The Boston Celtics used both of their first-round draft picks on athletic playmakers Thursday, taking the mercurial Marcus Smart sixth overall and Kentucky swingman James Young at No. 17.
Both are guards.
So is Boston’s current best player, Rajon Rondo.
“I fantasized about (Joel) Embiid falling, and then my personal druther was Aaron Gordon,” Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said on Ferrall on the Bench. “I’m not opposed to Smart. I find it very interesting, and I think it certainly opens up the whole Rondo debate.”
Smart, who probably would have been a top-three pick last year, achieved national headlines in February, when he shoved a Texas Tech fan in the closing seconds of a 65-61 loss in Lubbock. Smart, by and large, was vilified for the incident and deemed by many a head case – at least initially.
“The incident means nothing to me,” Ryan said. “Anybody with half a brain knows it was a totally aberrational moment and that it’s clear he was far from at fault. And that fan is notorious (for heckling). (Smart) shouldn’t have done what he did, but he has made all the proper apologies. No one who has investigated him or knows him thinks that he is a bad kid. Everyone thinks he’s a good kid. That incident is not why he fell from where he was last year. Why he fell from where he was last year is the fact that this is a much better draft. That’s all.”
The Los Angeles Lakers took Julius Randle with the very next pick. Randle, a 6-9 power forward, led Kentucky to the national championship game in April.
“I liked Randle, and then kind of a revisionist (or) alternative history sets in,” Ryan said. “You look at him and you (think he’s) Zach Randolph light. Then you say, ‘Wait a minute. Randolph is bigger, stronger and meaner, so he’s not Zach Randolph.’ But he is who he is. I wouldn’t have minded him at all, and I’m a little apprehensive from a Boston viewpoint that the Lakers have him. I would’ve liked to have had him. I wouldn’t have been uncomfortable taking him at all.”
But perhaps drafting Smart had more to do with Rondo than Randle.
“I just think that the fact that Smart is good – and whether he is a pure point or not – it does have an effect on the whole Rondo scenario,” Ryan said. “And I think that Celtics fans should stay tuned now to see what (general manager) Danny (Ainge) has in mind in regard to Rondo.”
Randle, 19, and Young, 18, will try to improve a Celtics team that went 25-57 in Brad Stevens’ first year as head coach. Ryan expects big things from the 37-year-old Stevens next season.
“He had like an A+ around the league. Everyone was impressed with him,” Ryan said of Stevens’ rookie campaign. “Now, he did have an extraordinarily beneficial circumstance. It was the greatest honeymoon ever. He did not have to win. As a matter of fact, when they started to win in December, local fans were aghast. ‘What are you doing?’ the people were saying. They certainly never had any mention of winning (with that roster). The fans knew the deal.”
“But I think he impressed everyone with his basketball savvy, his personality, his calmness,” Ryan continued. “Now, next year, more will be expected. But I do think it was a perfect thing for him because he did need to get acclimated to the NBA. He had never been exposed to the entire NBA thing, which means the travel, the fact that sometime in February you’re going to find out you only have 10 guys to practice with, the four games in five nights – all kinds of stuff that he had only heard about. Now, he has experienced it.”
“Plus, he’s had a year to evaluate personnel, see how the league works (and) get a feel for what he needs to do. I think he’s going to be a much better coach, and I think they’re very fortunate to have him.”