Nassir Little and the Celtics

Nassir Little – 18.2 minutes –  9.8 points – 4.6 rebounds – 0.7 assists – 47.8 FG% – 26.9 3PT% – 2.8 FTA – 77 FT% – 0.5 steals – 0.5 blocks

Born: February 11, 2000
Position: Forward
Class: Freshman
Height: 6′ 7″
Wingspan: 7′ 2″
Weight: 220 lbs



Prior to playing even a second for North Carolina 6’7 forward Nassir Little was projected as a no-brainer lottery pick. His strong body and long arms make him the prototypical 3-and-D wing for the modern NBA. Scouts knew beforehand how challenged Little is shooting the ball. His calling card on offense is his ability to translate his frame to become nearly unstoppable in transition. Ranking in the 71st percentile scoring 1.143 points per possession. Little and can use his body to compensate for his lack of shooting up until a certain point. Which is why he’s played below 20-minutes for Roy Williams.

Little needs work developing his BBIQ. Sometimes Williams would challenge Little to defend a decision he made and he couldn’t. You can make the case the college game was too advanced for Little. Except that doesn’t dissuade anxieties of him fitting into an even more complex professional league. Being physically gifted Little didn’t need to cram about opposing players or the coaches schemes. If he wanted the ball from you he’d just take it.

During the 2015 NBA Finals the shorthanded Cavaliers lead the favored Warriors 2 games to 1. ESPN contributed Amin Elhassen recalled when he saw a meme simply saying “Effort > Efficiency.” As if efficiency is lackadaisical and doesn’t command any labor to maintain it. Little’s efficiency in high school was his effort.

Little’s woes on offense are hard to paint as the fault of the talent around him. Point guard Coby White is projected to be taken inside the top-10 and by all accounts flourished as a scoring and facilitator.

Despite rumored disagreements between Little and Williams the five-star recruit never earned the label as “uncoachable.” He’s a hard worker and asks questions. As Williams put it “That’s going to be his saving grace,”

Little is a mixed bag. All of the physical tools for a long and fruitful NBA career. A master of none, adequate in only one facet of his game. He can do a pretty slick Jeff Green impression and disappear on any given night and on the next make you think he’s forcing the issue too much.

Maybe Little made a mistake picking North Carolina. Duke was also on his shortlist of possible collegiate destinations. Just look at how we’ve spent the last year fawning over Zion Williamson even though it’s still a question mark whether he can shoot the ball. Possibly, that could have been Little. We’ll never know now.

If the Celtics draft Little it’ll take a long term commitment to develop him into someone who better fits the role of a 3-and-D. They’ve taken taller tasks in terms of turning non-shooters into above-average ones before.

Little is eager to turn the page on his poor college career and is a hard worker. It’s hard for me to imagine him seeing the floor even in garbage time in his current state.

P.J Washington and the Celtics

P.J Washington – 15.2 points – 7.5 rebounds – 1.8 assists – 52.2 FG% – 42.3 3PT% – 5.1 FTA – 66.3 FT% – 1.2 blocks – 0.8 steals

Birthday: August 23, 1998
Height/Weight: 6-8 – 228 pounds
School: Kentucky
Position: Forward
Wingspan: 7’2.25
Standing Reach: 10.5


P.J Washington raised quite a few eyebrows when he returned to Lexington for his sophomore season in lieu of declaring for the draft. Perhaps it had more to do with the class ultimately being stacked with centers that carried higher upside than Washington. Or Washington believed there’s facets to his game he’s yet to have improved.

During the waning days of his high school career Washington only visited three schools prior to committing to Kentucky. The University of Nevada and the University of North Carolina. For someone like Washington, a seamless fit in how the modern NBA uses versatile stretch forward/big he certainly picked the coach who’d constrain him the most. Despite shooting 42 percent from three-point  his lowly 78 attempts leave me worried if it’s all smoke and mirrors. Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn’t been very fond of bigs shooting threes. The notorious case is how he used Karl Anthony-Towns.

