Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said earlier this month that he could look to fill specific needs during this NBA draft, and when asked what he believed his team needed, his first answer was shooting.
Boston addressed that issue with its first two selections Wednesday, taking Vanderbilt’s Aaron Nesmith with the No. 14 overall pick and Oregon’s Payton Pritchard with the 26th choice.
“Well, listen, shooting is big,” Ainge said. “As we saw in the playoffs this year and throughout the season, you’ve got to be able to make shots … We got two really good shooters, and that’s a great feeling.”
According to a league source, the Celtics traded the 30th overall pick to the Grizzlies in exchange for two future second-round picks. They also selected Israeli point guard Yam Madar with the 47th choice, and Ainge said he will most likely remain stashed overseas for at least one more season.
But the story of the night was the addition of the two marksmen. During the playoffs, the Celtics’ lack of scoring punch off the bench was glaring. And both Nesmith and Pritchard will be candidates to step into reserve roles immediately as rookies.
“What we wanted to do tonight was pick guys that we thought could come in and really compete at the time, but also help us compete and add value to winning sooner rather than later,” coach Brad Stevens said. “And I think we’ve got two guys that are gym rats, two guys that want to be really good, two guys that put the ball in the basket.”
Nesmith, a 6-foot-6 forward, made 52.2 percent of his 3-pointers on 8.2 attempts per game as a sophomore last season. He averaged 23.2 points and 4.9 rebounds but a stress fracture in his foot limited him to 14 games. He made 37.7 percent of his 3-pointers during his lone full season as a freshman.
Ainge said that Nesmith could walk into the Auerbach Center tomorrow and out-shoot most of the players on Boston’s current roster. On Wednesday night Nesmith was asked what he will bring to the Celtics.
“Absolute sniper,” he said. “A guy who is going to make life easier for the creators of the offense - Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker. A guy that’s always going to be there, work hard and earn his stripes, and do it on both sides of the floor.”
The 6-2 Pritchard, the Pac-12 player of the year, averaged 20.5 points and 5.5 assists for the Ducks. He made 41.5 percent of his 3-pointers as a senior last season.
Ainge, a fellow Oregon native, said he has been watching Pritchard for several years, including seeing him in person at the Pac-12 tournament multiple times. He said he was drawn to Pritchard’s intensity.
“He’ll make guys run,” Ainge said. “He’s playing with the ball in his hands. He gets the ball up the court very quickly and I think that’ll be a help to get the rest of the players up the court very quickly. He has that kind of leadership ability with the ball in his hands.”
Pritchard said he completed a video interview with the Celtics, but he did not complete a virtual workout for them so he was a bit surprised when they selected him. Teams were limited to 10 total prospect workouts this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I just want to bring a sense of toughness, a guy that can really spread the floor, make plays, but just really toughness, competitiveness and try to help a team try to go win a ring and a championship,” Pritchard said.
The Celtics owned four of the top 47 picks, including three first-round choices, and had looked into packaging some of those picks to move up in the draft. But league sources said this week that teams in the middle of the lottery were reluctant to trade down.
“There was a lot of discussion, but not anything that was really tempting for us in the first part of the draft,” Ainge said. “It was not as eventful as we thought, but we did have some discussions about moving up and then about moving back. But as we were watching the draft unfold and we saw that one of the guys that we identified as a player that we liked and wanted, we just hung in there and we were fortunate that we got our guy.”
Ainge had made it clear that the Celtics do not intend to add three or four more rookies to the roster, so it was no surprise that the team elected to trade its final first-round pick, 30th overall, to the Grizzlies in return for two future picks. Ainge could not comment on that deal because it had not been officially completed.