Boston Celtics climb into Postseason Race – Even if they didn’t mean to

Danny AingeEarlier this season, the Boston Celtics dealt with all kinds of tanking allegations. Aside from trading star point guard Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks, Boston President Danny Ainge didn’t exactly made the type of offseason moves that indicated a serious postseason run. But here we are with only a handful of games left and the postseason is exactly where it looks like these young Celtics are headed.

Currently, Boston is 36-42 and sitting in the eighth and final playoff spot. Their record is identical to the seventh-seeded Brooklyn Nets and one game ahead of the chasing Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat (both 35-43). So looking at things now, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Celtics in the postseason. The question remains, though, what does Ainge think of his overachieving Celtics.

So far, he hasn’t exactly offered ringing endorsements over Boston’s run, which severely diminishes their chances of getting a high lottery pick. However, he does support his club as they battle for one of the Eastern Conference’s final two remaining playoff spots. Here’s a look at what Ainge told the Boston Globe:

“Hopefully we can get a little better [over the next few days] because I think that both players and coaches feel like there’s things we can do better, but especially with such a young team we need more practice time together to reach our full potential. That’s why being in the playoffs would be nice from that standpoint, having a couple of weeks of hard games to prepare for and focus. I think that’s even more valuable than what we’re going through right now, which is valuable. I’m excited about the last five games of the season, to see how it turns out. I’m excited we get a couple of days off to catch our breath and we get some practice time.

[con’d later] It’s hard to manage a bunch of different agendas at once and we’re just trying to get our players better. It’s been a very positive year whatever happens in these last five difficult games ahead of us. But I believe there’s been a lot that’s been accomplished. It’s a credit to the players and the coaches. You could be the greatest coach in the world but if you got players that don’t have character to understand where the team is at and what’s happening . . . It could be tough on any coach and I think it’s a credit to Brad [Stevens] and the players that they’re playing and developing a reputation of a team that shows up to play and they’re playing hard and they’re playing to win.”

isaiah-thomas-celticsAs Ainge alluded to, there’s plenty to like about this promising young team. Isaiah Thomas (19.7 PPG) has quite possibly become the NBA’s best bench player since coming over from Phoenix. Avery Bradley (11.4 PPG) has proven to be a very effective young point guard. Jared Sullinger (13.7 PPG, 7.9 RPG) is playing a nice low-post game for the Celtics. And Kelly Olynyk (10.4 PPG) is finally realizing his potential after a highly touted college career at Gonzaga.

In fact, just about everybody on the Celtics has made contributions this season, with nine players averaging at least 9.5 PPG. And this doesn’t even include sixth-overall pick Marcus Smart (7.6 PPG, 3.3 APG), who’s steadily seen his game improve over the year.

So while Ainge’s unannounced plans to tank for another high draft pick may not have worked out this season, there is more than enough to be excited about with this young and emerging team.

Andrew Wiggins not No. 1 Pick? Julius Randle, Others factor in

andrew-wiggins-not-number-oneThe 2013-14 NBA Season is one that’s expected to see several teams tank just to have a chance at Andrew Wiggins. For the past two years, NBA clubs have been salivating at the prospect of landing the number one pick and grabbing the 6’8″, do-it-all forward. But is Wiggins really the first true slam-dunk number one pick since LeBron James?

Most teams are convinced so, but others have their doubts when it comes to his on-court efforts. “Until Wiggins learns how to play hard,” said an anonymous NBA scout, “he’s Kansas’ third-best freshman.” Another long-time scout said, “Wiggins has been advertised pretty high. Is he that good? The jury is still out.”

Okay, so this isn’t the general consensus by all NBA GM’s and scouts, but it is enough to consider opening up the discussion that Wiggins may not go first overall. The 2014 NBA Draft class is loaded with talent and several other players who, in a different year, might easily be the top pick. 6’9″ Kentucky freshman Julius Randle is one player who immediately comes to mind. According to DraftExpress, he’s the predicted number two pick behind Wiggins. So it’s not unfathomable to think that, with an excellent college season, Randle could leap up to the top pick.

Other players who could sway GMs’ minds include Australian combo guard Dante Exum, Duke freshman Jabari Parker, Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon and Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart. Even Wiggins’ fellow Kansas frosh teammates, 7-footer Joel Embiid and guard Wayne Selden, could factor into the number-one pick debate.

andrew-wiggins-not-number-one-1An NBA scout discussed several of these players by saying, “Julius Randle is the real deal. Jabari Parker is really good. Dante Exum, he was super impressive at the Hoop Summit at practice and is smooth and can shoot it. Marcus Smart, if a team needs a point guard, he can be a high pick, too. This upcoming draft class is outstanding.”

Despite these glowing reviews of other players, some teams are still fixated on Wiggins. His talent first shined through back at the 2012 Hoop Summit, when the Toronto native dominated an exhibition between the World Team and United States. Wiggins scored 20 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked two shots against the US team, which included Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel.

As alluded to before, many people around the league have compared Wiggins’ potential impact to LeBron. Other scouts believe that, in the “worst-case scenario,” he’d be similar to Tracy McGrady or Vince Carter. In any of these scenarios, the Canadian still would be an outstanding, All-Star-caliber player who has a great career.

Beyond simple comparisons, the league loves Wiggins’ athleticism and upside. His dad, Michael Wiggins, played in the NBA while his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, was a track star for Canada. He’s also considered to be a solid citizen who doesn’t get into trouble off of the court.

Still, Andrew Wiggins isn’t the once-thought guaranteed number one selection that many thought previously. The biggest scare is his ability to continually stay motivated and play hard. This could be the main thing that keeps him from ascending to a LeBron James, or flaming out amidst the hype, like Omar Cook and Sebastian Telfair did.