Two things were apparent during last season: the Celtics didn’t get as much as they wanted out of last year’s NBA Draft, and they desperately needed to get a shooter they could groom into a dependable piece to play alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
That’s who the Celtics are now and for the future: Tatum and Brown. Everything starts with that duo. Kemba Walker is a distant third option. Marcus Smart is a defensive ace and the team’s spiritual leader. Gordon Hayward? We’ll find out Friday.
But everything the Celtics are doing in this truncated offseason is to help Tatum and Brown take the franchise to the next level.
When Wednesday’s draft began with early surprises in the lottery —Patrick Williams to Chicago, Isaac Okoro to Cleveland, Jaden Smith to Phoenix — the opportunity increased for the Celtics not only to get a higher prospect than expected but use their three first-round picks to accomplish some concrete goals for next season.
They got that young shooter in Vanderbilt’s Aaron Nesmith, the best shooter in the draft who comes with a maturity and approach that should ensure he will be an asset next season.
Nesmith made 60 of his 115 3-point attempts for the Commodores before being sidelined by a foot injury after 14 games. There were concerns about his recovery, but his stock did not drop and the Celtics appear confident he will be ready for this season.
“You know, an absolute sniper, a guy who’s going to make life easier for the creators of the offense, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker,” Nesmith said when asked what he brings to the Celtics. “A guy that is always going to be there and work hard and earn his stripes and do it on both sides of the floor. I want to be great. I want to be the best player I can be, and so that includes defense. I’m going to give my all and the best effort I have to that side of the floor, and with my size, length, and athleticism, being able to guard multiple positions.”
Nesmith is listed as a small forward but fits right into the Celtics’ position-less philosophy. His selection also gives the team a chance for a draft reboot.
It wasn’t that last year’s draft was a failure, but the results left the Celtics realizing they needed more. Grant Williams is a solid rotational piece. But their first first-round pick, Romeo Langford, suffered a series of unfortunate injuries during his rookie season and is expected to miss a chunk of next season.
Carsen Edwards was drafted as that sparkplug bench scorer, but he never really showed the ability to contribute and is now in limbo. With one productive player out of three last year, the Celtics needed to ensure they got more value this season.
They followed Nesmith by taking Oregon’s Payton Pritchard with the 26th overall pick. Pritchard is going to be very popular in Boston because of his fiery style and work ethic. He’s one of those players who doesn’t look like he dominates, but he’s always making the big play.
If you recall, Boston fans knew little about Brown because he played one year at Cal and Pac-12 games don’t get great ratings in the Northeast. Nobody really saw Brown. It’s the same situation for Pritchard. Once he hits the floor and chases loose balls, hits threes and gets a key steal in a preseason game, it will be evident why president of basketball operations Danny Ainge nabbed him. Pritchard is a rare college senior, so he comes to Boston ready to contribute and mentally prepared to handle the adjustment to the NBA.
The Celtics added two mature players who could see minutes next season, supplementing a bench that struggled mightily at times because of its lack of talent and inexperience. The temptation to improve immediately was so high that Ainge passed on the original plan to use the 26th pick on a draft-and-stash player and instead traded the 30th pick and walked away with an impressive return.
“Payton is obviously a knockdown shooter as well that can do a lot of things with the basketball,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “So shooting is certainly important. It certainly is a high priority, but I wouldn’t say that everybody we were high on in this draft would be considered a great shooter, so we were more looking for what were the best fits at the time and we feel very good about the two picks in the first round and look forward to getting those guys here because they don’t get the benefit of a summer league and some nice preseason two-on-two before the season kicks off to get themselves ready.”
The blockbuster, draft-night trade that many expected didn’t happen. The Celtics didn’t trade Smart to the Warriors for the No. 2 pick. They didn’t move all three picks to move up eight spots to swap with Atlanta and take Killian Hayes. Boston stood pat because of the draft scenario. A player the Celtics were targeting was available at 14, and then they adjusted their plan to grab another who will bring something they lack.
Overall, it was a good night for the Celtics. They atoned for their miscalculations in last year’s draft.