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NBA Draft: Who Boston Should Take and Each Prospect’s Fit

NBA Draft Via Flickr


A Look At What Boston Should Do With Their No. 1 Draft Pick

Boston is officially on the clock. After losing to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics suddenly go from powerless to stop LeBron to having all of the power and every option on NBA Draft night.

Boston has a few intriguing options to pick from as far as prospects to draft, but also has the option to trade the pick for a big name player like Cleveland did in the Andrew Wiggins – Kevin Love deal.

Based on what happened in this serires, the Celtics aren’t one player away. It may be short sighted and prove a futile effort by Boston to pass up on potential franchise altering talents in Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball.

It can be argued another time, and we have plenty of it before draft day, if the Celtics should trade the pick and what it would take to get it from them. Today, we will look at the drafting options Boston has and how each of those players will fit with the roster.

We don’t know how each player will progress years from now, but we can fairly accurately project how each player will be utilized.

Markelle Fultz

The Washington product was the consensus number one pick throughout most of the NCAA season. Lonzo Ball ended up being favored by 7 of the 14 lottery teams just a few weeks ago, according to Chad Ford, but Boston is not one of those teams.

This graphic tells us a lot about Markelle Fultz. If we look at how Fultz was used at Washington, he was a 93.7% (close) match with what the average NBA point guard does and an 83.2% (moderate) match with the average NBA shooting guard.

NBA Draft

The graphic also shows which areas Fultz excelled in at Washington (Spot up, P&R Ball Handler, Off Screens, in Handoffs) as well as where he struggled (Isolation and Putbacks). He had very few post up opportunities, so don’t read much into his high percentile in that category. Fultz won’t be posting up in the NBA with any regularity.

Pick and Roll

Fultz is a dynamic pick and roll player, and should be put in excellent situations to succeed in that component of his game with the spread attack Boston brings. Just look at Fultz’s frequency percentages and scoring points per possession percentiles relative to the rest of the NCAA:

  • 51% – Pull up jumper: 75th percentile
  • 36% – To the basket: 96th percentile
  • 12% – Floater: 2nd percentile

With lots of 5-out sets run by Boston and great shooters all around him, Fultz may be able to swap the 51% of his pick and roll possessions ending up in pull up shots and the 36% to the basket. If those numbers were reversed, his already incredible effectiveness in the pick and roll can be deadly at the NBA level. His skill in handoffs matches that in pick and rolls, which makes sense since they’re a variation of the same type of action.

And here are his passing frequencies and percentiles as the pick and roll ball handler:

  • 21.9% – To a cutter: 73rd percentile
  • 39% – To a roll man: 22nd percentile
  • 39% – To a spot up shooter: 96th percentile

Markelle struggles hitting the roll man in the pick and roll, but that’s not too much of a worry for Boston. They only roll on their screens 24.6% of the time and much prefer to hit popping screeners or spot up shooters out of the pick and roll instead. This fits Fultz well, where his good vision and


Fultz’s weakness in isolation also isn’t too much of a concern. Rather than defer to those types of possessions when the shot clock runs down, Boston will use more action to get a better shot opportunity, as seen by their isolation frequency being one of the lowest of any NBA team in this graphic. And if Fultz is on the floor with Isaiah Thomas, he’ll be the one taking up those possessions. Fultz will continue to develop and enhance his iso game, but it’s not an immediate concern considering Boston’s offense.

NBA Draft

Off Ball Scoring

Markelle is also more than a player that needs the ball in his hands. He almost never cut at Washington, so we don’t really have any data or film to base any opinions on. We do, however, have data from Fultz running off of screens to get shots that is very promising. He was better than 76% of NCAA players in that action, one which the Celtics utilize more than the average NBA team.

He can also just space the floor as a spot up shooter, being in the 77th percentile in that category. His shooting vastly diminished when his shots were contested and dropped to the 29th percentile (which may have something to do with his poor isolation numbers), but Boston’s offense will generate open shots and put Fultz in a position to attack a recovering defense with his dribble and passes. All of this added versatility will allow him to play alongside Isaiah Thomas and score without the ball in his hands for lengthy periods of time on possessions.


My largest concern for Markelle is his defense. His numbers are a mess and his film isn’t much better. He has the physical tools to get to the point where he’s a solid NBA defender, but I’m skeptical it’ll happen anytime soon.

