BOSTON (CBS) – The biggest need for the Boston Celtics heading into the 2012 NBA Draft was size.
They addressed just that, selecting Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo with the 21st and 22nd picks in the first round Thursday night. Both have plenty of upside, but also come with their fair share of questions marks.
But the Celtics are full of those right now, so why not add a couple more; especially when the reward outweighs the risk.
It’s almost impossible to predict how these two will fit into the Celtics, because no one is quite sure what they’ll be fitting in to just yet. But while we all wait for Kevin Garnett to decide if he is coming back or not — or at least announce it for all to hear — Ray Allen to possibly book it to Miami, and for Danny Ainge to add anyone else to the four players currently signed for next season, at least now there is a duo of potential “low risk, high reward” picks to dissect and argue about. At least for 40 hours until free agency opens up.
Both are projects, but with some time they could become major contributors down the road.
With Sullinger, the Celtics could have one of the biggest steals of the draft, although that honor will likely go to the Oklahoma City Thunder with Perry Jones III at 28th. Had “Sully” (how fitting for Boston) declared after his freshman season at Ohio State — when he averaged 17.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and shot 54-percent from the floor in 31 minutes a game — he would have likely gone in the Top 5. But back problems saw him slip from a sure Top 10 pick this year to a lottery pick, and finally a late first-rounder. Sullinger was high on Boston’s list, so when their attempts to trade-up never came to fruition, they were happy to swoop in.
The Celtics aren’t too concerned about the back issues, mainly because Sullinger is bulky enough to use his weight in the paint. Standing at 6-8 and 268 lbs, he is a bit undersized for the four, but is extremely polished underneath and not afraid to throw his body around. His best, and possibly biggest, asset is his… well… his large backside, which he uses to clear our space like a wrecking ball.
Celtics fans can think back to other “tweeners” that have had success in green, like Glen Davis, Leon Powe and more recently Brandon Bass. Sullinger is the type of player Ainge has had success in picking, and it will certainly help that Sullinger comes from a very good defensive system at Ohio State, the top ranked defense in the NCAA last year. Sullinger learned from one of the best defensive minds in college basketball in Thad Matta, which has led to high praise for a high basketball IQ.
But “basketball IQ” is not one of the words associated with the man selected right after Sullinger; Syracuse’s Fab Melo.
In Melo, Boston netted the 2011-12 Big East Defensive Player of the Year. The 22-year-old from Rio de Janeiro is very raw on offense however, and isn’t a great rebounder for someone his size. His numbers were a little underwhelming last season, averaging 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds. But the 2.9 blocks he averaged gives some hope that, in time, he can develop into a solid defensive presence to clog the paint for Boston for a long time.
But, Melo has a lot of work to do transitioning from the college to pro game. He’ll have to get used to the three-second rule, bigger and stronger players attacking the basket, and a defensive system far more complicated than Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. Not the best student — he was declared ineligible for the NCAA Tournament for academic reasons — there are also concerns about his motivation. The Celtics may have the key to that though, as Doc Rivers and possibly Garnett barking out orders can inspire most anyone.
Both first rounders have their shortcomings, but very few players selected in the 20’s come without some questions. The Celtics got what they needed, adding size and some help on the boards, all while possibly securing some important parts for the future. Sullinger could be a key player off the bench next season, and his presence will also give last year’s first round pick JaJuan Johnson some competition down low, which is never a bad thing.
The Celtics could potentially have their front-court of the future, but just as quickly could have two first-rounders that dropped for a reason. But given the state of the Celtics, they are risks worth taking.