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Adam Kaufman

Who Do the Experts Think the Celtics Will Pick in the NBA Draft?

No more waiting for the ping pong balls to bounce. The Celtics’ fate is sealed. Barring a trade, they’ll pick at No. 6 and, thanks to the Nets, again at No. 17.

With that knowledge firmly in place after Tuesday’s latest lottery disappointment, it’s officially Mock Draft Season in the NBA. Everyone has an opinion and, unlike in the nearly impossible to predict NFL, most pundits aren’t typically far off.

That being said, there are always discrepancies.

On Thursday, Boston.com’s panel of Celtics insiders – the same one that’s already weighed in this week on Kevin Love’s possible future in green and whether to keep or trade the top pick – will offer their preferred choices with the sixth selection. On Friday, the group will take on No. 17.

In the meantime, the nation’s experts have spoken.

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ESPN.com’s Chad Ford believes Boston will choose Arizona power forward Aaron Gordon at No. 6 for his “intangibles as a defender and energy guy” and because “he changes the game with his athleticism in ways that are hard to quantify.”

With the second pick, Ford likes former North Carolina shooting guard P.J. Hairston. “Not only can Hairston stroke it from deep,” writes Ford, “he has an NBA body and should be more NBA ready than the average prospect selected at No. 17.” This one is a bit of a surprise, as most people think Hairston will be picked somewhere in the 20s, despite a stint in the D-League with Texas.

Former Boston Globe hoops writer Marc Spears, currently of Yahoo! Sports, has the Celtics selecting Indiana freshman and Haverhill native Noah Vonleh with their first choice. “He’s young [18] and has huge hands,” a scout told Spears of the power forward. “He has a big body and he can shoot from outside, but he is not a great athlete.”

With the Brooklyn pick, Spears likes T.J. Warren from North Carolina State. “He’s a lethal scorer, especially from midrange in,” according to a scout, who also warns the small forward is “an unproven defender who is not a high-level athlete.”

CBSSports.com insiders Gary Parrish, Zach Harper, and Matt Moore are divided at No. 6.

Parrish likes Kentucky power forward Julius Randle. “Think of all the great freshmen who have played at Kentucky, then understand Randle recorded more double-doubles (24) this past season than any of them. His upside isn’t that of [Andrew] Wiggins or [Joel] Embiid. But Randle still projects as a possible future All-Star.”

Harper, like Ford, eyes Gordon because “the Celtics need a young player the fan base and organization can get excited about. This high-flying forward from Arizona is that guy to get geeked about. Gordon is the most exciting one of the bunch because of his athleticism and ability to play defense. If they can turn him into an offensive skill player, he may even be a steal this early.”

As for Moore, he likes point guard Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State to complement captain Rajon Rondo as a “scoring guard” and “a leader for a team that needs them.”

At No. 17, Parrish is a fan of Wichita State power forward Cleanthony Early. “That 31-point, seven-rebound effort against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament literally made Early millions of dollars. He was the best player on that court that Sunday afternoon in St. Louis.”

With that same pick, Harper is a fan of Duke small forward Rodney Hood because he “is one of the more well rounded offensive talents on the wing in this draft and would immediately be an impact player with the Celtics. He can create for others, create his own shot, and knock down the three.”

Moore supports that decision, adding, “Hood's skills can develop in a number of ways. Under Brad Stevens, he could flourish.”

Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, along with Moore, is a fan of Smart with the sixth pick, if the C’s hang onto the asset. “The last time the Celtics had a top-10 pick they traded it,” writes Mannix. “This selection could be trade bait, too, especially with Love reportedly willing to sign an extension with Boston. If the Celtics keep the pick, Smart is appealing as a physical point guard who can complement Rajon Rondo now and potentially replace him down the road.”

Mannix, similar to Spears, appreciates the idea of Warren at No. 17, explaining, “Warren has a little [Paul] Pierce in him -- he owns a nice mid-range game, rebounds well for his position and attacks the angles relentlessly -- though he shot only 26.7 on threes. With Jeff Green on the trade block and Gerald Wallace not part of the Celtics' long-term future, Warren fills a need.”

Over at the incredibly thorough DraftExpress.com, Randle is the perceived best fit for the Celtics because “Boston has all kinds of needs to fill, but are somewhat short on options here with the top two guards and rim protector already off the board. While Jared Sullinger has shown some nice flashes at power forward, Randle is talented enough to get picked much higher than this in a normal draft, and at some point will be difficult to pass up.”

Eleven picks later, the Celtics could be prepared to select UCLA shooting guard and work-in-progress Zach LaVine. “At this stage in the draft, the Celtics can afford to take a swing on a project like Lavine, who is many years away from contributing, but has significant upside with his intriguing combination of athleticism and perimeter shooting ability.”

The folks at HoopsHype align with Spears and target Vonleh, though they acknowledge he will “likely need a few seasons before things fully click. He made a surprisingly quick transition to the college level, but remains raw in terms of skill level. He lacks much in the way of post moves. His rebounding has turned into a real weapon. While Vonleh lacks the offensive polish and explosiveness of Julius Randle, he may have more upside due to his length. With a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Vonleh is well liked due to his length, upside, and desire to improve.”

With the 17th pick, it’s another new name: Elfrid Payton, a junior point guard from Louisiana-Lafayette. “He is an elite-level athlete for a PG with great length and quickness, and although his shot remains a work in progress, it showed signs of improvement towards the end of the year. Payton has a chance to be a standout starter in the league, which is something that cannot be said about many PGs on the college level. He has even drawn some comparisons from scouts to another former Payton (Gary) due to his defensive prowess.”

Then there’s BasketballInsiders.com, which compiled its mock draft without explanation. The site’s editor Steve Kyler has the unique belief that Embiid will be available at No. 6, presumably because his back will still be a concern for the five teams picking ahead of the C’s. At No. 17, he has the Celts opting for LaVine’s Bruins teammate Kyle Anderson, a small forward.

Again, we’ll provide our insights on the two spots over the next two days and in significantly more depth in the weeks to come.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman


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