CHICAGO — It’s so early in the draft lottery game. The Celtics won’t even find out where they will pick until Tuesday night, but they do know that their first selection will be among the first eight picks.
Their agenda at this week’s NBA Draft combine is to become more familiar with all of the prospects through workouts and interviews, and pay close attention to those who could fill a definite need (small forward, center) or are perhaps a better alternative to someone currently on the roster.
Boston is one of the more active teams here because the Celtics own two of the first 17 picks, and some NBA observers believe Boston could score just as big with its second pick as with its first.
The Celtics have spoken with several players over the past two days, including Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, UCLA’s Kyle Anderson and Zack LaVine, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, and Michigan State’s Gary Harris. Perhaps the most mysterious player to draw Boston’s interest is Australian point guard Dante Exum, who on Thursday faced the American media — many of whom have only seen Exum play on YouTube videos.
“My game has changed a whole lot since those clips,” he said in the middle of the horde. “I am a get-to-the-rim type of player, and that’s what puts me in a good position to be a point guard and that type of vocal leader.”
Exum is 6 feet 5 inches, a guard in the mold of Russell Westbrook. The Celtics have also talked with Gordon, the hulking, athletic Arizona forward who is considered a Blake Griffin type because of his leaping ability and defensive prowess.
Gordon’s eyes lit up when asked about the possibility of playing small forward in the NBA and defending the likes of LeBron James.
“I see myself as a forward; I see myself as a basketball player,” he said. “That’s the one thing I for sure can do is guard. I love defense just as much as I love scoring. It’s really fun for me to make sure that guy can’t score. Teams are going to be real surprised with the completeness of my basketball game.”
When asked about the Celtics, Gordon said: “I like Boston a lot, I really do. It’s a traditional program. It has a lot of good players on it. It might just be missing a few things but they could be right back there in a few years.”
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and other team management members sat courtside as a slew of prospects worked out, but Ainge wasn’t wowed by any particular segment of the day.
“Not much to get out of it,” he said. “I’ve seen all these guys play. The most you ever get is a little bit out of this thing, but sometimes you don’t get anything. Today, I would say nothing. It’s not frustrating. It just happens sometimes.
“Everybody is here, not just me. I know these guys pretty well. I put a lot more stock to what they do in the games than what they just did here. But I do get something out of the interviews, which I’ll be doing until [late Thursday].”
Ainge is intrigued by the large pool of the players the Celtics are studying for the 17th pick.
“There’s some good talent in that pick,” he said. “Yeah, we’ve got to make the right ones, get the right guys. We don’t take needs. We take the best players available.”