With the Boston Celtics holding nearly a one-out-of-two chance at drafting either first or second overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, either Washington point guard Markelle Fultz or his UCLA counterpart Lonzo Ball — the consensus top two prospects in the draft — appears destined to land in Boston.
Both Fultz and Ball will be 19 years old when the June 22 NBA draft rolls around, though Ball is about seven months Fultz's senior.
But the point guard position in Boston is already occupied — by All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose nearly 30 points per game scoring average (29.4, to be exact) along with more than six assists per game have staked his claim among the upper tier of National Basketball Association superstars.
As a result' speculation around Boston is that the five-foot-nine-inch Thomas could become the "odd man out," particularly if the Celtics land Fultz — who is viewed as a potential NBA elite player at the position.
The Celtics, due to an earlier trade, hold the Brooklyn Nets first-round picks both this year and next year. Assuming the nets fish with the NBA's worst record — a near-certainty as the Nets are 8 1/2 games behind the next-worst team, the Los Angeles Lakers, with only 20 games remaining — that gives the Celtics and President go Basketball Operatins Danny Ainge a 46.5 percent shot at landing either the first or second pick.
In fact, the Celtics have three guards capable of starting regularly in Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart.
"Trading Thomas would actually make sense," wrote ESPN Celtics Hub blogger Ryan Bernardoni. "Of the three options, he's the oldest, smallest, and eventually the highest paid. He's also clearly the best of the group."
As Bernardoni noted as well, Thomas's salary which is likely to spike from its current $6 million-plus level when Thomas becomes eligible for free agency after next season, as well as his age may also make him difficulty to deal. So at first glance, anyway, the Celtics will be faced with a choice — either draft someone other than Fultz, or Ball — or let Thomas go.
But there is at least one Celtic "expert" who isn't worried about Thomas's ability to co-exist with Fultz. That expert is — Isaiah Thomas.
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Thomas played his college basketball Washington, where Fultz now plays, and as a result, the Tacoma, Washington, native has already played on the same team as his potential teenage replacement, in workout pickup games at the university, and believes the pair will actually make a good combination in the Boston backcourt.
"When we first played together," Thomas said Friday in an interview with the MassLive website. "when he first got on campus, you knew that day: he's special."
Thomas said in the interview that he could easily adapt to sharing the court with Fultz — or Ball for that matter.
"I can play with anybody," Thomas told the site. "I can play off the ball, I can come off screens, I can catch and shoot. So I think that's, even going back to college, my first couple of years I was off the ball. And then I can play on the ball as well. So a lot of guys can't do both, but I'm fine with doing both."
Ball and Fultz squared iff when UCLA took on the struggling Washington Huskies on February 4. Despite 25 points from Fultz, UCLA led by Ball's 22 emerged victorious by a lopsided 107-66 score. But when the two teams met again last Wednesday, with UCLA again holding Washington to 66 while scoring 98.
But Fultz missed that game with a right knee injury that kept him out of five of the last seven Washington games. Whether that injury is severe enough to lower Fultz's draft stock and give Ball the upper hand won't be certain until June 22, the day that could also decide the fate of Thomas.
[Featured Image by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images]