The ESPN analytics staff dusted off its NBA Draft Projection model this week, assigning grades and boom/bust percentages to college players with a goal of projecting their likelihood for NBA success (read this explainer for details on the model).
Here’s the interesting part for Celtics fans: This year’s class delivered the highest average draft grade for the top 50 college prospects of any draft since the model began tracking in 2001. That’s seemingly good news for a team armed with eight selections (or 13.3 percent of the entire 60-pick draft).
A couple things to keep in mind: The model doesn’t project international players or high school players. That eliminates guys like Dragan Bender and Thon Maker from this year’s draft and skews the model a bit for drafts from 2001-05 when the NBA still allowed prep-to-pro leaps.
But the high average draft grade suggests that there’s talent to be found throughout this year’s event, even if it’s not as top heavy as some recent drafts. If Boston is in a tough spot with a not-so-obvious selection at No. 3, then things might be a bit easier navigating from there for a team that also holds picks Nos. 16, 23, 31, 35, 45, 51, and 58.
A look at the average player grade, among the top 50 college prospects, in every draft for the past 16 years:
(You can view individual grades for the top 40 college players in this year’s draft)
Looking back at last year’s draft, the Celtics ended up selecting Terry Rozier (30th in model; 16th pick), R.J. Hunter (40th in model; 28th pick), and Jordan Mickey (34th in model; 33rd pick). In 2014, Marcus Smart had the highest grade (93.9) and third highest All-Star percentage of any player in the last five draft classes.
Sharon Katz of ESPN’s analytics squad also notes that Jared Sullinger ranked high in the draft model (6th in model; 21st pick) in 2012, while James Young (22nd in model; 17th pick) wasn’t nearly as touted. The one that got away — Justise Winslow — owned the third highest grade last year, behind only Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor.
Some leftover draft notes after the Celtics worked out 32 players over three days of draft workouts last week. Those players ranged in caliber from top-of-the-draft candidates like Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, to lottery hopefuls like Maker, to players who are highly unlikely to be considered for selection.
Murray’s record in perspective
Murray raised eyebrows when he set a Celtics pre-draft record by connecting on 79 of 100 3-pointers.
Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge noted that the team has done the 100 3-point exercise off and on through the years, but that Murray’s performance in a pre-draft setting was impressive.
“Some years we decide to take the time in the workout to do it. Sometimes we don’t,” said Ainge. “That’s a good score.”
Have players scored in the 80s?
“Yeah, but not too often when you come in for one day in a draft workout,” said Ainge. “Most of the time [it’s] our own players when they do it every day will get in the 80s.”
Murray clearly has intriguing offensive skills, but the Celtics also tested him defensively.
“Defense is half the game. It’s very important for us to evaluate,” said Ainge. “[Coaching assistants] Alex Barlow and Kenny Graves got some good runs in [Wednesday] trying to attack [Murray].”
Murray and Domantas Sabonis each participated in individual workouts on Wednesday, shunning the typical group approach that affords teams a look at players in more competitive situations against other draft-eligible bodies.
What can the Celtics gauge from an individual workout?
“We try to push them a little bit, try to get them out of their comfort zone, try to probe some weaknesses in situations,” said Ainge. “Where, if we didn’t think you were great at finishing with your left hand, let’s do some of those. We always test conditioning and toughness, so we always push the guys pretty hard. That’s kind of what we’re looking for. It’s really all you can do.”
Added Ainge: “We always like for the kids to compete and the kids want to compete. It’s their agents. That’s why they have them. They are trying to do what they think is in their best interests. It’s give and take. We work with them and do the best we can. We would like them to play 5-on-5 for probably 100 straight days, but they have to rest. They have to protect themselves and have to do what’s best for them.”
View from the top
Murray’s visit Wednesday brought through the highest-ranked player (third on Chad Ford’s big board) and the Celtics still expect a visit from Bender whenever he arrives in the United States. After Thursday’s workouts, Ainge was asked if he anticipates the team will get a look at any of the three other players at the top of most big boards in Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, and Kris Dunn.
“Probably not on at least two of those, but we keep asking,” Ainge said with a smile.
Asked about reports that Dunn’s agents will withhold medical records from teams and whether that was a common practice, Ainge said, “It doesn’t happen that often and I don’t know how influential it is. We know Kris Dunn pretty well.”
The Boston Marathon
The Celtics put players through a three-minute sprint drill at the end of every draft workout and it’s been playfully dubbed the Boston Marathon. Despite the high number of players to pass through already this year, the record — 29.5 court lengths set by Northeastern’s Jonathan Lee in 2013 — is still standing.