It’s hard to imagine a player who was in the 19th percentile defensively against college players suddenly ascending to 50th percentile or higher defensive abilities against tougher competition. Markelle may struggle mightily in the pick and roll, where he struggled to contain and was in the 10th percentile defensively, the worst mark on the team.

I think Fultz will be a below average defender. Isaiah already grades out as the second worst defender in the league by my Overall Defensive Rating, so attempting to ameliorate that deficiency with another bad defender is not ideal. It’ll be almost impossible for Boston to play a Thomas/Fultz backcourt and expect to defend any opposing team’s’ guards. Using Fultz as a bench guard to be an Isaiah lite may be the best option for Boston to replicate the type of offense their starting unit brings and try to stay away from lineups with too many defensive holes.


Boston should be very attracted by Fultz as an option. Even with only one major playmaker they ran enough good offensive sets and action to grade out best of any playoff teams so far in NylonCalculus’ KOBE metric, which is a measure of shot quality. If you’re just looking at who is getting the shots that have the highest expected value (hint: lots of corner 3s, 3s, and shots at the rim), it’s Boston. Add another dynamic player like Fultz to the mix that can pick up the playmaking slack while Thomas sits and Boston is in good shape. Staggering Thomas’ and Fultz’s minutes in that way is something Stevens will be cognisant of.

Overall, Fultz, along with his incredible potential to be a star, fits the team. He can play off-ball when in the game with Thomas and be the centerpiece that initiates the offense and makes the correct reads in pick and pop opportunities that will get his teammates good shots and him easy looks at the rim against a spread out defense. His defense is a major concern when paired with Thomas, but Fultz is a great fit for Boston in the short and long-term.

Lonzo Ball

Lonzo Ball is the other major option Boston has with their pick. The guard out of UCLA had an incredibly efficient season and brings a skill set to the NBA that may work well with what Boston wants to accomplish on the court.

Pulling the same data as we did with Fultz, we can see that Lonzo’s usage at UCLA actually better matched that of an NBA shooting guard than a point guard. His efficiency projects to be better as a shooting guard as well.

NBA Draft


The one hole from this data is Ball’s handoff numbers. He did well when getting the handoff when he’s moving, but from a stationary position he was 1/7. I looked at the film on those possessions to learn more.

Ball took deep 3s on 6 of those 7 shots as his defender went under the screen created by the big man in the handoff. The shots were deep, but he shot 31.9% on NBA distance 3s this season (Fultz shot 5.9%) so I’m okay with those open shots he was getting from this action. He made a nice move on the defender to get to the basket and score at the rim on the last shot.

Despite that 22nd percentile data on a small sample, I think Lonzo will fit well with the flip handoffs that Boston loves to utilize in many of its sets.

Off-Ball Shooting

Ball’s shooting off ball in spot up situations, where he was better than 94% of college basketball, and off screens, where he bested 77% of the nation, are similar to the asset Fultz brings to the table. This will allow him to play well off ball and alongside Thomas in the Boston backcourt.

One aspect to Lonzo’s game that we’re unsure Fultz brings is Ball’s excellence when cutting. Ball showed great feel and was a vertical threat all year for UCLA. Ball had 29 alley oop dunks at the rim in 36 games. That’s a real trend. Lonzo will fit well with the split action that Boston loves to run so much, as he’s a great cutter (88th percentile) and excellent 3pt shooter (shot 41.1% from 3 vs man defense this season).

He can play alongside Isaiah with that ability to score off ball and in actions Boston loves to run. His vision will also help Isaiah be found and help him find other open players like he did at UCLA as a great creator for others.

Pick And Roll

This same vision and quick thinking is seen in Lonzo’s pick and roll abilities. Used as the ball handler for over 50% of UCLA’s pick and roll possessions, Lonzo had quite the burden and was relied upon to make UCLA’s offense hum.

He stepped up to the plate and did an excellent job in the pick and roll both creating and scoring. His scoring was in the 81st percentile, and his passing led to scoring that was in the 81st percentile as well. Overall in the pick and roll Ball lands in the 92nd percentile, since most players aren’t as solid as he is at both scoring and creating for others.

There are a few myths out there about Ball’s pick and roll turnover percentage as well as his lack of pick and roll scoring, which I dispel here.

While I’d prefer Isaiah being the primary pick and roll ball handler, Ball can hold his own in that regard with the first unit and should do well with the second unit, especially creating for others. After analyzing both players, I don’t see Ball doing nearly as well as Fultz scoring from the pick and roll.


