On Tuesday morning, two days before entering the NBA Draft with just a second-round pick at his disposal, Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens was asked about how he planned to upgrade his team that fell just two wins short of an NBA championship.
“I think we have to walk a fine line a little bit,” he said then. “I think teams are fragile. I think the way teams work together and operate together are fragile. And I think your identity as a team, when you find one that’s successful, which we did this year on the defensive end of the floor and when we were at our best sharing the ball offensively, those things are fragile. So to just add doesn’t mean that you’re not taking something away from the group.”
With that guiding light in mind, the Celtics on Thursday stood pat with the No. 53 overall pick and selected Alabama freshman guard JD Davison rather than cobbling together some package of current players or future picks in order to acquire a better pick.
“I mean, the costs for moving up was just too, too much for where we are,” he said late Thursday night. “And whether that was into the 20s or even the 30s or the low 40s, for us, it was OK [not to]. We’ve got a good list of guys that we’re comfortable with, and as the draft continued and it became obvious that we had two or three guys still on our board there in the last couple of picks to choose from, [we] felt pretty good about it.
“Tonight was about finding somebody that we could invest in, that we could put a lot of time into, that we could help grow in their young career, and hopefully help JD or whoever we picked in that spot get better and really start their career off on the right foot with an investment from a staff and an organization for the long term. So we weren’t looking for anybody, necessarily, that was going to come in and change the game for our team at 53. And so we talked about moving up, but parting with significant players on our team or parting with draft assets that you can use with these [trade exceptions] and those types of things didn’t make much sense.”
Davison, a 6-foot-3 point guard, was a consensus top-20 recruit in the class of 2021 and averaged 8.5 points and 4.3 assists for the Crimson Tide as a freshman last season. He scored a season-high 20 points in a December win over Gonzaga and has excellent speed and athleticism, but connected on just 30 percent of his 3-pointers and averaged 2.9 turnovers over 25.8 minutes per game.
Davison did not complete a pre-draft workout with the Celtics, but Stevens watched him practice last October and Boston’s scouting staff saw him play in person several times.
“He had some incredible games, and he had some games where he looked like a freshman,” Stevens said. “So he has consistently competed, consistently carried himself well on the court, and the ability to get into the paint is a hard thing to be able to do in this league…We do think he has a good feel as far as getting the ball out of his hands quickly and finding the right people, especially on spot-ups. He’s very unselfish in that regard.”
The Celtics traded their first-round pick, which turned into the 25th overall choice, to the Spurs in last February’s trade that brought guard Derrick White to Boston.
It was the second consecutive season in which Boston had only a second-round pick. Last year the team drafted French forward Juhann Begarin 45th overall. The year before that, Boston used a second-round choice on Israeli point guard Yam Madar. But this season, Boston moved away from the draft-and-stash approach, in which international players remain overseas to develop after being selected, while teams retain their draft rights.
“We’re in a position roster-wise where we can focus on the development of a young player, too,” Stevens said. “I think that’s important … Barring anything crazy here, he’s not going to have a ton of pressure to come in and impact us right away or move the needle for us right away. He’ll be able to compete for minutes just like anybody else. At the same time, he can grow, develop, focus his attention on improving.”