However, coach Cal inspires trust amongst his players who aren’t the big names you’d see on ESPN. Names like Willie Cauley-Stein and Tyler Ulis enjoyed successful sophomore campaigns and arguably saw their draft stock rose as a result despite age being the biggest factor in the scouting process. Up until late March Washington was positioned on the fringes of the lottery before the rise of Sekou Doumbouya, Jaxson Hayes, Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke leapt over him, according to ESPN’s latest mock projections. Fortunately the prognosticators at ESPN believe Washington will still be on the board when the Celtics turn comes at 14.

Comparing Washington’s freshman campaign to his sophomore one the clearest thing that comes to my mind is the growth of his role in his second season. The departing forwards on the roster (Kevin Knox, Jared Vanderbilt). Overall shot attempts are up from 7 to 10.4. Usage rate jumps from 20.8 to 25.8. His individual offensive rating went from a below-average 110.1 to a well above-average 119.5. As far as refining his skills on the court Washington made the best choice for himself to return to college.


Washington shot nearly 55 percent on his 2-point attempts and flashed potential to be a serious pick-and-pop threat from deep. Watching him against Tennessee I was taken aback at the moves this man has in his arsenal. Scoring in the 95th percentile (1.391 points per possession) on catch-and-shoot threes. 1.323 PPP on guarded shots and 1.455 on unguarded shots. Though the sample size is small Washington’s stroke and mechanics leaves the promise of him growing into an All-Star down the road. Washington’s high release makes his shot nearly unblock-able. On the inside Washington’s jump hook scores a 1.294 PPP

Kentucky scores 1.694 PPP on 36 possessions in which Washington passes out of the post. That’s in the 99th percentile. His passing is an underrated nugget to his game the issue being his apparent selfishness and inability to overcome his tunnel vision.

Washington grades out as below-average on defense despite his 7-3 wingspan. He’ll need to move his hips more swiftly and work on closing out harder.

I relate him to a more fluid Kelly Olynyk. Though shorter than Olynyk Washington possesses a high BBIQ to compensate for his shortcomings on defense. Like Olynyk Washington can survive on the perimeter on both ends of the floor and holds a wide array of moves such as pump fakes, spin and counter moves to get to wherever he wants to on floor.

Tyler Herro and The Celtics

Tyler Herro – 14 points – 4.5 rebounds – 2.5 assists – 46.2 FG% – 35.5 3PT% – 1.1 steals – 93.5 FT% – 2.5 FTA

Born: January 20, 2000
Position: Shooting Guard
Class: Freshman
Height: 6-6
Weight: 195
Wingspan: 6-4.5


Tyler Herro in his lone year at Kentucky flourished in his role as someone who mostly played shooting guard, but moonlighted at at the point. Ranking 19th in the SEC in total assists (91) and 11th in points produced (479). Despite his diminutive wingspan – it is disputed whether it is 6-3 or 6-5 – Herro managed to average a pretty solid rebounding total on the defensive glass (151). He doesn’t earn his reputation for being a hard noised, grit and grind white guy like Grayson Allen. Herro proved he could shoot and drive in his lone campaign in Lexington. A very lethal threat off the dribble the 19-year-old scores in the 86th percentile on jump shots off the dribble, according to synergy and in the 63rd percentile in the same shot unguarded.

His release is quick and a pretty sight to behold. Though his 35.5 percentage from three-point leaves people to question how he was able to carve out a reputation as a “shooter” his 93.5 free throw percentage and and his form leaves me optimistic he’ll translate well into the pro game.

It’s the little things in Herro’s game which breeds optimism from NBA scouts and why some have Herro going sooner in the draft rather than later. Equipped with a nice pump-fake and an ability to sidestep defenders, Herro can get to the charity stripe often enough to inspire confidence. He’s fairly intelligent and rarely he doesn’t make the right play and you can count on him not to resort to “Hero Ball.”

