With the selection of Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart and Kentucky guard James Young with the No. 6 and No. 17 overall picks in the first round of Thursday’s NBA Draft, the Celtics bolstered their backcourt.
But unless the team acquires an impact player via trade this offseason, it’s likely that their coming season will be akin to the one that came before it — a rebuilding campaign in which the focus is partly, if not largely, on developing young players.
“We’ll see. We’ll see what happens the rest of the summer,” said president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. “I’m not sure yet. It’s too early to say that. I mean, it’s an emphasis always to develop young players, so we’re always trying to do that. But how many of them we have and what our final roster is, I don’t know. But we’re very excited about these two guys and our young core right now.”
Coach Brad Stevens didn’t want to say that the team would be rebuilding next season, though.
“That’s going to have to be a question for all of you [media] and maybe you can pose that question to management, or to people that are not coaching,” he said. “I think, at the end of the day, when you’re a coach, and you’re in the midst of it, you’re trying to win every game, trying to win the next game. You don’t look at anything as rebuilding, you look at it as your next opportunity. As long as you can prepare and strive and do your best, it’s hard for me to say that, because I don’t want to sell our team short.”
If the Celtics don’t make a big trade this offseason, is Stevens confident that the team can take that step forward?
“I feel a lot better standing here today than I did on July 4 last year,” Stevens said, referencing when he was hired. “How much more comfortable I am at understanding the schedule of the NBA, the way you get the most out of our team, and the way to get the most out of our individuals. We’ll have a lot of guys back that have been a part of this and understand how we want to do things. I think we’re adding two good workers, and we’re adding two guys that are hungry to help. I think that’s all a positive.
“Can I predict how many wins that creates? I don’t predict that. I do think we’ll be a lot more prepared from a standpoint of the big picture, both on the court and in our preseason and everything else, than I would have felt last year.”
Stevens said he still felt good about who the Celtics drafted.
“First of all, we’re very pleased that we were able to get these two guys where we got them,” Stevens said. “When you look at the draft, going into tonight, I had both of these guys in my top 11. At the end of the day, you can feel really good about that. That said, I look at it from more of a big picture of this, there’s a whole group. These guys are now part of that group. We’ve all got to move in one direction.”
Smart isn’t considered a great shooter, not after shooting just 42.2 percent last season and 29.9 percent from the 3-point line. But the point guard he’s joining — Rajon Rondo — isn’t considered to be much of a shooter, either.
“I’m very aware of that,” Smart said. “It’s going to be fun to play with him. Like I said, he can affect the game in many ways. He doesn’t have to shoot the ball. He can create shots for others . . . He’s just an all-around competitor.”
Stevens is confident that Smart can improve his shooting, though.
“Marcus is a guy that, I think, his shooting is much better than his percentages,” Stevens said. “He can still improve in that area, but unlike a lot of shooters that struggle in college, depth is not going to be an issue with him. He’ll get a good range on his shot; he’s got good arc on his shot, he has pretty good mechanics, he’s worked hard on it.
“In our last workout that we had with him, he reeled off about four or five in a row, in live competition, from 3, with the games on the line. So shooting is something that I think he will improve and get better at.”
Stevens was especially happy that the Celtics landed Young with the No. 17 pick.
“We felt like he was a very, very undervalued scoring wing in this draft,” Stevens said. “Everybody in this room had him ranked a lot higher than 17, so we were surprised he was available at 17. And thrilled that he was available at 17.”
But it’s unclear what position the 6-foot-6-inch swingman might play in the NBA.
“I’ve always looked and tried to say, OK, if we have a primary ball-handler on the floor, [shooting guard] and [small forward] are pretty interchangeable in regards to actions,” Stevens said.
“Depending on who we are playing, [we can] kinda mix and match. I think he can play some [shooting guard], I think he can play some [small forward] against certain teams. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
“But he’s a player. And anybody that’s a player, who can put the ball on the floor and put the ball in the basket — we’ve talked about our struggles to score — he’s a guy that can create offense.”
Time will tell
Before the draft, Ainge again addressed the notion of how good it is compared to how much it was hyped.
“I think early in the year I said it’s a little bit overhyped,” he said. “I think midway through the year, I thought it was still overhyped. Part of that is just maybe the player in me, where, ‘C’mon, let these kids be kids.’ None of these guys are franchise-turners, and I still believe that.
“I think everything I said about the draft, I still believe. I think that, I’ve always believed that, just like in every draft, there’s going to be players that are good, guys that can start, guys that can play in rotations on championship teams. And there will be a couple of them, two or three or four maybe that become NBA All-Stars — I wish I knew which [ones].”
Ainge added that they believe the player they acquired with the No. 6 pick would be a starter in the NBA.
“How good they become, time will tell,’’ he said. “Players that we will be excited about adding to our roster, but players that I’m not expected to turn us into an immediate winner by themselves.”
The Celtics had conversations with several teams about trading picks and players, but ultimately they stayed put, without making any deals.
“There’s been a lot of conversation over the last month,” Ainge said. “There were a few tempting opportunities, but nothing exciting — nothing better than what we were able to accomplish in the draft, I think.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.