‘An absolute steal’: Getting to know Celtics draft pick JD Davison, with Alabama writer Tony Tsoukalas

"He's a truly gifted athlete. He’s probably one of the better athletes in the Draft."

Alabama guard JD Davison (3) brings the ball up against Florida. Matt Stamey/AP Photo

The Celtics selected Alabama guard JD Davison with the No. 53 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft.

Boston.com spoke with Alabama beat writer Tony Tsoukalas, who covers the team for Sports Illustrated, about Davison’s skill set and potential.

Boston.com: What should Celtics fans know about JD Davison?

Tony Tsoukalas: He’s a guy that’s a top 20 talent in last year’s recruiting class, and a guy I think a lot of people expected to be a lottery pick, but he struggled to find consistency. Really for him, he’s very raw. He excelled at a 2A high school in Alabama, and he was able to overpower games with his athleticism. He’s a truly gifted athlete. He’s probably one of the better athletes in the Draft. 

Translating that to the SEC was a challenge. He had a lot of trouble with turnovers, and he needs to work on his ball-handling and decision-making. He’s also not necessarily what I would call a Nate Oats player to a tee. Nate Oats likes his point guards to be more shooters, and JD Davison is a guy who wants to take it to the hole. That’s part of Alabama’s game as well, but he needs to improve his shooting touch. He was one of those guys that really Alabama had to recruit. They had to get him, because he was the best player Alabama has produced in a while as a state. Between the expectations and the transition, he really kind of struggled. 


I think he would say that he underperformed for Alabama last year, but I think he’s a kid that has a ton of potential. I don’t know how it’s going to translate to the NBA. You see a lot of these kids that are super great and are raw that never really put it together, but as far as athletic ability, and the gifts that he has, getting him at No. 53 in the second round is an absolute steal. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick, I think the Celtics knocked it out of the park. They got a first-round talent. 

BDC: Do you envision him playing point guard or shooting guard in the NBA, or a little bit of both?

TT: I see him as a point guard. He’s a gifted passer. It’s more the decision-making. He had a lot of those freshman struggles where he would make freshman mistakes. As far as being a ball-distributor, and even a ball-handler, I think he’s a capable point guard. It’s really just a matter of having him grow. I think he’s somebody that’s going to have to go up to Maine and play, and we’ll see what he does from there. He could play shooting guard, depending on who you have at the point, but if you’re really trying to get his potential for what he can do, I’d put him at the point.


BDC: Can you think of any NBA comparisons? Anyone he plays similarly to?

TT: When you talk about his dunking ability, and the power in his game, Ja Morant comes to mind. He’s a bigger kid than Ja and is pretty muscular. I think he could be a real menace. He’s almost like Marcus Smart in terms of being an absolute unit. In the past, Alabama has produced point guards like Kira Lewis and Collin Sexton who were more scrawny. JD is not that. He’s a tough guy that can bang bodies in the NBA. 

BDC: Does he have the potential to become an elite defender?

TT: I think he could. Marcus Smart wasn’t a one-and-done player in college. Alabama fans are upset about this, but I think Davison would have benefited from that second year. I think you could see him making a step like Smart did in his second year. He has all the abilities to play defense. Marcus Smart is the Defensive Player of the Year, so comparing him to that might be a stretch, but he has the abilities and the athleticism to be a top defender. Keeping with the Marcus Smart comparison, I think once he develops his offensive game, Marcus Smart was a more polished offensive player coming out of college than JD is, but I think it’s there. I don’t hate the comparison in terms of the amount of athleticism. 


BDC: He seems like a confident guy who plays with a lot of swagger. Do you think he’ll be able to stay patient in the NBA and understand he may not log heavy minutes right away?

TT: There was never an issue on the team, from anything I’ve heard, about his ability to fit in. He had Jahvon Quinerly with him at that point guard position, so he only started six games. He was a guy that Alabama used off the bench. Now, he averaged 25.8 minutes, so you would almost call him a starter, but the fact that he was willing to come off the bench, there was never a problem with JD. He never pouted. For being a five-star kid, there was never any discontent with his role. I think he’s a really solid kid. Just talking to him, he always came across as confident but polite and like he had a really good head on his shoulders. 

BDC: Anything else fans should know?

TT: I think the big thing for him is tapping into that potential. I knew he was going to slip, but it’s crazy that he slipped to 53. I guess that’s around what we were seeing heading into the Draft, but he really is a talented kid. It will be interesting to see what he can do. I know it happens a lot that the talent doesn’t really transfer over, but I think he could be something.


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