As a defender Herro grades out as average in isolation. His energy is unmatched fully aware he’ll need to compromise for his wingspan paling in comparison of his competition. This is reminiscent of Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Except where NAW comes off as a bit of a gambler Herro doesn’t hunt and can maneuver himself around screens a bit better than the Virginia Tech guard. What’ll hamper Herro though is his lack of explosiveness which’ll no doubt lead to many of his attempts to finish at the rim blocked. People compare Herro to Joe Harris, but he could get downhill rather quick. Herro doesn’t strike me as someone who can.

Herro is rather fluid in all of his mechanics, rarely does he come across as clumsy. He can find his space and rise up for what appears to be a great look. Only they don’t fall very often. If his in-game speed can improve his ability to finish with either hand near the rim will no doubt come in handy. As a ball-handler we can potentially see Herro switch to point guard as he has shown at Kentucky he can take advantage of smaller defender and make nice passes.

People often point to J.J Redick as a favorable comparison. I see Herro’s ceiling as an Avery Bradley type. Herro can fall in love with the midrange, only taking 4.5 three-point attempts this season and will need serious straightening out regarding his shot selection. We’ve seen the Celtics nearly pull their hair out with Jayson Tatum having the same issue. Herro is taller than Bradley, though with a shorter wingspan. But Bradley was someone who moonlighted at Texas as a point guard, mostly played the two and was quite the tactical defender himself. Bradley’s shooting percentages did not wow scouts and he fell right into Ainge’s lap at 19.

Stevens transformed Bradley’s offensive game over the course of a summer in the middle of his career. If Herro can average 5 or 6 attempts from beyond the arc per game he’d make them at an above-average rate. It’s debatable whether the Celtics are in a place where they can afford to give him those opportunities.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker and the Celtics

Nickeil Alexander-Walker 16.2 points – 4.1 rebounds – 4.0 assists – 47.4 FG% – 37.4 3PT% – 4.2 FTA – 77.8 FT% – 1.9 steals – 2.9 TOV

Born: Toronto, Canada

Height/Weight: 6-5 – 205

School: Virginia Tech

Wingspan: 6-9

Birthday: September 2nd, 1998

 

When doing research for this upcoming draft one of the prospects who’ve intrigued me the most was Virginia Tech’s guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Age 20, will turn 21 in September, NAW spent two seasons in Virginia before declaring for the NBA Draft. The first game I’ve seen him play was against Boston College – matching up against another guard I’m fairly curious in junior Ky Bowman projected to be a late 2nd round selection.

NAW represents the same platitudes applied to someone like Jalen Brunson the year prior. They are leaving college at an older age so they must be the most “responsible” prospects and carry the “least risk” if you take them. Brunson and NAW both sported impressive BBIQs and a decent ability to read the floor. Where Alexander-Walker loses me is his  inability to create separation due to his lack of athleticism. NAW fit V.T’s defensive scheme perfectly. Buzz Williams scheme is mostly to play the zone on defense and some full court trapping. This is where NAW’s overall feel, awareness and BBIQ come into play. Able to garner steals despite his average frame.

Against Boston the Hokies could not have asked for a better game from Alexander-Walker. If you wanted to see a versatile, rangy, cagey prospect you’ll won’t be disappointed. Not only did NAW torch the Eagles for 25 he was able to do it by penetrating the lane and hitting his Js.

The speed of the collegiate game course pales in comparison to the pace of the professional ranks. NAW shown no indication he can keep up and belong in his current form. He’ll need to become quicker on his feet and showcase that he can shoot the three-pointer at an NBA level. NAW struggled mightily against a lengthy Duke squad anchored by R.J Barrett (6’10), Cam Reddish (7’1) and Zion Williamson (6’10). This matters because of the recent success of teams with crazy long wingspans, like Milwaukee and Toronto, the league is shifting away from one reliant on guards to versatile wings. Lacking that initial burst off the dribble NAW will need to develop some moves around the basket to even have a chance.

At the NBA level it is suspect Walker-Alexander’s defensive capabilities can translate. Despite averaging 1.9 steals a game, his per 40 totals out to a lowly 2.2.


