C's Introduce Army of Draft Picks in Waltham
WALTHAM, Mass. – Less than 15 hours after completing the busiest Draft selection process in the NBA, the Boston Celtics on Friday afternoon welcomed their army of fresh picks to their training facility to formally introduce them to the city of Boston.
Five of the six draftees – with the exception of No. 45 pick Demetrius Jackson – were in attendance, surely running on fumes after an exhilarating and likely sleepless night.
The players received their first taste of the NBA lifestyle, as they were surrounded by a throng of cameras and media members while making their respective pitches of what they have to offer on basketball’s most elite stage.
Here are a few takeaways from the afternoon…
Brown Brings the ‘Wow’ Factor
Having been around the league for more than 30 years, there’s not a lot that makes Danny Ainge’s jaw drop – he’s just about seen it all by now.
But when the C’s president of basketball operations first saw Jaylen Brown step foot on a basketball court, he couldn’t turn his gaze away.
“The first time I ever saw him play… it’s hard for me to say ‘wow’ when I watch basketball players because I’ve been around so many great ones in my life,” Ainge said from his podium post Friday afternoon, “but he made me say ‘wow’ a few times.”
Brown dazzled the Celtics with his extreme athleticism and versatility, which prompted the organization to select him with the No. 3 pick. His new head coach, Brad Stevens, believes those factors will aid him in a smooth transition from college ball to the pros.
“Obviously, in this league right now, one of the deciding factors in being able to compete at a high level is to be able to do multiple things with one person,” said Stevens. “Very few guys can move like Jaylen, at his size and at his length. So the defensive versatility is a big piece of that that should be transferrable right away.”
No one believes that statement more than Brown himself, as he displayed a smooth, confident persona Friday afternoon.
“I believe in myself 100 percent,” Brown told the media. “I believe in my game and I believe in my work ethic. I don’t think anybody works as hard as me, especially not in this draft class, so I’m going to go out and show what I can do.”
Though that confidence is also balanced with a sense of realism, as he understands it will take time to develop into the star he believes he can be.
“I mean, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he said. “It will take time, but you’ll see.”
Yabusele’s has Unique Blend of Size and Agility
The first thing that stood out about Guerschon Yabusele Thursday afternoon when he entered the gym was his colossal stature.
Boston’s second Draft selection – the 16th overall pick – stands 6-foot-8 and weighs in at 275 pounds. That may seem to be alarming size for a man who’s expected to run up and down a court for a living; however, with his great size comes a well-rounded skillset, according to Stevens, which is one of many reasons why Boston took him so high in the Draft.
Stevens explained that the French big man has a great combination of length, shooting prowess and the ability to put the ball on the floor. But what truly stands out to the coach is Yabusele’s surprising level of agility.
“What put me over the top for him was his ability to move laterally,” said Stevens. “For a guy that size, the ability to move laterally is pretty unique. And so in all of the different agility stuff that we do and we measure, it was pretty impressive what he was able to do, and that stood out.
“Then when you watch him on film, he’s going to be able to guard a few different spots, which, again, for that size is pretty unique.”
Upping the Ante in the Post
Boston stuck with an international theme to close out its first-round selections Thursday night by choosing Croatian center Ante Zizic with the 23rd pick.
The 6-11 19-year-old took the Adriatic League by storm this past season, as he led the league in rebounding and was named ABA Top Prospect.
Stevens reflected on the selection Friday afternoon, and noted that Zizic has the makeup to be a strong, physical presence in the paint.
“One thing that stood out in watching him on tape is he has a huge motor, and he’s very physical,” said Stevens. “He’s a great rebounder and he’s a guy that scores the ball, mostly in the paint, but will just continue to improve and improve.”
Stevens a Longtime Fan of Jackson
Demetrius Jackson was the only Celtics draftee not in attendance Friday afternoon, but Stevens had plenty of positive things to say about the 6-1 point guard having followed his career closely at Notre Dame.
According to Stevens, Jackson had been living with some Butler University grads, so the former Bulldogs coach was admittedly “rooting for him pretty hard,” while playing in South Bend.
“He’s a great kid, a really hard worker, a great personality from a point guard position and has some real athletic gifts,” said Stevens. “It’s been interesting because I’ve kind of watched from afar; I don’t get to watch them a ton, but when I have gotten to see Notre Dame play, I’ve really enjoyed his progress as a point guard, not only from the standpoint of shooting, scoring and everything else, but making plays for everybody else.”
Bentil Comfortable Remaining at Home
Another draftee that Stevens followed closely at the collegiate level was 6-8 forward Ben Bentil, who the C’s selected with the 51st overall pick.
Bentil played two seasons for Providence College, and Stevens noted how he had been a thorn in the side of Big East rival Butler University. He averaged a conference-best 21.1 points per game this past season, and one of his outbursts, as Stevens pointed out, came against the Bulldogs in the Big East Tournament, when the strong-bodied sharpshooter dropped in 38 points.
“I saw Providence play a lot because of paying attention locally in this area,” said Stevens. “So I saw Ben play quite a bit, and obviously that familiarity helped [in the draft process].”
Bentil is probably more familiar with the Boston area than any of the Celtics’ six picks, having attended school less than an hour south of TD Garden. When he heard Boston select him on Thursday night, he felt a huge sense of relief.
“It’s like I’m back home when the Celtics called my number,” said Bentil, a native of Ghana. “I’m not going that far away from where I played ball, so it’s definitely exciting for me.”
Nader Adds More Versatility to the Mix
After working out twice for the Celtics, Iowa State forward Abdel Nader was hoping he’d hear Boston call his name Thursday night. He sat in anticipation for more than four hours before the Celtics finally gave him the nod at pick No. 58.
“It gets to the last couple of picks and you’re thinking it’s over. Then you hear your name and it’s relieving,” said Nader, an Egyptian native who averaged 12.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game during his senior season with the Cyclones.
“I knew they had a high interest, but I didn’t know if they were going to call my name, so it was definitely a surprise.”
Nader believes his versatility is what ultimately caught Boston’s eye in the end.
“Coach Stevens talks about how he wants a lot of versatile players here,” said Nader. “I can play multiple perimeter positions, I can guard multiple perimeter positions and can even defend some bigs.”
The versatility, per usual, was a common denominator for Boston in this year’s draft. Now the Celtics will have a handful of eager, well-rounded assets as they head into Summer League and beyond.