Danny Ainge may be better at drafting than you think
Danny Ainge’s 14-year tenure as the general manager and President of Basketball Operations has been full of memorable moves.
Ainge has made trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett that led to a championship in 2008 and then traded Garnett along with Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets in 2013 to start a rebuild. In 2015, he traded Marcus Thorton and a future first round pick for Isaiah Thomas, who made the all-NBA second team in 2017 and led the Celtics to the best record in the Eastern Conference this past season.
Ainge has also made tremendous head coaching hires in Doc Rivers, who was the coach of the 2008 championship team, and Brad Stevens, who is responsible for speeding up the Celtics rebuild.
But the one thing Celtics fans have criticized Ainge for is his draft picks. Ainge has made nineteen first round picks since he’s taken over as the head of the Celtics, and only one of those nineteen picks has been an all-star. However, the Celtics average draft spot is 19 in the last 14 years. And it is well known that most all-star players are drafted in the lottery selections (picks 1–14) in the NBA.
To determine if Ainge is a good drafter, I looked at each of the first-round picks Ainge has made and graded them not by just how good they are, but how good they were in relation to where they were picked.
The Celtics selected Boston College guard Troy Bell with the 16th pick in the 2003 Draft. Bell would be traded on draft night and the Celtics ended up with high school center Kendrick Perkins, who was picked 27th overall.
Perkins would become a key player for the Celtics, starting at center for the team that won it all in 2008 and made it back to the Finals in 2010. He averaged 5.4 points per game and 5.8 rebound per game in his career and was regarded as a good rim protector.
The 27th overall pick in the five following drafts consisted of role players and fringe starters, which Perkins could be considered as.
Perkins was a good value pick in comparison to the rest of his draft and in relation to his pick. To add to this, he was also a starter for a championship team and for this Danny Ainge receives an A.
The Celtics made three first-round picks in the 2004 draft. Ainge selected center Al Jefferson with the 15th pick and guards Delonte West and Tony Allen with the 24th and 25th picks respectively.
Although Jefferson and West would be gone by 2007, their talent would help them receive Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in trades. Jefferson would make the All-NBA third team in 2014 with the Charlotte Hornets and West would average nearly 10 points per game for his career and was a regular rotation player for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2008–10.
Allen became a defensive stud, making the NBA All-Defensive first team three times and the NBA All-Defensive team two times. He was also a key rotation player for the 2008 championship team.
For this draft, Ainge receives an A for drafting an All-NBA player and one of the top perimeter defenders of all-time with great value.
The Celtics selected guard Gerald Green with the 18th pick in the 2005 Draft.
Green has averaged 9.6 points per game in his career and is largely known for winning the dunk contest. Green was one of the five players in the Kevin Garnett trade in 2007 and bounced around the league after that. When it looked like his career was done, Green had a resurgence year in 2013–14 for the Phoenix Suns, averaging 15.8 points per game and starting in 48 games as the team went 48–34 that season. He has since comeback to Boston, where he started in a few playoff games after the team went down 2–0 in the first round.
Green has been a serviceable player, so Ainge gets a B for the pick. You hope that Green could’ve played more of a role on the teams he was on, but he’s been good enough to play 12 seasons and be a useful player.
The Celtics originally picked Randy Foye with seventh pick in the 2006 Draft, but traded him to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Celtics would acquire Rajon Rondo, who was the 21st pick of the draft, shortly after the draft concluded.
Rondo became a pivotal Celtic from 2006–14, starting on the 2008 championship team and made four All-Star games. He also made an All-NBA team and multiple All-Defensive teams.
Celtics fans know how good Rondo was for them, and for this draft, Ainge receives an A.
The Celtics didn’t make a first-round pick in this draft after trading their pick (Jeff Green) for Ray Allen.
The Celtics selected guard J.R. Giddens with the 30th pick in this draft. This was the first bad pick Ainge made as Giddens only played 38 games in his career. That’s not even half of an NBA season!
Ainge receives an F.
The Celtics pick in this draft went to the Minnesota Timberwolves as a part of the Kevin Garnett trade.
The Celtics selected Avery Bradley with the 19th pick in this draft.
Bradley has been one of Ainge’s best picks. He’s currently the longest tenured Celtic and has been a regular starter for the last five seasons. He was also the third best player on a team that finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference this past season.
