Celtics

A. Sherrod Blakely's first-quarter Boston Celtics grades

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A. Sherrod Blakely's first-quarter Boston Celtics grades

BOSTON -- We're a quarter of the way through the NBA season so you know what that means . . . REPORT CARD TIME!
 
The Celtics (18-3) have the best record in the league at this point and, as you might expect, their roster is full of players who have been acing their assignments most of this season.
 
And with that, here are NBC Sports Boston’s first-quarter grades for the Celtics, with players divided between bigs, wings, guards and pass/fail. (SPOILER ALERT! No one failed.)
 

BIGS


 

AL HORFORD: The numbers never do justice to the impact he makes on this Celtics team. But unlike last season this time, there’s no denying what he brings to the game on and off the floor for Boston. One of the league’s better passing big men, Horford continues to rank among the league leaders in assists among centers (4.9) but is also doing more Al Horford-like things on the court such as stretching the floor from 3-point range (43.5 percent) along with scoring and rebounding around the basket. GRADE: A-
 
ARON BAYNES: He arrived in Boston with no guarantee other than he would get an opportunity to play a more significant role than the one he had in Detroit. And to Baynes’ credit, he's made the most of his opportunities to play, whether they come as a starter or key reserve. He has been among the league’s top defenders this season with a defensive rating of 91.2, which is tops among all players to appear in at least 10 games and log at least 15 minutes per outing. But Baynes has also shown the ability to make teams pay for leaving him open, evident by him knocking down 52.4 percent of his shots from 15-19 feet out. GRADE: B+

DANIEL THEIS: He may be a rookie to the NBA, but Theis has been playing professionally overseas for years. Having come to the Celtics with that experience has been a good thing for Theis, who has been arguably Boston’s best rookie not named Jayson Tatum. He plays with a high level of energy and versatility and has a rebounding percentage of .18, which leads all rookies who average at least 12 minutes played per game. And most important, he has kept himself ready to play whenever called upon by  coach Brad Stevens. GRADE: B+

GUERSCHON YABUSELE: The burly big man hasn’t had quite the impact he was hoping for initially. But when on the floor, he has shown flashes of being a big man who can help stretch the floor with his perimeter shooting skills. But Yabusele at this point, is more of a work in progress than a player Boston can look to for steady contributions. GRADE: C+

WINGS            

                        

JAYLEN BROWN: He came into the NBA as an elite athlete, but has shown himself to be a pretty damn good basketball player, too. He has elevated his play defensively in addition to being more of a scoring threat, which provides Boston with the kind of two-way talent it desperately needed this season when Gordon Hayward (ankle) went down. And as his game continues to grow, Brown will continue to inch closer to his goal, which is to be one of the best players in the NBA when all is said and done. GRADE: A-

JAYSON TATUM: You try to put expectations in perspective when dealing with a rookie. But Jayson Tatum continues to play, perform and carry himself in such a way that makes you forget that he’s just 19 years old. The third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft has delivered far more than anyone anticipated he could this quickly. He leads all rookies in 3-point shooting (47.6 percent) and is sixth overall among players who have played at least 10 games this season and average at least one made 3-pointer per game. Defensively, Tatum has the best defensive rating (96.1) among rookies which also ranks 11th in the NBA which speaks to the impact he has had on both ends of the floor this season. GRADE: A-

MARCUS MORRIS: The left knee soreness that kept him out of the first eight games remains an issue that, at a minimum, has limited his minutes. But when Morris has played, he has been really good at both ends of the floor. Stevens has been talking up the importance Morris is to this team’s lineup. While the minutes are somewhat limited for him now, his play has consistently backed up Stevens’ assertion of his value to the Celtics. GRADE: B
 
SEMI OJELEYE: It wasn’t until he effectively defended Giannis Antetokounmpo earlier this season, and then later Carmelo Anthony, did Ojeleye’s defensive versatility really stand out. For this second-round pick to stick in the NBA, he has to continue evolving as a 3-and-D guy. The defense so far at least, seems to be headed in the right direction. But his 3-point shooting (he’s shooting 27.9 percent) needs work. GRADE: B-
 
ABDEL NADER: The reigning D-League (now Gatorade League) Rookie of the Year, Nader has shown himself to be a versatile scorer. But like Ojeleye, Nader must first gain the trust of the coaching staff to be a reliable defender as well as someone who can contribute offensively. While Nader has made a conscious effort to improve defensively, he’s still not doing it well enough for long enough stretches to earn himself a more consistent role in terms of playing time, this season. GRADE: C+

GUARDS

KYRIE IRVING: A four-time All-star in just six seasons, the expectations for Kyrie Irving coming into his first season with the Celtics were pretty high. The crazy part? He's already exceeded them. The ease by which Irving has meshed with his new teammates has been an amazingly smooth thus far. A lot of that has to do with Irving finding that balance between giving the team’s young players an opportunity to grow and expand their games, while at the same time ensuring that he lives up to the lofty status of being one of the game’s top players down the stretch. Irving’s play has been so good, he has positioned himself as one of the early front-runners for the league MVP award. GRADE: A

MARCUS SMART: Impacting the game in ways besides scoring remains one of Marcus Smart’s greatest attributes. And while he was red-hot shooting the ball in the preseason, that success hasn’t translated into the games that count. He has been a sub-30 percent shooter from the floor most of this season. But while his shot may be off the mark, the same can not be said for his passes to teammates. Smart as a playmaker has done wonders to help balance out the struggles he's had most of this season when it comes to making shots. GRADE: B

