At 21, few aces dealt

Celtics’ success at spot is mixed

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / June 26, 2012
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The number 21 is about to come up for the Celtics again. The team has had the 21st draft pick about once every 10 years for the last five decades, and this week it also will select 22d and 51st.

Judging by their past 21s, the Celtics might have had better luck at the blackjack table than throwing the dice on draft picks. They did hit the jackpot with the 21st choice in ’06 - but Rajon Rondo was technically a Phoenix Sun when the Celtics made a draft day deal to acquire him.

Here is how spotty the Celtics’ history at the No. 21 spot has been: Rex Morgan played 62 games in two seasons, then became a successful high school coach in Florida; Greg Kite had a 12-season professional career as a backup center, playing on the Celtics’ ’84 and ’86 title teams; Jon Barry never got to Boston, traded to Milwaukee along with a ’95 draft choice for Alaa Abdelnaby; Joseph Forte barely got on the court for the Celtics, then went to Seattle in a trade and is now under contract to Petrochimi Bandar Iman BC in Iran, his fifth country and 11th professional team.

This will be the fifth time since 1997 the Celtics will have multiple first-round choices. And, though having more than one first-rounder appears to increase the chances of success, the Celtics have had mixed results in these situations.

The Celtics came closest to maximizing the advantages of having multiple first-rounders in 2004, with the addition of Al Jefferson, Delonte West, and Tony Allen.

But things did not work out so well when the Celtics had three first-round selections in 2001. They had the right idea in going for guards, but they experienced problems in execution and follow-up.

In ’01, the Celtics took Joe Johnson at No. 10, sending him to Phoenix in one of the league’s more one-sided trades; Kedrick Brown at No. 11, dealing him to Cleveland after he had played 101 games in two-plus seasons; and Forte, who totaled 39 minutes in eight appearances before moving on, at 21.

If the Celtics were looking for guards that year, they might have done better with Gilbert Arenas (No. 30, Golden State) and/or Tony Parker (No. 28, San Antonio).

Luck, though, still plays a part in drafting players for NBA teams, along with analyzing, scouting, and workouts. And the track record of recent No. 21 and 22 draft picks indicates the Celtics should have a good chance of claiming players who could make an immediate impact.

Of the 10 selections in those slots in the previous five drafts, all but one (Victor Claver) were with NBA teams this season. Claver turned down Portland in 2009 to remain with Valencia BC in Spain, but he has indicated he could join the Trail Blazers next season.

Of the other nine:

■ Daequan Cook, picked 21st in 2007, competed for Oklahoma City in the finals against Miami;

■ Ryan Anderson, Darren Collison, and Jared Dudley have been starters with contending teams;

■ Courtney Lee played an important role with Orlando playoff teams and was a regular for Houston this season;

■ Kenneth Faried had an impressive rookie year with Denver this season;

■ Craig Brackins (now with Philadelphia) and Portland’s Nolan Smith and Elliot Williams were bench-warmers this season.

The Celtics certainly could have benefited from having an inside-outside threat (Anderson); speedy point guard (Collison) who could relieve Rondo; perimeter sharpshooter (Cook, Lee); defensive stopper (Dudley); or aggressive rebounder (Faried).

But the Celtics will be looking for more immediate help than a Brackins, Smith, or Williams have provided. Possibly, those players will make their name someday. The way the Celtics are set up, though, there is not much time to be patient with unproven newcomers.

For example, it took Avery Bradley (the 19th pick in 2010) more than a year and a series of injuries to be in position to make a breakthrough and become a solid contributor.

Bradley missed part of his rookie season with injuries, and then, because of ballhandling weaknesses, was behind rookie E’Twaun Moore at point guard on the depth chart early last season. Injuries to Ray Allen and Rondo opened the way.

But Bradley only got the opportunity because coach Doc Rivers followed a hunch by playing him over Moore. And it paid off, Bradley eventually replacing Allen in the starting lineup.

Bradley’s experience, though, was an example of a second-year player breaking into the Celtics’ rotation. Rondo, Glen Davis, and Leon Powe also have done so recently. So, with last year’s draft class - Moore and JaJuan Johnson - already at the head of the line, any rookie would have to make a strong impression to find playing time next season.

A seasoned professional such as Claver might have the qualities to become a part of the Celtics’ equation, but the team is not likely prepared to wait three years for a foreign prospect to show up.

Yet, expectations for the 21st and 22d choices should remain reasonable. There is little chance those slots would yield a dominant inside player to provide relief for Kevin Garnett at center - unless they were packaged as part of a trade.

The best the Celtics could hope for, if they want to improve their presence on the boards, would be with an assertive forward such as Faried, who averaged 7.7 rebounds during the regular season and 10.0 rebounds in seven playoff contests.

Other 21s and 22s have been significant role players in their first years: Anderson averaged 7.4 points and 4.7 rebounds with New Jersey; Collison 12.4 points and 5.7 assists with New Orleans; Cook 8.8 points with Miami; Dudley 5.8 points with Charlotte; and Lee 8.4 points with Orlando.

Despite those numbers, though, Anderson, Collison, Dudley, and Lee were traded before completing their second season, often the first step on the career path for a journeyman. Cook lasted three seasons with Miami, his numbers declining each year, then was dealt to Oklahoma City, where he became an important second unit performer, his playing time tailing off in the playoffs.

Brackins has more Development League appearances (25) than NBA games (17). Smith (44 games) and Williams (24) found themselves in a transition situation in Portland, their rookie seasons almost becoming a wasted year.

As for the last five 21st picks, only one has made an NBA appearance - JamesOn Curry, an ’07 choice who was inserted for 3.9 seconds of a contest in 2010 for the Clippers.

There are, of course, many examples of the fine line separating success and failure in drafting.

Take ’06, which has, so far, produced three All-Star performers - Rondo, Brandon Roy, and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Celtics were able to project Rondo’s potential. But had they not been able to make a trade, there is no telling how long Rondo would have lasted after 21. He likely would have become an elite performer, but it might well have been with a team other than the Celtics.

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at

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