Having already lost Doc Rivers to the Clippers and with the futures of franchise cornerstones Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett very much in question, the Celtics enter tonight's NBA Draft at a crossroads. Barring any late transactions, Danny Ainge will be picking in the unenviable 16th slot, a position that has failed to produce an NBA superstar in nearly three decades since the Jazz took Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton from Gonzaga in 1984. During that time there have been some other quality NBA players selected 16th (Ron Artest, Tony Delk, Hedo Turkoglu) but those men fall under the heading of complementary players, not the face-of-the-franchise player Boston currently needs.
That got me to thinking, with so many great players to suit up in the green and white over the years, who were the best Boston has selected in the entry draft? To do so, I looked to basketball-reference.com’s Win shares rating, which evaluates players based on their contributions to wins, over the expected contributions of any other average player. The stat admittedly has some flaws, as many individual statistics used in it were not kept in the earlier years of the league, necessitating estimates for many players, but from the standpoint of comparing players from different eras, it does a decent job. Taking role of the 442 men the Celtics drafted since 1947, we were able to determine the alltime top 10 players picked. To say the results were unexpected would be a major understatement.
Let’s start off with the aforementioned Billups who amazingly places as the fourth best Celtics pick in terms of career NBA WS. In fact, he ranks 36th alltime in the NBA according to the metric. The leader of the Pistons 2004 title team and Finals MVP that season earned the nickname Mr. Big Shot by repeatedly burying clutch shots throughout his career, was taken third overall by Rick Pitino in 1997. Just 51 games into his rookie year however Billups shipped to the Raptors as part of a package for Kenny Anderson, Popeye Jones and Zan Tabak. Billups along withAntoine Walker ('96), Paul Pierce ('98) and Joe Johnson ('01)—is just one of four All Star players drafted by Boston over the past 25 years.
The greatest Celtic of them all, Bill Russell, wasn’t eligible for the list because he was taken out of the University of San Francisco, not by the Celtics but by the St. Louis Hawks. What was surprising from the list however is one of the two men Boston traded for him, guard Cliff Hagan, made the list as the no. 9 Celtic pick of alltime. Hagan, a 6’4” two-time All America guard from Kentucky was selected in the third round by Boston in 1953 but returned to play for the Wildcats in 1954 (leading them to an undefeated 25-0 season). He then served two years in the military, playing basketball at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland with the Celtics holding his rights the entire time. When St. Louis wouldn’t only accept Ed Macauley in exchange for Russell’s draft rights, Boston sweetened the deal by adding Hagan who went onto become a five-time NBA All Star.
And while seeing Larry Bird atop the list comes as no surprise to anyone, it is of note that with all of the Hall of Famers that played on the parque, it’s current captain Paul Pierce who contributed the second most win shares to the storied franchise. Pierce currently ranks in the top 4 in virtually every significant statistical category for the celtics and ranks second to John Havlicek in total points and second to Larry Bird in points per game.
And that leads us back to Danny Ainge, the man who’ll be at the helm for tonight’s draft charged with rebuilding the storied franchise that took him from BYU with the eighth pick of the second round in 1981. One of the NBA’s first three-point marksmen, Ainge ranks 10th in WS among players the C’s ever drafted.
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.