33, the Celtics selected Carsen Edwards.
- With the No. 51 pick, Boston took LSU point guard Tremont Waters.
Draft nerds knew it was an impressive haul at the time. It looked even better when Boston’s rookies excelled in summer league. A 4-0 preseason run has only further cemented the fact that the Celtics aced the draft.
Boston might not have found a star, but it certainly improved its depth by hitting on multiple contributors that mined some of the best value out of the draft. This is the next generation of Celtics.
Carsen Edwards is instant-offense with deep range
Edwards went absolutely wild in the Celtics’ final preseason game, finishing with 30 points in 20 minutes on the strength of 9-of-15 shooting from three-point range. We don’t use this phrase lightly, but some of Edwards’ makes were downright .... Steph-ian.
It isn’t just accuracy that makes Edwards a special shooter: it’s his volume and the type of attempts he’s taking, too. Many of Edwards’ threes have come off-the-dribble and with deep range. Those are the sort of attempts that are indefensible when he gets hot and can break apart the structure of an opposing defense.
When you combine Edwards’ summer league and preseason stats, he’s 35-for-76 from behind the arc, or 46 percent.
This is nothing new for those who watched Edwards in college at Purdue. Though he struggled with efficiency last season as defenses loaded up to stop him, Edwards went nuclear in the NCAA tournament, dropping 42 points each against Villanova and eventual national champion Virginia.
Edwards fell in the draft because he’s short and not a natural playmaker, but his incredible strength and explosiveness for his size gives him the ability to get off his shot whenever he wants. Being in range from the moment he walks in the gym helps, too.
Perhaps the best thing about Edwards is that he’s similar enough to Kemba Walker that the Celtics won’t have to change their style of play much when the starters go to the bench. Expect more than a few scoring explosions this season. All hail Beef Bullet.
Grant Williams is a consummate glue guy
If Edwards’ flame-throwing causes a visceral reaction with its sheer audacity, the genius of Grant Williams’ game lies is in its subtlety. Williams might never put up big numbers, but he has a skill set that should have an immediate impact on the Celtics being able to win games.
He already has the look of an ace defender in the near future. Blessed with pristine instincts and lightning-quick reaction time, Williams is going to be great as an off-ball and help defender. He’s both strong enough to handle his business in the paint and absorb contact from offense players going to the rim, yet quick enough to stick with most guards on the perimeter.
Here he is bodying up No. 4 overall pick Darius Garland on a switch:
Grant switch defense on Garland pic.twitter.com/rSE4wWOYsA— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) October 16, 2019
Williams is also in the process of adjusting his offensive game to fit the modern NBA. In college at Tennessee, Williams was the two-time SEC Player of the Year as a bruising big man who did most of his damage on the block. He was a monster at drawing fouls, once shooting 23-of-23 from the foul line during a 43-point game against Vanderbilt.
Williams is smart enough to know his skill set needed to evolve in the NBA. Now it’s the finer points of his game that speak the loudest: he’s a quick decision-maker, smart passer, and developing shooter. He even hit a three off the dribble this preseason against the Magic.
Expect Williams to play all over the lineup for Boston this season, primarily spending his minutes at the four but also logging time at center. A strong, smart player with a refined feel for the game and a developing skill set is a massive steal at pick No. 22.
Romeo Langford is the type of upside pick Boston loves
Langford can’t catch a break since joining the Celtics. The No. 14 overall pick missed summer league as he recovered from pre-draft thumb surgery, then strained his groin in training camp, then suffered a knee sprain in the preseason.
When Langford finally does take the court, Celtics fans will find the type of high upside prospect Danny Ainge loves to gamble on. Langford was a top-five high school recruit who broke scoring records during an illustrious prep career in Indiana before joining the hometown Hoosiers and turning in a productive-but-underwhelming year. Jaylen Brown and, to an extent, Jayson Tatum followed similar paths. The Celtics will hope Langford’s poor college shooting numbers can be attributed to his decision to play through pain and delay surgery. At his best, Langford is a long, nimble shooting guard with soft touch on floaters around the rim.
Tremont Waters and Tacko Fall could contribute one day, too
Waters was the No. 51 pick in the draft after a stellar two-year career at LSU. Waters is small at 5’10, 175 pounds, but he’s an impressive pull-up shooter and passer who keeps the ball on a string as a point guard. He went off for 24 points and seven assists during Boston’s preseason win vs. the Cavs.
Tacko Fall, the 7’6 center who became a national sensation during March Madness, is on a two-way deal with the Celtics. He’ll start the year with the Maine Red Claws, where he’ll work on putting his 8’2 wingspan to use as a rim protector.
Boston’s rookie class will provide depth now and in the future
Boston didn’t just lose Irving and Horford this offseason, they also lost Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, and Baynes. What the Celtics will be missing in veteran experience, they make up for with moldable young talent that has ability to fit to Brad Stevens’ system.
Edwards and Williams both feel like ready-made contributors off the bench. Williams should get plenty of time in the front court rotation while Edwards spells Walker when he goes to the bench. There will be an opportunity for Langford later in the season too if he can get healthy.
Last season’s Celtics had more on-paper talent, but the team seemed miserable for most of the season and had trouble buying into their roles. Don’t expect the same problem this year with a collection of rookies on the bench just looking for a chance to prove they belong. Boston got some good ones.