Dear Boston Celtics: Bring Us The Dragan

by Jason Howard Kelly

“The 3rd pick in the 2016 NBA Draft goes to… The Boston Celtics.”

Not exactly what Celtics fans were hoping to hear last night, but not the absolute worst thing either. Trust me, as a lifelong Celtics fan myself, I was half expecting the Celtics to get screwed and up with the 5th or 6th pick. This is not a particularly strong draft and the consensus is that anything outside of the top 3 is a useless pick. So, at the very least, the Celtics ended up with a pick that has some good value.

The question is do they try to trade the pick to acquire a superstar? Or, do they hold on to the pick and take the best player left on the board at #3? My mind is already made up, and it’s not going to be a popular opinion. I want the Celtics to draft Dragan Bender with the #3 pick.

It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the 76ers and the Lakers will take some permutation of Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram at #1 and #2, respectively. Those two players are viewed as the best two in the entire draft, so I highly doubt that either of them will be available for the Celtics at #3. Before I explain why I want Bender, let me first explain why trading this pick is not as viable of an option as many fans may think.

First and foremost, if the Celtics are going to trade a high draft pick then it should be if, and only if, they get a franchise, elite superstar in return. Now, if the Celtics had ended up with #1 or #2 then I would be all aboard the, “Trade the pick” train. The Celtics would be far more likely to land a superstar like Paul George or Demarcus Cousins if they had one of the top two picks to offer. Alas, it was not to be, and so the Celtics must re-think their strategy. The odds of landing a true superstar with the #3 pick as the centerpiece of the trade are not very high. Other general managers around the league know that this was a two player draft, and that the #3 pick is far less valuable, albeit not completely useless, as the first two picks. Completing a trade for a superstar would involve much more than just this year’s #3 pick. It would likely involve Boston’s other future 1st round picks, as well as one or two of the Celtics’ young starters, such as Marcus Smart and/or Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics would have to trade all of that away for a superstar who may not even stay in Boston for the long term. I would not want the Celtics to mortgage the future for just one superstar without the guarantee of that superstar staying in Boston for years to come. That being said, there is another trade rumor that I might actually consider, should it present itself. The rumor is that the Celtics could possibly trade the #3 pick to Philadelphia for Jahlil Okafor, because apparently the 76ers want to draft Kriss Dunn at #3 (keep in mind that they also have the #1 overall pick). Should that trade present itself to the Celtics then I would be totally in favor of it. Okafor would be a great addition to this team as a 20 year old, 6’11 forward who averaged 17 points per game in his first full season in the NBA.

Unless that scenario becomes a reality the Celtics should use the pick and draft Dragan Bender. Bender is an 18 year old, 7’0 center from Bosnia who can shoot from beyond the arc. Bender has been compared by many to New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis, another 7’0 center from a foreign country who averaged 14 points per game in his first full season in the NBA. I am not suggesting that Bender will be the next Porzingis, but there is always a possibility. Beyond his ability to shoot, Bender brings size to a Celtics team that is seriously in need of a net-front presence. It’s hard to say how Bender will handle the larger competitors in the NBA, but you can teach a young man how to properly defend at the NBA level. But Bender is very athletic and agile for a kid who is 7’0 tall, and you can’t teach that.

I am all in on Dragan Bender. If a trade can’t be worked out, then the Celtics should take a shot and draft him. It is a high risk, high reward move, and that’s exactly the kind of move that Danny Ainge would love to make.

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