WALTHAM -- If Danny Ainge paid attention to the glut of media hype surrounding the NBA draft, he would cringe upon reading the next few paragraphs. That's because the words ``mock" and ``draft" are mentioned together, and more than once.
The way Ainge sees it, mock drafts muddy thinking. They make overanalyzing players fashionable. They pigeonhole prospects. And they cannot possibly account for the unpredictable selection process, the sliders and the climbers. Ainge has about as much use for mock drafts as he did for Antoine Walker.
During his tenure as Celtics executive director of basketball operations, Ainge has kept the so-called experts guessing when it comes to their mock drafts. He doesn't pride himself in being unpredictable. He just trusts his instincts and his eyes. He compiles rankings, irrespective of rumors. He looks for ``competitors" and players with a ``special, special skill," whether it is ballhandling, shooting, rebounding, or shot blocking. He thinks about how a player will work with the coaching staff. He eschews conventional wisdom as far as to who may be available when the Celtics pick.
Almost all the mock drafts have Ainge selecting University of Connecticut point guard Marcus Williams with the No. 7 overall pick tonight. For that reason alone, it is a good bet he won't, that he has other players ranked higher. Barring a player projected in the top three sliding, Villanova guard Randy Foye looks like the favorite for the No. 7 spot based on his second workout with the Celtics Monday morning. Kentucky point guard Rajon Rondo, North Carolina State forward Cedric Simmons, and Arkansas guard Ronnie Brewer also could be in the mix.
Looking for a dark horse and a way to impress friends at a predraft cocktail party? Mention Thabo Sefolosha, a shooting guard who played in Italy last season and reportedly left Ainge very impressed. For now, a handful of mock drafts project Sefolosha as a mid-first round pick, possibly to Chicago at No. 16. No one considers him a lottery pick. But that doesn't necessarily mean anything to Ainge.
``I don't bury my head in the sand, so I do watch [what is going on elsewhere]," said Ainge. ``But I don't grind on it. I don't spend a lot of my time trying to figure out what other people are doing. I spend a lot of my time evaluating and ranking players, so I'm prepared for anything that might happen. Nobody knows for sure what Toronto or Chicago or Charlotte is going to do. We just can all guess. I have to be prepared for anything that might happen."
``One of my pet peeves is when people say, `Oh, he won't be there anyway.' I kick them out of my office. I don't want to hear that. He might be. Even though we all know that LaMarcus Aldridge won't be there for the Celtics at seven, you just never know. You've got to still rank him."
This approach has loaded the Celtics with young talent -- Kendrick Perkins, Al Jefferson, Delonte West, Tony Allen, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, and Orien Greene. Although the final verdict on each draft class takes years to deliver, Ainge appears to have chosen wisely, making the most of the Celtics' picks without any glaring mistakes. Given what Ainge had to work with, mid-to-late first-round picks and second-rounders, the Celtics arguably have drafted better than any other team in the league the past three seasons in terms of stockpiling for the future.
And it may be a success other teams have difficulty replicating. For all the lists and statistics and scouting trips and team workouts, Ainge said the decision about whom Boston drafts each year ``boils down to instinct." He knows what he wants when he sees it.
``The first time I saw Delonte play, I just went, `Wow, I want to go see that kid play again,' " said Ainge. ``The same with Tony Allen. I saw things about them that were very fun for me. Their athleticism. Their competitiveness. I think that happened with Al, too. I think that's happened with each of the guys that we have drafted. Gerald, you know why people were considering him higher in the draft. With each guy, there are `wow' moments."
That ``wow" moment can be so powerful it takes a little-known high school big man from rural Mississippi and turns him into a mid-first round pick. Jefferson made such a lasting first impression on Ainge in 2004.
``Al was a guy that we weren't on all the time," said Ainge. ``Al was kind of a guy that came in late in the process because he was a high school kid. We saw him play in high school. I didn't, but my staff all saw him play at least once each. The first time I saw him was in the [
``But those initial instincts, those initial feelings that I had when I first saw him [remained]. I thought he had a special-enough upside. I thought he was a real competitor. He just hadn't been able to prove it at a high level like Delonte and Tony had. I believed that he was going to instigate physical play and he was going to compete and he had a skill that I thought was unique and special -- scoring in the low post."
Yesterday afternoon, Ainge could be found in his office with his staff, reviewing tape of prospects and revising rankings. The Boston brain trust also was projecting how potential No. 7 picks would fit with the team. While the current roster will not be the main factor in which player the Celtics select, Ainge acknowledges it is one of many considerations. That said, he has no fear creating a surplus at positions.
``We're still just trying to accumulate as many players as we can so we can develop those players into great players," said Ainge. ``That's how you have to draft, assuming that you're going to develop them into something special or trade quantity for quality.
``That's something that we do evaluate, trying to project how long it will take and project how good they're going to be. That's the difficult part of this.
``If you're just picking players to win this upcoming season, that makes the process a lot easier. But unfortunately, there's a lot of guys that took a little while to get going that became star players in our league."