Here are two facts: Duke stars Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett looked fantastic last night in their debuts, and the Boston Celtics have the Sacramento Kings’ pick, top-one protected.
Piecing together those facts is enticing, even though doing so is incredibly premature. Let’s do it anyway!
The Kings started the season hot — just like the Celtics, they are 6-4 — but while Sacramento’s young players look good, they aren’t likely to continue at that pace, meaning Boston has a great shot at a lottery pick. How good that pick will be remains to be seen — other teams with more incentive to lose have started worse than the Kings and will be racing to the bottom on purpose.
Still, it’s difficult not to watch Duke dismantle Kentucky and wonder what the Celtics might look like with Williamson or Barrett in tow. Some brief thoughts:
– Williamson, who does not have elite height for his position, has faced questions since high school about his level of competition in South Carolina.
“What will he look like,” many wondered, “when he goes up against players his own size and in his tier of athleticism?”
The answer to the second concern is also the answer to the first: There may not be anyone in Williamson’s tier of athleticism. He uses his unique frame to crash his way to the basket, but he’s nimble enough to avoid opponents when he needs to. Then when he gets to the hoop, he can finish off the glass or simply elevate and keep elevating until there’s no one left around him, giving himself clear vision for the finish.
Watch him elevate here against 6-foot-11 Nick Richards.
Williamson’s ball-handling and passing have always been underrated. His athleticism — even when coverage has been its most breathless — has always been properly rated. He has work to do, but he looks great.
– Barrett, meanwhile, looked as advertised (No. 1 pick material), and maybe better. He showed in his Team Canada performances that he can both run the show and score, utilizing elite athleticism of his own. His shot was a question mark, but he went 3-for-7 in his debut from behind the arc, including one from comfortable NBA range.
Most impressive: Barrett can get to the rim in so many different ways. He probes out of the pick-and-roll patiently — finding seams in an almost Harden-esque manner. When he needs to pick up the pace, he can accelerate and blast off to the rim, throwing down monster dunks and finishing through contact.
– The race for the No. 1 pick is still undecided.
– The race for the No. 2 pick might be decided early.
– The Celtics could have as many as four (four!) first-round picks this season. Even so, they might need a minor mathematical miracle to get either Williamson or Barrett. Since the No. 1 pick would end up with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston’s chances might hinge on their chances of getting the No. 2 overall pick (or their ability to move up, if they want one of the two exclusively). But a team that lands No. 1 or 2 will have spent the whole season selling their fanbase on the top of the draft and might very well not want to make a move.
That, of course, would not be a disaster. There will be solid players available in the lottery (including Duke’s Cam Reddish, for example), and the Celtics already have roster loaded with talented youth.
But Celtics fans staring longingly at Duke’s best players might want to take a deep, bracing breath. The numbers working against Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett donning a Celtics uniform heavily outweigh the numbers in favor, at least in the early going.
Still, one can’t help but imagine.