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Much has been made of the way the Warriors and Celtics NBA Finals matchup represents a high-water mark for a more traditional mode of team-building. For the past decade or so, there has been an increasing obsession (if not entirely from general managers then certainly from fans and media) with constructing super teams, bringing already established stars together through big trades and free-agent signings.
The Celtics and Warriors certainly have their own superstar conglomerations but they are a bit more organic. Of the 14 Warriors who have appeared in a game this postseason, seven of them — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney, Jordan Poole, Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga — were drafted by the team. And that’s not including James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick from the 2020 draft who has been out with injury all season long but figures heavily into the Warriors’ future.
On the other side, the Celtics have used 15 players this postseason, seven of whom — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith — were drafted by Boston.
Each team having seven players in their, even extended, playoff rotation is a remarkable achievement and a testament to both the skill and luck of their scouting departments and player development infrastructure. But it’s also a bit deceiving — each team didn’t just find a value in the draft seven years in a row. They also leveraged trades to give themselves as many bites at the apple as possible.
How did the Warriors draft seven key rotation players?
Of the seven players the Warriors drafted who have appeared in the postseason, only five — Looney, Curry, Poole, Thompson and Moody — were actually taken with the Warriors’ own picks.
Jonathan Kuminga was selected with a first-round pick that came from the Timberwolves in the Andrew Wiggins trade. Draymond Green was taken with a second-round pick that came with Troy Murphy from the Nets in a deal that sent Dan Gadzuric and Brandan Wright to New Jersey.
The Warriors also had a slew of picks in this era since drafting Curry in 2010 that did not turn out the way they expected and are not still with the team — Ekpe Udoh (No. 6), Festus Ezeli (No. 30), Harrison Barnes (No. 7), Damian Jones (No. 30), Jacob Evans (No. 28), Eric Paschall (No. 41). However, in many cases, they were able to turn those players into other assets that are still paying dividends.
Udoh was part of the trade that brought Andrew Bogut to the Warriors, a key contributor on their first title team. Ezeli also played meaningful minutes on that team. Jones was traded for Omari Spellman who was eventually packaged with Evans and D’Angelo Russell in the trade that brought in Wiggins and the pick that became Kuminga.
The Warriors have done an admirable job of talent identification and development, but they’ve also picked up some extra picks to offset the ones that didn’t work out and even figured out how to package fringe players together to turn into something more.
How did the Celtics draft seven key rotation players?
Of the seven players the Celtics drafted who have appeared in the postseason, only four — Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, Payton Pritchard and Grant Williams — were actually taken with Boston’s own picks.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were both taken with picks acquired from the Nets in the infamous trade that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. In addition, the Celtics nabbed an extra 2019 first-round pick by trading back to No. 3 in the 2017 draft, letting the 76ers jump to No. 1 to take Markelle Fultz while they took Tatum at No. 3. They used that 2019 pick on Romeo Langford who was a key piece of the mid-season trade with the Spurs that helped them land Derrick White this year.
Aaron Nesmith was selected with a first-round pick in the 2020 draft that had been acquired from the Grizzlies in a 2015 three-team trade that sent Tayshaun Prince and Austin Rivers to Boston, Jeff Green to Memphis and Quincy Pondexter to the Pelicans.
It’s true that neither of these championship contenders became a super team simply by convincing established stars to team up in their arena. But focusing only on their draft success really undersells all the wheeling-and-dealing that go into acquiring picks and continuing to turn them into something more valuable.
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