Celtics look to future with selection of Alabama freshman at No. 53
The Celtics' off-season plans have far greater scope than Thursday night's NBA draft, especially after deciding the price was too high to move up from the 53rd pick.
But after a professed need for more playmaking, even in the form of a project, the Celtics opted for JD Davison, a 6-foot-3 freshman point guard from Alabama known for his ability to get into the paint.
The Celtics clearly aren't in a hurry with the 19-year-old.
"First of all, it's June, he's 12 months removed from high school graduation, right?" Brad Stevens said after making the pick. "So he's played one year of college basketball at a very high level on a good team, and with guys that were there who were good playmakers in their own right.
"He had some incredible games, and he had some games where he looked like a freshman," said the Celtics president of basketball operations. "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. So whether in transition, off a ball screen, off an action to be able to get into the paint, you learn as time goes on what the right reads are around you to make the right plays.
"Some of that comes with experience, but 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. But there are things he has to improve, as any 19-year-old would be. But we're looking forward to helping him do that. That's our task."
Davison came off the bench for most of his one season at Alabama, averaging 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists after passing up offers from programs like Kansas, Michigan and LSU to stay closer to home. He displayed talent for getting to the basket — as evidenced by 45% shooting — though his 3-point shooting (30.1%) needs work.
He'll join the Celtics' summer league team in Las Vegas, also with European "stash" prospects Yam Madar and Juhann Begarin on the roster. Like those two, Davison will have plenty of time to develop in a program with a much bigger picture to develop later this summer.
"I think we’re in a position roster-wise where we got to evaluate the back-end of our roster and decide on the guys who are here, decide on who we can add via trade or via free agency," said Stevens. "But we’re in a position roster-wise where we can focus on the development of a young player, too. I think that’s important. We traded the last couple of first-round picks. We like the guys that are playing overseas, both Yam and Juhann are guys that are consistently getting better and we think highly of.
"And then JD, all you have to do is turn on a couple minutes of clips and you can see the upside. So now it’s about making it so that he gets accustomed to the NBA game. He’s not going to have, 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. I think that’s really an important place to be for a young player. We got a really good team. He’ll be able to put some heat on us with his speed on both ends of the floor that I’m looking forward to.”
Though Stevens was interested in improving his draft position, the price was prohibitive.
"The costs for moving up was just too, too much for where we are," he said. "And whether that was into the 20s or even the 30s or even the low 40s, for us, it was OK, we’ve got a good list of guys that we’re comfortable with and as the draft continued, and it became obvious that you know, we had two or three guys still on our board there in the last couple of pics to choose from, you know, 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 and their young career, and hopefully help JD (reach) 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."
Though Stevens' biggest trade exception — a $17.1 million slot from last summer's Evan Fournier sign-and-trade to New York — expires on July 18, he has a plan.
"We’ve been having these talks for a while now. We’ve known who fits into our trade exception and who we might be able to target around the league and have discussions about," said Stevens. "It really comes down to cost. If the costs are appropriate, you continue discussions and if they are not, you table it for now and maybe return to those later. At the end of the day, trade exceptions are a tool but it’s not our only avenue. I think we’ve got the ability to do some small things in free agency with the taxpayer midlevel and the ability to add minimums. If that thing vanquishes because we don’t find the right deal, we still have two other TPEs to use towards the trade deadline."