NBA Hopefuls Discuss Potential Fit with Celtics Ahead of Draft
BOSTON – Over the last several weeks, the Boston Celtics have been narrowing down their draft board through a series of Zoom interviews and a select number of in-person workouts.
Not only did those meetings provide the Celtics’ front office with various insights on this year’s draft prospects, but they also allowed the NBA hopefuls to envision their eventual fit with the Celtics if they were to be selected by Boston later this evening – a topic of which several prospects have spoken over the past week.
Below, we’ve highlighted nine of those potential draftees and what they had to say about their meetings with the C’s.
Cole Anthony – Guard, North Carolina
The Celtics could look to add some scoring depth at the point guard position in this draft, and 20-year-old Cole Anthony out of the University of North Carolina could be a solid option to turn toward.
The 6-foot-3 son of former NBA player Greg Anthony averaged 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game for the Tar Heels during his freshman season, despite missing the middle portion of the campaign due to a meniscus tear.
Anthony, whom ESPN had ranked as the No. 2 overall player of the high school class of 2019, claims his injury didn’t allow him to completely showcase his abilities because he was only 100 percent healthy for the first month of the season. As a result, his stock may have dropped a bit, with some mock drafts projecting him as a mid-first rounder. That could lead to him being a steal on Draft night.
Anthony recently met with the Celtics over Zoom and said his discussions with the team went “very well.” He added that he would love to join a team like the Celtics, whom he noted is knocking at the door of a championship.
“Just stepping into a team like that and potentially having a role, that would be awesome just because I know they’re super talented, they’re young."
The idea of possibly learning from another score-first point guard in Kemba Walker also excites Anthony.
“Being able to play with someone like that and learn from them would be awesome and a blessing," he said. "That would be pretty cool.”
Josh Green – Wing, Arizona
The Celtics have had an affinity for 3-and-D wings in recent years, and Josh Green is a player who perfectly fits that mold. The Australian-born shooting guard prides himself on the defensive end, where he has proven to be excellent in off-ball coverage.
“I love playing defense,” Green told reporters via Zoom Monday afternoon. "It’s one of the parts of the game, not a lot of players enjoy playing defense, but for me, I get joy out of it.”
The 6-foot-6 University of Arizona product got to display his defensive mindset during an in-person workout with the Celtics, an organization for whom he has developed a great appreciation.
“Boston has a great tradition,” said Green, who turned 20 years old Monday. “It was really good being able to meet with them and talk with them. I think overall it’s an awesome situation, very nice people, and they’ve got a lot of goals coming in the future and it would be awesome to be a part of that.”
RJ Hampton – Guard, New Zealand Breakers
RJ Hampton is one of the youngest players in this year’s draft class, but he’s also one of the most prepared players to enter the NBA level. The 19-year-old, who was once considered to be one of the top high school recruits in the nation, took an unconventional path to the draft by reclassifying in high school to graduate a year early before bypassing the college game to play professionally overseas.
After playing last season for the New Zealand Breakers of the National Basketball League, Hampton believes he is more mature and ready for the NBA Draft than he would have been if he had taken the standard one-and-done college route.
Hampton has also had the opportunity to grow over the last few months in working out with former NBA players, including four-time All-Star Penny Hardaway and sharpshooting specialist Mike Miller.
Hampton, who has been widely projected as a mid-first rounder, recently worked out for the Celtics, with whom he seemingly had great interactions.
“Austin Ainge was there, Danny Ainge was there and coach Brad Stevens,” he said Nov. 11. “I think the conversations went well. I worked out for them — I feel like the Celtics are a great team, a great organization.”
Theo Maledon – Guard, France
Another youngster with professional experience who has worked out with the Celtics is French point guard Theo Maledon, a projected first-rounder.
The soft-spoken floor general made a loud impression in his home country two summers ago when he signed his first pro contract just after his 17th birthday. Maledon racked up the accolades during his lone professional season with ASVEL, being named the Pro A League’s “Best Young Player,” while also helping to lead his team to a league championship.
Maledon has rapidly developed into a strong shooter, which he was able to show off to the Celtics’ brass during a recent individual workout.
“Coach (Stevens) was there and Danny Ainge was there too,” Maledon described of the experience Thursday afternoon. “It went well. I think it was a very good workout.”
Aaron Nesmith – Wing, Vanderbilt
If Boston seeks to add shooting during this Draft, there may not be a better option than Vanderbilt flamethrower Aaron Nesmith.
