Danny Ainge is one of the savviest executives in the NBA, however, there is one area of his tenure that involves plenty of debate among fans: His track record at the NBA Draft. Just how well has Ainge done with his drafting as a whole over the past 17 years in Boston? In order to get a better sense of his body of work, I teamed up with BSJ contributor Ryan Bernardoni to look closely at Ainge’s 47 draft night selections since 2003.
Bernardoni and I teamed up to rank all of Ainge’s selections from top-to-bottom over the past two decades. We considered each player’s stats, pick positioning, and performance, focused primarily on the time played with the Celtics.
While there will be plenty of compelling choices to choose from at the top of the rankings, there was no shortage of duds in the mix for the bottom of these rankings. You can check out Part I and Part II and Part 3. Without further ado, let’s get to Part 4: Surprise steals.
20. Semih Erden (No. 60 pick in 2008 NBA Draft): The Celtics did not bring the Turkish center over from overseas until two years after he was Mr. Irrelevant in the 2008 NBA Draft. Initially, he was just an afterthought on the roster with Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal ahead of him on the depth chart. However, injuries to both big men thrust him into the rotation at times in the first half of the 2010-11 season. Erden held up well for a low usage rookie, with the C’s actually going 5-1 in games he started. The 7-footer’s stay did not last long in Boston however as Danny Ainge shipped him to Cleveland to clear a roster spot for a buyout veteran at the trade deadline. Erden headed back overseas a year and has had a long successful European career. It’s unclear what he would have amounted to in the NBA if he decided he wanted to stick around in Cleveland but this was a pretty solid showing for the last pick in a draft regardless.
19. Rob Williams: (No. 27 in the 2018 NBA Draft): This ranking may be getting ahead of ourselves for the second-year big man but the shades of promise Williams has shown put his stock high among team officials. The main problem? Williams hasn’t been on the floor enough to sustain that promising play or build any real consistency. He’s played 57 games so far in two NBA seasons, although he’s expected to be at full health for the C’s in Orlando when the season resumes later this month. Williams has added plenty of strength in his second season and his passing instincts are terrific for a big as well. Combine those skills with his elite shot-blocking and athleticism and you have an ideal mobile center for today’s NBA (minus the jump shot). The question now is whether Williams can show enough defensive discipline and court awareness to anchor a starting lineup. With the C’s locking up most of their future money on the wing, a low-cost center plucked at the end of the first draft would be a big win for the front office.
18. Semi Ojeleye (No. 37 pick in 2017 NBA Draft): The numbers don’t exactly indicate that Ojeleye is worthy of his spot, but his defensive contributions as an early second-round pick have easily outperformed this draft slot. He has helped the C’s win a postseason series with this defense (2018 against the Bucks) and probably would have been a more consistent contributor last season if it weren’t for the logjam in the frontcourt of veterans ahead of him. With his 3-point shot starting to come around this season (36 percent from 3), he’s likely going to have a place in this league for a long time as a situational 3/4 defender. He’s clearly a very limited player on the offensive end but the fact that he doesn’t try to overstep his role adds to his value.
17. Gerald Green (No. 18 pick in 2005 NBA Draft): This looked to be a bust of a pick early in his tenure but Green has been a great reclamation project over the past decade as an energy scorer off the bench following two years in Russia, beginning in 2009. The C’s wisely sold relatively high on him early in his career in the KG deal when he still had tremendous upside as a 21-year-old wing. Green never delivered into a starter at the NBA level but still managed to provide a critical scoring punch at times across his eight NBA stops, including for the Celtics during the 2017 playoffs. He hasn’t played in the NBA this year in the midst of rehabbing an injured foot but his career isn’t over just yet with teams knocking on his door for the Orlando bubble (he declined multiple offers). He also stands out as the winner of the most bizarre sideline beverage drinker in the NBA as he requested hot cocoa on the bench every game at the TD Garden.
16. Jared Sullinger (No. 21 pick in 2012 NBA Draft): Ainge and the Celtics got some bang for the buck out of the gate here with the late first-round pick as Sullinger was an immediate contributor on a playoff team in his rookie season at age 20. A back injury ended that rookie campaign early though and the injuries that caused his stock to drop in the draft ultimately proved to be his NBA demise just five seasons into his career. Before that, however, Sullinger was one of Brad Stevens’ most reliable contributors at the start of his rebuild, using his rebounding prowess to post a steady stream of double-doubles. The 3-point shot never quite got figured out (27 percent over his career) but Sullinger provided good bang for the rookie contract buck during his four years in Boston.
15. E’Twaun Moore (No. 55 pick in 2011 NBA Draft): The Celtics probably never would have dreamed that the late second-round pick would end up being the far better selection than his Purdue teammate JaJuan Johnson in the 2011 NBA Draft. In fact, one of the few mistakes Danny Ainge has made via his trades as a C’s GM is including the undervalued Moore as part of a trade package for Courtney Lee in the summer of 2012. Moore didn’t get many chances during his rookie year in Boston (38 games) but he has managed to carve out a very impressive career for himself as a bench sharpshooter, primarily in Chicago and New Orleans over the past six seasons (39 percent in his career). His defense and size will always be a weak spot but it’s safe to peg him as one of the best ever No. 55 overall picks in NBA history, especially since that’s a spot in the draft that rarely even earns a roster spot.
14. Kelly Olynyk (No. 13 pick in 2013 NBA Draft):