I believe if Alexander-Walker carves a place for himself in the NBA it’ll be for his ability to knockdown jumpers and not for his defense. His average wingspan and body leave much to be desired and I think he’ll grade out to be a taller Terry Rozier than a shorter Danny Green.

Goga Bitadze and The Celtics

Goga Bitadze – 62 2pt% – 67.3 3pt% – 6.1 PFs per 40 – 14.4 pts – 6.3 trb – 0.9 ast – 0.6 stl – 2.1 blk

Buducnost/Georgia

International

Center

Height: 6’11”

Weight: 250

Wingspan: 7’2″

Standing Reach: 2.25

Date of Birth: 6/20/1999 (Turns 20 on draft day)




I am typically skeptical of overseas prospects. The only leagues I believe are worth a certain respect from pro-league scouts are in Spain and Germany. Not too long ago Uncle Sam found himself playing catch-up to the Spanish after the 2004 Olympics ended in the U.S team being unceremoniously dethroned as King of Basketball World.



People tend to point to Dirk Nowitzki, Kristaps Porzingis and Giannis Antetokoumpo as reasons to remain optimistic in overseas talent. I’ve already stated the German and Spanish leagues are the best basketball products outside of the States’. As for Giannis, we don’t appreciate how much of an anomaly he truly was for Milwaukee. Nobody knew the level of competition Giannis faced. Giannis was also extremely skinny – there wasn’t much optimism about him putting on some muscle. The Bucks lucked out with Giannis becoming a workout freak and developing his body the way he did.



When initially reading about Goga Bitadze my first thoughts of him are of Dragan Bender minus all the hype. Bender was drafted a year after Kristaps-Mania overtook the NBA and a talking point going into the 2016 draft was finding the next Porzingis. Buying into the hype the Phoenix Suns selected the 7 foot, one inch power forward from Croatia over Jamal Murray, Buddy Hield and various other American prospects. Today Bender 21 with one foot already out of the NBA. Phoenix whiffed badly. Bender did not play enough minutes to warrant the hype he received from many respected basketball writers like Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer. How in the world did a kid who played just 8 minutes a game for Maccabi the year prior get so high on every draft board? Beats me.



That all being said I have no such reservations about Goga.



Goga is not thin as a rail like Bender was and is quite filled out for someone so young. His 6’11 height is aided by his 250 pound frame and the bulking up he’s down between his age 19 and 20 seasons playing for Mega Bemax in the Serbian League. This past year Goga joins the likes of Danilo Gallinari, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Mirotic (2x), Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Luke Doncic (2x) as recipient of the EuroLeague Rising Star award averaging 14 points off of incredibly efficient shooting. Goga is more than just a spot-up artist. He can run the floor, dunk, isn’t averse to contact and sports some mean post moves.

Here is the rundown of his Points Per Possession in certain playtypes:

Pick-and-Roll: 1.272

Weak Side Cutter: 1.267

Guarded Jump Shots: 1.214

Post-Up Js: 0.957

Transition: 1.129




He absolutely kills it in almost every facet of his game. As I stated before Goga’s ability to withstand contact on the inside is a major plus, it gets him more opportunities at the charity stripe. Averaging 5.8 attempts this past season shooting nearly 70 percent. His 7’2 standing reach allowed him to collect an awe-inspiring 13.5 blocks per game per 40.



His footwork is amazing, arguably the most polished part of his game. Can play with his back to the basket. If he is able to take his lumps in the NBA and develop further we are potentially looking a clone of Jusuf Nurkic. Despite being 25-pounds lighter than Nurkic was his rookie campaign Goga is roughly the same size as featured modern era bigs like Joel Embiid and Karl Anthony-Towns. Goga is right now the perfect size for the modern league and will thrive if given the opportunity and space to.



If Romeo Langford and P.J Washington are off the board for Boston at 14 I’d strongly consider taking Goga. His upside is too much to pass up on – especially for a team picking in the crap shoot area of the draft.