Bradley has also been one of the league’s top perimeter defenders since he joined the league, making an All-Defensive team twice and is likely to make it for a third-time next week. He’s also continued to improve, averaging a career high 16.3 points per game in 2016–17 while shooting 39 percent from three-point range.
It’s not often that you can pick a player of Bradley’s caliber with the 19th pick, so Ainge receives an A.
The Celtics would end up with JaJuan Johnson who was picked 27th in this draft. He played TWO less games that Giddens did.
The Celtics drafted Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo with the 21st and 22nd picks respectively in the 2012 Draft.
Let’s get this out of the way, it was clear from the second he was picked that Melo would bust. The thing he was highly touted for was his defense. However, he played in a defensive system at Syracuse that’s illegal in the NBA. To go along with the fact that he banged his head while trying to walk through the doorway, it was just a bad pick for the Celtics. May he rest in peace.
Sullinger on the other hand was an interesting pick. He was expected to be a top 3 pick in the 2011 Draft, but he decided to stay at Ohio State for another season. In the leadup to the 2012 draft, it was discovered that Sullinger had back issues which caused him to fall out of the top 10 of the draft.
When the Celtics selected Sullinger, he was a heavy contender to be the “sleeper pick” of the draft. Sullinger showed promise in his first season before injuring his back. Sullinger continued to show some promise, but never really elevated his game. He averaged 11.1 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game in 25 minutes per game in his four years with the Celtics.
The Celtics decided to let Sullinger go when he became a free agent in 2016, and after failing to show much for the Toronto Raptors, Sullinger is now a free agent.
Sullinger did provide solid minutes for the Celtics for four years, which would receive a B, but due to the Melo pick, Ainge receives a C for this draft.
The Celtics originally had the 16th pick in this draft, but traded up to the 13th pick to select Kelly Olynyk.
Olynyk has been a solid role player in his four years as a Celtic, and his 27 points in game seven against the Washington Wizards is the reason why the Celtics won game seven. That alone makes the pick at worst a “C.”
Olynyk has averaged 9.5 points per game and 4.7 rebound per game in bench minutes in his four seasons with the Celtics. Considering how poor the 2013 Draft has been in the NBA, Olynyk has provided solid production for the Celtics. In the event the Celtics do sign a max free agent this summer, Olynyk is almost certainly gone. So, like with Sullinger, Ainge gets a B for this pick.
The Celtics selected Marcus Smart and James Young with the sixth and 17th pick, respectively.
Smart’s offense has been erratic so far, as he’s shooting below 30 percent from three and 40 percent from the field. But he’s shown promise at times and has the talent to get hot from shooting, as seen in the Celtics’ only win in the Eastern Conference Finals this past season. He’s also been an impactful, versatile defender and continues to make key plays in key moments.
Young hasn’t been as good of a pick. From the start, Young has had to deal with an overcrowded backcourt and was nearly cut before the start of last season. Most of Young’s minutes come in garbage time, which shouldn’t be happening to a player in his third season.
Due to first-round rookie contracts lasting four years, I’ve decided that you must play four years to receive a draft grade. From this point on, Ainge’s selections will be left as ungraded.
The Celtics selected Terry Rozier and RJ Hunter with the 16th and 27th picks, respectively.
Rozier made a jump into the rotation in his second season, averaging 17 minutes per game. He also played a key role off the bench in the Celtics series against the Wizards, playing like an energy guy off the bench. Rozier’s offensive game is definitely raw and doesn’t show much upside, but he looks like he can be a solid backup point guard in the NBA.
Hunter was cut from the team in 2016.
The Celtics selected Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic with the third, 16th and 23rd picks, respectively.
When the Celtics announced that they had picked Brown, they faced a lot of backlash from fans. Wyc Grousbeck was even booed at the draft party! But Celtics fans have started to fall in love with Brown as he shot 34 percent from three and made several exciting plays on offense in his rookie season. Brown has shown the potential to be Ainge’s best possible pick since Rondo, but time will tell before we know.
Yabusele and Zizic continued to play in Europe and are expected to join the Celtics next season
Using a GPA scale, Danny Ainge’s drafting GPA comes to a 3.0, which is a B in the grade world. The B grade for Ainge’s drafting seems about right. He’s been to do well with what he has, but outside of Rondo, he hasn’t drafted an All-Star. When (or if) the Celtics make the third pick on Thursday night, it could end up being the pick that defines Ainge’s drafting ability. If the third pick (along with Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart) pans out, Ainge will have earned a reputation as a good drafter.