Celtics take Alabama freshman point guard with 53rd pick

The Celtics’ plans for the offseason have far more leeway than Thursday night’s NBA draft, especially after it was decided the price was too high to move up from the 53rd pick.

But after a stated need for more playmaking, even in the form of a project, the Celtics settled on JD Davison, a 6-foot-3-rookie point guard from Alabama known for his ability to get in the paint.

The Celtics are obviously in no hurry with the 19-year-old.

“First of all, it’s June, he’s 12 months away from graduating high school, right?” said Brad Stevens after making the choice. “So he played college basketball for a year at a very high level on a good team and with guys who were there and were good playmakers themselves.

“He’s had some incredible games, and he’s had some games where he looked like a freshman,” the Celtics president of basketball operations said. “So he’s competed consistently, consistently performed well on the pitch and the ability to get in the paint is hard to come by in this league. Whether it’s transitioning, from a ball screen, or from an action to get into the paint, you’ll learn over time what the right reads are around you to make the right plays. Some of that comes with experience, but we think he has a good feel for getting the ball out of his hands quickly and finding the right people, especially on spot-ups. He is very unselfish in that regard. But there are things he needs to improve on, as any 19-year-old would. But we look forward to helping him with that. That is our task.”

Davison came off the bench for most of his one season in Alabama, averaging 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists after turning down offers from programs like Kansas, Michigan and LSU to move closer to home stay. He showed talent to get to the basket – as evidenced by 45% of shooting – although his 3-point shooting (30.1%) still needs some work.

He will join the Celtics’ summer league team in Las Vegas, also with European ‘stash’ prospects Yam Madar and Juhann Begarin on the list. Like those two, Davison will have plenty of time to develop in a program with a much bigger picture to be developed later this summer.

“I think we’re in a position roster-wise where we have to evaluate the back end of our roster and decide what guys are here and decide who we can add through trade or free agency,” Stevens said. “But we’re in a position in the squad where we can also focus on the development of a young player. I think that’s important. We traded the last few first-round picks. We like the guys who play abroad, both Yam and Juhann are guys who are getting better and better and we think a lot of them.

“And then, JD, all you have to do is turn on clips for a few minutes and you can see the benefits,” he said. “So now it’s about him getting used to the NBA game. Barring anything crazy here, he won’t have any pressure to come in and meet us right away or move the needle for us right away. He will be able to compete like everyone else for minutes. At the same time, he can grow, develop and focus his attention on improvement. I think that’s really an important place for a young player. We have a really good team. He’ll be able to fire us up a bit with his speed on both ends of the floor, which I’m looking forward to.”

Although Stevens was interested in improving his draft position, the price was prohibitive.

“The cost of promotion was just too much for our position,” he said. “And whether that was in the 20’s or even the 30’s or even the low 40’s, it was fine for us, we have a good list of guys that we’re comfortable with and as the draft went on, became it’s obvious you know we had another two or three guys to choose from on our board in the last couple of pics you know I felt pretty good about it. Tonight was about finding someone to invest in, someone to invest in, someone to invest time in, someone to help grow and nurture their fledgling career, and hopefully help JD get to that point, getting better and really starting your career off on the right foot with an investment of people and organization for the long term. So we weren’t exactly looking for someone who would join our team at 53 and change the game. And so we talked about moving up but getting rid of key players on our team or getting rid of draft assets that you’re able to use with those TPEs with the trade deadline and things like that didn’t make much sense.”

Though Stevens’ biggest trade exception — a $17.1 million slot from Evan Fournier’s sign-and-trade to New York last summer — expires July 18, he has a plan.

“We’ve been having these talks for a while. We know who fits into our trade exception and who we can approach and discuss in the league,” Stevens said. “It really comes down to cost. If the cost is reasonable, continue the discussions, and if not, put it on the table for now and maybe come back to it later. Ultimately, trade exceptions are a tool, but not our only way. I think we have an opportunity to do some small things freehand with the middle taxpayer and the ability to add minimums. If this thing wins because we can’t find the right deal, we still have two other TPEs to use until the close of trade. That was one of the things about that night, we wanted to make sure we were being smart with all of our future assets and not moving our team without very, very obvious steps that would help us. Those things didn’t show up so we’re staying with it to see if we can find some things that will help us improve.”

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