- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics knew that Marcus Smart might be their guy when he worked out for the team two weeks before last year's draft, which is why members of the team's front office cringed a bit when he labored through what Celtics assistant general manager Austin Ainge bluntly described Wednesday as a "horrible" workout.
"We liked Marcus. We were like, ‘Wow, that was bad,’" Ainge explained Wednesday while offering a recent example of how one workout doesn't make or break the team's evaluation of a player. "So we called him and his agent again and said, ‘Look, we know you can play better than you did.’ And we probably would have still drafted him anyway, but we convinced him to come back, just so we could all feel more comfortable about it.
"He came back and he played great and that kinda put everybody at ease."
The Celtics selected Smart at No. 6 and he went on to earn All-Rookie second team honors in a season in which he ascended to starting point guard while aiding Boston's second-half surge to the playoffs. On Wednesday, Ainge sat next to Smart during a six-player pre-draft workout and sought his advice about players the Celtics might nab this June.
The Celtics have spirited internal debates about how much to value a single workout, but what's clear is that these team workouts are often a final glance at the players the Celtics hope will serve as part of their foundation moving forward.
Boston, currently armed with picks Nos. 16, 28, 33 and 45, will audition as many draft hopefuls as they can cram into the next three weeks with a goal of maximizing those picks. Ainge, the team's draft workout organizer, said he hadn't added up the exact number of players the team hopes to bring through Waltham in advance of next month's draft but guessed that between this month's draft combine, agency workouts and Boston's team workouts, the team will observe over 100 potential options. The Celtics will also have representatives overseas for next week's Eurocamp, where another 60 international prospects will be showcased.
So how much can be gauged from a single hour-long workout run by the team's coaching staff and observed by Boston's front office?
"It’s just a piece; it’s all in context," said Ainge. "If the guy has a great shooting day and we see him shoot poorly his whole career, then we take it in context. It’s just small pieces, and that’s really all the draft process is: Adding up all the small pieces together and trying to paint as clear a picture as we can."
But Ainge admits that, even for analytic-loving Boston, there's no perfect formula for ensuring more draft hits than misses. He joked Wednesday that the team had drafted players who had bad workouts and they turned out to be bad picks. But Smart is a reminder not to overthink a single poor outing, especially considering that many of these draft hopefuls are shuttling across the country trying to win over prospective employers.
The Celtics were comfortable that Smart's poor workout last year was an outlier and brought him back to simply cleanse the palette before he officially landed in a green jersey. They can laugh about his poor showing a year later.
Boston brought in six players on Wednesday in Arkansas' Bobby Portis (16th on Chad Ford's Big Board), LSU's Jordan Mickey (37), Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas (39), Ohio State's Shannon Scott (86), William & Mary's Marcus Thornton (100), and Cal's David Kravish (NR). Last week, the team auditioned Stanford's Anthony Brown (54), Maryland's Dez Wells (69), St John's Sir'Dominic Pointer (78), Florida State's Aaron Thomas (NR), UTEP's Julian Washburn (NR), and Holy Cross' Malcolm Miller (NR).
More group workouts are planned for Thursday and Friday, then another batch from Monday to Wednesday next week. Given Boston's diversity of picks, which also enhances its potential to maneuver around the draft board, the Celtics are eager to get a look at anybody they can get in the building.
"We do have four picks, we gotta look at a lot of guys," said Ainge. "But also sometimes we bring guys in that we maybe don’t want to draft this year because they’ll go to Europe and you never know who is going to get better. We bring them in, get to know them, get some measurements -- just get a feel because knowing their personality is a big advantage down the road when we’re looking at free agents."
Ainge stressed that the team will observe a large number of bodies this year, but it's not completely different than most years.
"It’d be a little different [in other years], but it wouldn’t be by our choice," said Ainge. "Agents have to limit these guys; they can't work out for all 30 teams. So they have to keep the guys to maybe the 15 teams in their range. That is a great luxury we have this year, we’re in almost everyone's range."
The most difficult part for Boston will be convincing potential lottery picks to visit given that Boston's first pick comes at 16.
"I call an agent and say, ‘We’d like to have your guy in,’ and he says, ‘You’re not in our range.’ And I say, ‘Well, we’ll move up.' We all tell him we’re going to move up; they’ve heard that line before," cracked Ainge. "I think there is more credibility with us having four picks, but it takes two to trade. We can’t force that on anybody else, nor is it always smart. The Patriots have done very well doing the opposite."
Which is to say, Boston is exploring all options.
So what exactly happens at a typical pre-draft visit?
The Celtics meet with the player and take their own set of measurements that the staff finds more helpful than those logged at the draft combine. Coach Brad Stevens and his assistants then put the players through a workout that's often personalized to gauge how the players would perform in Boston's system.
Ainge noted that Wednesday's workout featured, "a lot of 3-on-3, defending different situations, a lot of pick-and-roll defense and offense, some transition and shooting." All workouts close with the team's famous Boston Marathon -- a three-minute sprint drill that leaves invitees struggling to catch their breath at the end of the session (Northeastern's Jonathan Lee owns the team record at 29.5 court lengths, and Ainge confirmed the record was still standing after Wednesday's session).
Most workouts only confirm what the team suspects of a player. But it's an important part of the process. After all, history shows that the league's most sustained contenders often have more hits than misses in the draft.
Every minute with a prospect increases the chance of making contact in late June.
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