Before suffering a right foot injury in early January, the sophomore wing had been on track to log one of the most prolific and efficient long-range shooting seasons in college history, averaging 23.0 PPG while shooting an absurd 52.2 percent clip from 3-point range on 8.2 attempts per game.
Nesmith, who met recently with the Celtics, recognizes that Boston could benefit from his floor-spacing presence if they were to select him Wednesday night.
“I think it would [fit] very well,” he told reporters on Nov. 11. “They’ve got a good, good core group of guys; really talented and they’re all very young. Going forward, that team has a very bright future and I think I could step right in and just make life easier for those guys – guys like Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, et cetera, and just giving those guys more space and more room to operate I think is going to really help elevate their game and help make life easier.”
Onyeka Okongwu – Big, USC
If the Celtics were to trade up in Wednesday’s Draft, USC big man Onyeka Okongwu could be a potential addition for their frontcourt.
The 6-foot-9, 245-pound prospect has drawn comparisons to Miami Heat big man Bam Adebayo, whose interior impact, as we all know, dealt a devastating blow to Boston during the Eastern Conference Finals. Add Okongwu into the mix, and the Celtics would instantly have a player who could potentially match up against a physical and skilled big man such as Adebayo.
Okongwu averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game for the Trojans this past season. And like Adebayo, the 19-year-old big man has been developing his ball-handling skills, which he claims he has worked on “every single day” this offseason.
Okongwu said Friday that he could fit in with any team, “due to my versatility defensively and my offensive upside and potential,” and especially with a team like the Celtics, with whom he met recently over Zoom.
“Playing with Boston, you’ve got players like Kemba Walker, [Jaylen] Brown and [Jayson] Tatum,” Onyeka said. “I definitely feel like if I was ever to be drafted by Boston, I’d definitely fit in with that young core that they have.”
Jalen Smith – Big, Maryland
Maryland product Jalen Smith is someone who is already well-versed in Celtics culture, having grown up idolizing C’s Legend Kevin Garnett.
Like KG, this 20-year-old big man provides a strong shot-blocking, rebounding presence, while also possessing the ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game last season for the Terrapins while earning First Team All-Big Ten and Big Ten All-Defensive First Team honors.
Smith is also a strong ball-handler for his size, which he believes could benefit a team like the Celtics who tend to favor versatile bigs in their system.
“I feel like I’d be able to fit in very well [on the Celtics], obviously being a versatile big, being able to affect a team on the defensive end and on the offensive end,” he said Thursday afternoon.
“Being able to help not clog the paint up for the guards, being able to help them open up space for driving lanes, and being able to hit an open shot. And just being that defensive anchor for the team and making sure that I’m always holding down on that end and allowing the offensive players on the other end to go to work.”
Isaiah Stewart – Big, Washington
Another big man who feels as though he would fit well with the Celtics is 19-year-old University of Washington product, Isaiah Stewart.
At 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, Stewart is built like a semi-truck and he has a motor to match. During his lone season with the Huskies, the interior specialist averaged 17.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, while making 57.0 percent of his field-goal attempts.
Stewart, whom ESPN had ranked as the No. 3 high school recruit for the class of 2019, revealed Monday that he has been paying extra close attention to the Celtics of late, and views Boston as an ideal landing spot.
“I’ve had a Zoom interview with the Celtics and it went great,” said Stewart, a projected late-first to mid-second-round pick. “It was a great Zoom interview and a great organization, a great coaching staff.”
He added, “I know Coach Brad Stevens had success with centers that’s similar to me. I watched them in the bubble and I feel like I’d be able to fit in pretty easily with them just the way my game is. With them having Jayson Tatum Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, they already have some superstars and I just feel like what I do could fit in pretty easy and help the team win games and get them over that hump.”
Devin Vassell – Wing, Florida State
We mentioned earlier about Boston’s love for 3-and-D wings; well, there may not be a better such option among this draft class than Florida State wing Devin Vassell.
The 6-foot-7 19-year-old averaged 12.7 points per game while shooting 41.5 percent from 3 during his sophomore season, all while showcasing an elite defensive skill set that should enable him to carve out an NBA role immediately.
Vassell was one of the 10 players who worked out in person with the Celtics and he also met with them over Zoom.
“I think it all went really well,” Vassell, a projected first-rounder, said of those meetings. “The workout went really well, the Zoom call went really well.
“They showed some interest, and it was just a blessing and a great opportunity for me. I think that anywhere that I go I’ll be able to fit in and help a team right away. So me being able to talk to them to show them what I’ve been working on over these six or seven months of quarantine, I think really helped.”