Lost in all the talk about the upcoming draft, what the Celtics will do with the picks, a need to get younger, and the need to begin rebuilding, is the fact that the Celtics were able to land two serviceable prospects in LAST years draft. JaJuan Johnson and E’Twuan Moore gave Celtics fans some flashes of potential in the limited playing time they saw this year. For some fans, it became quite frustrating that we weren’t able to see more of the two young guns. Doc Rivers has a history of making his young guys earn their stripes before seeing floor time, but if history is any level of foreshadowing as to what may lie ahead, we can look at the case of Avery Bradley this past season as a perfect example of what we hope may become of Johnson and Moore.
Avery Bradley struggled during his rookie campaign to find floor time. Battling an early season ankle injury, Bradley typically only saw garbage time minutes and it left Celtics fans questioning if there was something behind the scenes that we weren’t seeing that would cause Bradley to be little more than a bench warmer. When the lockout ended, rumors swirled across Celtics nation that Bradley, the former top ranked High School player in the country, was on the brink of being cut from the Celtics in training camp. Little did we know at the time that Bradley would be penciled in as next years starting two guard after a brilliant second half to the 2011-12 NBA season for the Texas Longhorns product. It took Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus getting hurt for Bradley to earn a chance to prove himself, but when he had the chance he took it and ran with it. It is that type of attitude which Doc Rivers looks for in his young guys (see: Rajon Rondo). The question remaining is whether Johnson or Moore have that mentality to break through and earn their floor time.
Both rookies have the skill set that could find a place within the Celtics rotation. Johnson was a former Big Ten defensive player of the year and Big Ten Player of the year who has a solid midrange game and can be an aggressive defender. Top ranked college players have openly agreed that Johnson was one of the toughest players they played against in their college tenure, but many Celtics fans were quick to dismiss Johnson after a few bad games in garbage time. There is more to JaJuan Johnson than what Celtics fans saw during the 2011-12 season.
During a preseason practice, I noted that Johnson had a similar outside game to that of Kevin Garnett in terms of his range, even his shooting form reminded me a bit of Garnett, though if Johnson intends on becoming anything remotely close to that of Garnett he will have to become a more reliable and confident scorer while showing us the defensive tenacity that earned him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors while at Purdue. With more playing time, I see Johnson as the most likely to make the second year leap that Bradley did, he has the raw skill to contribute to the team and become a valued member of the rotation, but still has some growing to do this offseason.
E’Twaun Moore on the other hand had a strange college career at Purdue. He started his freshman year off in a scoring blaze, and came back to earth as the next three years passed, eventually working his way into the second round of the NBA draft. Moore is a solid outside threat, and that’s about it. Think of him as a younger, less consistent version of Eddie House. Quite honestly, that is what I can see Moore becoming, a better version of former fan favorite Eddie House. Moore has the ability to drive the lane (something House didn’t) while hosting a solid yet developing perimeter game. While Moore will never be mistaken for Tony Allen, he is a decent defender. Moore should become a solid role player over time, maybe it is with Boston or maybe it is elsewhere but I can certainly see a place for E’Twaun Moore in the league.
So with that, we can take solace in the fact that the Celtics have been able to draft three solid players over the past two drafts, it will still require the Celtics to land an impact player in the next season or two. But with the three young guns they’ve acquired over the past two drafts, the Celtics are well on their way to the rebuilding process. Remember, what made the San Antonio Spurs so successful over the past few seasons isn’t just the greatness of Tim Duncan, rather it’s the Spurs uncanny ability to find young talent that many teams overlook in the draft. Whether it is Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, Danny Green, or Tiago Splitter, the Spurs drafting is the main reason why we see them as legitimate title contenders year in and year out; a model we can only hope that Danny Ainge is following closely.