Hannable: Appreciate Bennett, Long for leaving New England the right way
by: John Tomase on Mon, 02/27/2017 - 1:12pm
Now that Jimmy vs. George is over, Celtics fans can turn their sights to the battle that truly matters: Lonzo vs. Fultz.
By keeping Brooklyn's pick in this June's draft, Celtics boss Danny Ainge has positioned himself to land the best amateur in the country. If the Nets finish last in the league, which seems a virtual certainty, the C's will own a 25 percent chance of picking first and a 44.9 percent chance of selecting first or second.
While those odds don't technically favor them, the C's still possess a better shot than anyone else of landing one of the top two prospects in the nation -- Washington point guard Markelle Fultz or UCLA counterpart Lonzo Ball.
Kansas's Josh Jackson or Duke's Jayson Tatum could enter the conversation, but for now it's a battle of Pac-12 point guards, whose contrasting styles make for a fascinating debate. So let's dive in.
First of all, Fultz is the consensus top pick among draftniks for his off-the-chart physical skills and on-court measurables. He's 6-4 with a 6-10 wingspan. He's a tremendous ball-handler with some DeMar DeRozan in his intermediate step-back game, explosiveness at the rim, and NBA range.
He arrived at Washington with questions about his 3-point shooting ability, but has answered them by shooting .413. He's averaging 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists a game. As Bleacher Report notes in its excellent breakdown, he's trying to become the first player in 25 years of record keeping to shoot 40 percent from 3 while averaging a 23-5-5.
He's exactly what NBA teams crave in this era of scoring point guards -- a 6-4 facilitator with the size, quickness and skill to create his own shot. He's a legit scorer who doesn't turn 19 until May, which makes him one of the youngest players in the draft. Youth equals upside, and NBA GMs crave upside.
Ball plays differently. He's a pass-first point guard with unparalleled court vision. At 6-foot-6, he uses his size to see over defenses and find his teammates for easy shots. He's why UCLA is shooting 52.9 percent from the floor and has a chance to surpass Duke's 1992 national champs as the best-shooting squad in NCAA history.
Fans of a certain age may recall another freshman point guard who took California college basketball by storm 25 years ago -- Cal's Jason Kidd. Ball owns a similar skillset. The hype we heard about last year's No. 1 pick, LSU forward Ben Simmons, also applies. Balls watches the game unfold at a different speed and he's a facilitator. His basketball IQ is off the charts. He could run an NBA offense tomorrow.
He's also a good 3-point shooter, converting at a .414 clip, though we'll get to his shot in a second. He scores almost all of his points either at the rim or from deep; according to Hoop Math, only 7.8 percent of his field goal attempts are 2-point jumpers. He possesses almost no midrange game, though this isn't necessarily a problem in an NBA built around shot efficiency.
Ball is also a winner. The fifth-ranked Bruins defeated No. 4 Arizona on Saturday to improve to 26-3. He comes from a basketball-crazy family, the oldest of three brothers who are all expected to play at UCLA. His dad, LaVar, spent a couple of years on NFL practice squads and has turned the boys into their own corporation, which isn't necessarily a positive. But at the very least, Lonzo Ball has proven an ability to thrive as the center of attention.
This being the NBA draft, and the players in question being teenagers, there are red flags on both, however.
Earning the label of consensus best player in the country hasn't helped Fultz lead Washington anywhere. The Huskies are just 9-19 and have lost 10 in a row. They rank 11th in the Pac-12, have lost 11 times by double digits, and couldn't even beat a mediocre Yale team.
Their worst loss of the season? A 41-point blowout in the first matchup of Ball and Fultz three weeks ago. Their individual numbers were similar -- 22-6-5 for Ball and 25-6-5 for Fultz -- but UCLA romped to the 107-66 annihilation.
Fultz's casual work ethic raises concerns, as does his free throw shooting (65 percent), and whether his 3-point percentage will translate to the tougher defense of the NBA. And while his physical skills scream elite defender, he gambles too much a la Rajon Rondo to qualify.
The Celtics must ask themselves how much weight to assign Fultz's lackluster intangibles, especially in the face of tremendous physical and basketball skills. Realistically, that package would probably prove too hard to pass up if the C's pick first.
The questions about Ball are mostly on-court. His shot is . . . weird. It starts around his armpits and includes a pronounced hitch off the dribble. He shoots like he's 5-foot-3 and just trying to reach the basket. While the results are there, it's fair to ask how viable he'll be as an NBA shooter in anything other than catch-and-shoot situations. Then again, Kidd wasn't the most orthodox shooter, either, and he retired in 2013 third on the all-time 3-point list.
With Ball, long-term issues also loom. His family hails from California and his very, very, very -- VERY -- outspoken dad just guaranteed his son would join the Lakers, apparently attempting to will Los Angeles atop the lottery.
It's reasonable to question the likelihood that Ball would remain in Boston beyond his rookie deal. His brash father has already said he'll be better than Steph Curry, which is laughable, offensive, and unnecessary. If the family plan is for all three sons to play at UCLA and then find their respective ways to the Lakers, then Ainge would be a fool not to consider that as he debates whom to pick. (For what it's worth, Fultz is from Maryland and has proclaimed no allegiances to the Wizards.)
Want to see both in action? Good news! UCLA hosts Washington on Wednesday at 11 p.m. The Bruins will probably win by a ton, but the game within the game should be fascinating. It's a question the Celtics could be asking themselves in short order:
Lonzo vs. Fultz -- who ya got?!?