Boston Celtics draft: James Nnaji, Barcelona
You would think witnessing the impact Robert Williams has for the Boston Celtics, and Williams’ availability history, would had convinced the team to add a similar big man to the roster for depth years ago. James Nnaji’s athleticism gives him the foundation to eventually develop into a similar defensive presence.
Before stepping on the court, Nnaji stands out for being a legit 6-10 with a 7-5 wingspan. Already he’s built to protect the rim. Add the bounce to hang in the air and the agility to move his feet, and Nnaji is an athlete that can erase many shots at the rim.
Also appealing is his appetite for glass. Nnaji hits the boards hard, particularly the offensive glass. His pursuit will lead to plenty of put-back dunks or easy buckets.
To tamper expectations, Nnaji is just 18 years old. He is far from a finished product. There’s a lot of basketball that Nnaji still has to learn before he’s ready to step onto an NBA court.
While built to patrol the paint, the IQ has a way to go until the brain catches up to the physical ability. On offense, Nnaji lacks basic scoring ability. He doesn’t shoot threes or midrange shots. And you can’t give him the ball in the post and let him operate.
But the lack of offense isn’t very concerning. Williams isn’t asked to score. He gets his buckets off cleanups and pick-and-roll action. Nnaji easily can do that at the next level while controlling the paint on the other end of the floor.
It probably will be a while before he does that for the Boston Celtics. It wouldn’t be surprising if Nnaji was returned to Barcelona with homework to do. The Celtics are in win-now mode. Nnaji isn’t ready for that.