Ball’s isolation is a mixed bag. Overall he’s in the 97th percentile scoring in iso, but if we dive deeper into the specifics it’s not as elite at that overall percentile. His driving ability and pull ups in iso are fantastic, scoring 10/15 on those chances. But his jabs into a shot without any dribble was only 3/12 on the year. Both samples are fairly small, but that’s what we have on him in those areas to this point.

Ball’s step back move to his left is one that he’s had lots of success with on the year. But one big question on Ball, and not just in iso, is his ability to score going to his right. Like with most of Ball’s overall profile, he’s great at what he does on offense. The questions with Lonzo are what he doesn’t do, and where his true ability is in those areas.

From an overall look at the film and data, I’d project Fultz to be a better scorer at the next level in isolation. But again, if Boston plays offense the same they did this season the isolation shouldn’t matter much.


Defensively Lonzo’s data is great. His man to man defense overall was in the 88th percentile of all NCAA players.

Casual fans may point out the 39 points that De’Aaron Fox scored against Ball as an exposure of his defense, but this is another myth. Synergy only attributes 11 of those 39 points Fox scored to Lonzo’s defense.  This can be confirmed by looking at the film.

Time and time again, UCLA’s pick and roll defense went over the screen on Fox, a known non-factor from distance. This game planning by Alford is the reason for Fox’s big game, not Ball’s defense.

In fact, Ball’s season long pick and roll defensive points per possession places him in the 68th percentile of all college players, and best on UCLA’s roster.

Lonzo’s on ball defense against NBA talent won’t ever be Patrick Beverley level. He won’t be on an all-NBA defensive team, but he’s not a minus on that end of the floor either. Ball should bring average to slightly above average defense on-ball to the NBA.

Lonzo’s off-ball defense is another area Ball excels. His defense off-screens is in the 75th percentile. His spot up defense was in the 88th percentile. If we dig into that spot up defense some more, opponents shot 2/18 on pull ups, runners, or shots at the rim from spot up opportunities, and his catch and shoot defense was in the 69th percentile vs players spotting up.

His overall driving defense was in the 87th percentile. Opponents shot 30.6% from 3 against him and his mid range defense was in the 74th percentile.

We’ll have to see how he does against NBA talent, just like all of the other prospects, but his individual defense at UCLA was very good.

Ball won’t be a defensive stopper to play alongside Isaiah.  But, he should be okay as a starting SG, and can be part of a + defensive backcourt as a backup PG.


Overall, I love Lonzo. He’s a player whose data pops and is solid in film. His strengths are aplenty and his only weaknesses are those that he choses not to showcase at all. Teams should have the opportunity to test these potential weaknesses in individual workouts before the draft. Boston won’t, however, due to Ball’s recent decision to decline working out for the team.


The Field

You won’t see any credible mock draft or draft expert can make a strong case for Josh Jackson.  Or, any other prospect other than Fultz or Ball at number one. For that reason, I’m not going to spend any time discussing the other top prospects. I will, however, cover them in upcoming pieces for other teams.



Based on the talent of both players and the team fit, I believe Markelle Fultz would be the best option for Boston. He provides the perfect combination of fit and superstar potential.  That will help Boston next season and looking to the future. There will be a day Isaiah Thomas isn’t a Celtic, and Markelle will be ready to take over.

The worry with Fultz is that he can’t play alongside Thomas because of the defensive weakness both have. I’d recommend their minutes only overlap when facing the opponent’s bench. Other than that, there’s no more and no less than one of them in the game at the same time. If Fultz turns out to be an average defender, which would contradict what we’ve seen from him as a 19th percentile defender and one of Washington’s worst, there’s no reason not to pull the trigger on Fultz for Washington. He’s a much safer pick as well. Fultz is a perfect fit with what Boston want to do offensively, either alongside Thomas or as the bench playmaker.

I think Fultz is the better fit. And it’s clear from Ball’s decision to not work out with the team that he’s fine with this choice.

Next up

The Los Angeles Lakers were the other big winner of the Draft Lottery and perhaps had the most at stake. They have the second pick in the draft and will be choosing between whoever is left between Fultz/Ball and Josh Jackson. I hear De’Aaron Fox murmurs as well.


*Note: All data shown is in situations where man to man defense was being played, since in the NBA these players will face/be in zone defenses <1% of their possessions