JD Davison was not sure how NBA Draft night would unfold, so on June 23 he gathered with a small group of family and friends at home in Alabama and hoped for the best. There were some anxious moments as the second round began to race by, but Davison said he remained unaffected.
“I was telling my family, ‘It’s going to happen. It’s coming,’ ” he said Tuesday. “And my agent finally called me, and it happened.”
The Celtics used their lone pick, No. 53 overall, to select Davison. It was lower than the former McDonald’s All-American expected to go, but he acknowledged that his lone season at Alabama did not quite go as planned.
He averaged 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.3 assists while shooting 30.1 percent from the 3-point line. Davison said he believes the congested nature of the college game held him back a bit, and that he should be better positioned to thrive in the NBA, where floor spacing creates a cleaner canvas.
Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said in a telephone interview Tuesday that it was clear at the start of the season that Davison intended to go on to the NBA, no matter how his freshman year unfolded.
“It was disappointing to see him drop [in the draft],” Oats said. “He didn’t have the best year, to be honest. It’s the first time in his life he’s actually had to compete for minutes and bring it every day. But he’s got a bunch of upside. He’s super athletic.”
Expectations were high for Alabama, which won 26 games and reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 the previous season. But after climbing as high as sixth in the national rankings, it stumbled down the stretch and finished 19-14.
Davison was recruited to be the team’s floor general but started just five games and never emerged as a vocal leader. Oats said that during the pre-draft process, several NBA teams called with questions about why Davison was so quiet.
“I’ll be interested to see how much he opens up as he gets to know the [Celtics] coaches and the team,” Oats said. “Until you get to know him he’s super quiet, and even once you do get to know him he still doesn’t speak up enough, in my opinion. As a point guard he’s going to have to learn how to speak up a little more.”
Oats said that Davison has excellent vision as a passer, but that his ball-handling needs refining. Sometimes, Oats said, defenders flustered Davison during his dribble, leading to errant passes.
But Oats added that Davison’s athleticism and physical gifts are impossible to ignore. He called his vertical leap “ridiculous,” and said that his dunks tended to be spectacular.
Oats recalled one sequence in a game against Houston when Davison had an acrobatic putback dunk that was followed by a similarly mesmerizing blocked shot. Davison was never scared of a big moment, Oats said.
And although Davison is still learning how to play elite defense, his athleticism at least gives him the necessary tools.
“He needs to show that he wants to be a great defender,” Oats said. “If him getting on the floor is dependent on him being a good defender, my guess is he’ll figure that out. Being in the same organization as Marcus Smart is a good thing for him.”
Davison already seems to grasp how much this franchise values that skill set. When asked Tuesday what stood out about the Celtics, he did not hesitate before answering.
“Really got to play defense,” he said. “They have the best defense in the league.”
Davison said he’s eager to learn from players such as Smart and Malcolm Brogdon. And since there is so much backcourt talent in front of Davison, he and the Celtics will be in no rush. This partnership will not be forced.
“It’s an organization where they win,” Davison said. “I knew I could come in here and get better every day. I was very happy.”