Baylor basketball star Perry Jones III was a projected lottery pick in this year’s draft, but, like Jared Sullinger, Jones III slid due in part to some level of heath concerns. The questions about his dinged up knee, coupled with the maddeningly inconsistent play that followed dropped him to the 28th pick, where the OKC Thunder snapped him up. That means the Celtics passed on a very skilled shooter, deciding instead to take Sullinger and Fab Melo instead of Jones III, a 6-11 forward with athleticism for days and the perimeter skills that could allow him to eventually play the three at the next level. So, was this the right move for the Celtics? Or will it prove to be a mistake?
For the Celtics, the decision was based primarily on need. Boston needed a tough power forward like Sullinger, who can get it done both offensively and defensively while playing both the four and the five. Jones was clearly the more skilled shooter with greater range, lateral quickness and overall athleticism. Personally, I can see why Danny Ainge selected Sullinger with the first of their two first round picks. But now we have to think about the pick immediately after Sullinger – the pick that became Fab Melo. Again, I think this was strictly a need pick. We have to keep in mind that there were a lot of unknowns leading up to the draft, first and foremost being the question of whether Kevin Garnett would return. And even if KG was going to return, Ainge recognized the fact that the team needed a true center on the roster. Fab Melo is a 7’0″ big man with good defensive skills. He was the best post defender remaining on the board. So again, it was a question of need. Ainge couldn’t afford to pass on Melo, because Melo can come in and play the five when Doc Rivers sits Garnett at predetermined intervals. So it really didn’t matter that Melo would come to the NBA without an offensive game. His ability to score around the basket should come with time.
So we know who Ainge decided to go with, and why. Now, the question is this: Should he have taken Perry Jones III?
The minor knee tweak notwithstanding, Jones didn’t battle injuries in the same way that Sullinger had to, but like the Buckeyes’ big man, Jones didn’t make the jump that everyone expected this season. Instead of improving on his flaws — his lack of aggressiveness and his inability to consistently dominant at the collegiate level — Jones only made them more evident. He looked like the best player in the country when he went for 28 points, eight boards and four assists in a win at BYU, but he was dominated by West Virginia’s Kevin Jones and Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie just a few weeks later, combining for 12 points on 6 of 22 shooting in the two games. He followed up a four-game stretch where he averaged 18.5 points and 10.5 boards with a combined nine points on 3 of 20 shooting in back-to-back losses to Kansas and Missouri.
So I think that Ainge did the right thing in taking Sullinger and Melo, while passing on Jones. Sullinger has an opportunity to become our power forward of the future, while Melo will help the Celtics develop an interior presence that was clearly missing last season. With KG and Melo on the court together, teams may be forced to settle for jump shots instead of getting easy looks at the glass – something that happened all to frequently during the last campaign. Looking at the draft through that lens, it’s clear that Perry Jones III didn’t fit with what the Celtics needed most. Sullinger and Melo certainly address the need for an inside presence.
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