TERRY ROZIER: It was as if an alarm clock or something went off in Terry Rozier the last couple games because he has absolute fire lately. He’s scoring from the perimeter, off the bounce and around the basket that’s very reminiscent of how he performed during Summer League in 2016. But the competition he lit up that summer is a major downgrade compared to the players he’s battling now. And to Rozier’s credit, he has stepped up to the challenge of being more accountable for how the second unit functions offensively while continuing to play his role from a defensive standpoint. GRADE: B
 
SHANE LARKIN: The more you watch him play, the clearer it becomes why the jury is still out on exactly what to make of this former first-round pick. You love how he handles the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop game offensively. And the ability to change the pace of a game, the Celtics absolutely love that about him, too. But Larkin’s shot-making has been off the mark for the most part (he’s shooting a career-low 25 percent this season). And defense has always been a major challenge of sorts for the 5-11 guard. Still, Larkin brings far more positives to the table. GRADE: B-

INCOMPLETE

 

GORDON HAYWARD: The Celtics had big plans for Hayward, who broke his left ankle just five minutes into the opener. But no grade does not equate to no impact. Hayward’s injury has created more playing time for Jaylon Brown and Jayson Tatum, which will pay dividends for the Celtics down the road.

JABARI BIRD: He has been the Celtics’ Mr. Emergency this season. You don’t expect two-way players who are called up to do more than provide depth. But the Celtics haven’t shied away from playing Bird at times and, to his credit, he's stepped up and made his presence felt. That said, to grade him having played just two games for the Celtics just didn’t seem right. Still, when he has played he has done enough positive things to help justify in the eyes of some as to why he'd be just another warm body on the bench.

KADEEM ALLEN: Signed as one of Boston’s two-way contract players, Allen has yet to be called into duty. He comes to the NBA with the reputation of being an above-average defender, and showed signs of being just that in summer league. Playing with the Maine Red Claws, the former Arizona Wildcat is out to show he can score at the next level. In six games with the Red Claws, he’s averaging 16.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 44.2 percent from the field but only 28.6 percent on 3’s.

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Kyrie gets the last laugh against Horford and Team Steph

Kyrie gets the last laugh against Horford and Team Steph

LOS ANGELES – Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were on different teams for the NBA's All-Star game pitting Team LeBron vs Team Steph, so somebody was coming back a loser.

But considering how competitive the game was for longer stretches than usual, both players came away feeling good in a relatively close all-star game that ended with Team LeBron edging Team Steph 148-145.

LeBron James led all scorers with 29 points along wit 10 rebounds and eight assists and walked away with Game MVP honors for the third time.

Irving, who played for Team LeBron, had a near double-double with 13 points and nine assists along with seven rebounds.

And Horford, who came off the bench for Team Steph, had six points and five rebounds along with two assists.  

“This was pretty fun,” Irving said. “I think that we showcased that tonight with an incredible competitive spirit. The game was kind of getting away, but I think a few of us took it a little personal that we wanted to keep the game still competitive and at a high level. Fans and everyone across so many different countries want to see the best players in the world showcase their talent.”

Horford echoed similar sentiments about the game which had a different format this year, with LeBron James and Stephen Curry each picking the two teams from the 22-player pool of players from both the Eastern and Western Conferences.

“Early, guys were making (defensive) plays,” Horford said. “Guys were making a point, they weren’t going to let it be a dunk fest.

Horford added, “Even last year and the year before, there was a lot of heat on how bad the game was. I felt like this game was, it was good.”

Irving, a five-time all-star, also acknowledged how he and some of the players wanted to change the perception of the all-star game as being nothing more than a glorified lay-up line.

“I think we all took it kind of personal,” Irving said. “Individually we wanted to come out and be competitive. Last year it was (192-182), tat’s just not as fun as communicating with guys that you don’t necessarily play with every single day, bouncing ideas off in the time-outs. It’s just that competitive fire that we all share.”

And then there’s the payday for winning.

Not only will various charities benefit from the game – LeBron James’ charity of choice gets $350,000 because his team won and Steph Curry’s charity of choice gets $150,000 – but the players on the winning team get a pretty nice check as well.

The winning team members each get $100,000 while the players on the losing team come away with $25,000.

“There was something that, something that we could look forward to if we got the win,” Irving acknowledged. “You know, they’ll probably bring up the cash prize, but … $100,000 to $25,000, I think everybody in this room would be doing the same things we were doing.”

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LeBron James savors first opportunity to build NBA roster

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LeBron James savors first opportunity to build NBA roster

LOS ANGELES – LeBron James had been mum on the process he used in selecting Team LeBron … until now.

Following Team LeBron’s 148-145 win over Team Steph, James revealed how he went about assembling is roster which included Boston’s Kyrie Irving who asked for a trade out of Cleveland last summer.

“I took Kevin (Durant) first, then I took (New Orleans) Anthony Davis, and I followed that with Kyrie and DeMarcus (Cousins).”

While this year’s all-star game had been billed as the ultimate pick-up game, it was clear that James put a tremendous amount of thought into assembling his team akin to what an NBA General Manager might do.

“I know who I like watching and I had a draft board,” James said. “I had a process. Some of it went to … it almost went according to plan. A couple of them fell through, but I was satisfied and happy with all the guys that I got.”

A reporter later asked James where was this draft board.

“Ain’t none of your business,” said James, grinning. “You’re going too far, man.”

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