NEW ORLEANS – The NBA season is about a quarter of the way in the books, which can mean one thing: quarterly grades are coming.
For the Boston Celtics (11-9), this is the best start under third-year coach Brad Stevens. And the success of the team has been all about their collective efforts meshing in a way that has delivered some impressive victories so far.
And even in some defeats like Saturday’s 108-105 loss at San Antonio, the story afterwards had more to do with what Boston did well than what they fell short of achieving.
That’s because Saturday’s loss, like most of their defeats this season, featuring a number of players who stepped up their play in order to give Boston a shot at winning. And that more than anything else, is what this team has to be about on a nightly basis.
They’re not going to win every game, but they’ll win more than their share if they show up every night ready to compete at a high level. And truth be told, they have done that most nights this season. Because of that, it has factored in a number of players having strong starts to the season.
With that said, here are the grades for Boston’s guards, wings and big men this season.
Summary: There hasn’t been a more consistent guard for Boston in terms of impact at both ends of the floor this season, than Bradley. He has battled through a multitude of injuries already this season, but has managed to play well through most of them. He has become a major focal point of opposing team’s defenses because of his scoring ability via catch-and-shoot, handoff dribbles and lately pull-up jumpers off the dribble. Bradley has been their most complete player this season. GRADE: A-
Summary: Concerns about whether he could handle the heavier minutes load as a starter never materialized. When he arrived in February via trade from Phoenix, he immediately became Boston’s No. 1 scoring option. That lofty status hasn’t changed even with Boston now having a deeper, more talented team. While Thomas’ defense has improved, he’s not in the same defensive class as teammates Avery Bradley or Marcus Smart who have also made strong cases to be starters this season. Regardless, Thomas is an important cog to this team and its chances at winning. GRADE: B+
Summary: Hunter has been one of the big surprises for the Celtics this season. He isn’t in the regular rotation, but he has stood out as the most impactful player among the rookies. Considered too skinny and not strong enough to contribute right away, Hunter’s basketball savvy has allowed those shortcomings to not become problematic when he’s in the game with any kind of consistency. He won’t get any rookie of the year votes, but there’s no mistaking he has been the top rookie on the Celtics thus far. GRADE: B
Summary: The minutes have been sporadic for Rozier, but that was expected considering the players ahead of him. Drafted with the 16th overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, Rozier’s shooting still needs work. However, his end-to-end quickness with the ball in hands is promising. Although he was more of a scoring guard at Louisville, Rozier has shown signs of being a really good defender. He’s young and has a lot to learn still, but he has shown enough potential to make Boston feel good about his future. GRADE: B-
Summary: There aren’t many people who love to watch Marcus Smart play as much as me. But that’s the problem. I don’t see him on the court enough courtesy of ticky-tack injuries that once again have relegated him to spending more time sitting than playing. When he’s healthy, you will be hard-pressed to find many players so young who plays as hard as he does defensively. And while coaching certainly is a part of that, more than anything else Smart has amazing instincts at that end of the floor. But again, the recurring injuries are troublesome especially when you consider Smart is a player that Boston believes will be part of their core group going forward. GRADE: C+
Summary: Yet another example of why you shouldn’t put too much stock into preseason play, Sullinger has been Boston’s best big man this season after looking as though he wouldn’t even be in the rotation based on his use in the preseason. Sullinger hasn’t transformed his body the way he and the Celtics would have liked, but considering what he’s doing on the floor now there’s no doubt that he’s in better shape than he was last season. Sullinger still has good size and strength which allows him to continue being a factor around the rim. But if you’re talking about where his game has grown, easily this can be seen in his defense. He gets his hands on a lot more balls, he’s more active as an individual and help-side defender, and that – more so than his scoring – is why he is a starter. GRADE: B
Summary: Most NBA teams have a player or two whose role is either diminished or all together just wiped because of the roster numbers. That would be Zeller, who has gone from a starter to an end of the bench performer. But give him credit. He handled the demotion with class and grace. Here’s hoping the Celtics do the same and either find a role for him with this team, or seriously explore trading him to a club that needs a 7-foot center who runs the floor really well. GRADE: B
Summary: Statistics have never fully measured his value to a team, but most would agree he has been inconsistent for Boston this season. Johnson has never been a tremendous rebounder, so the fact that he doesn’t put up big numbers in that category isn’t all that surprising. What makes him a player Boston coveted so much this offseason, is his defense. And that has been up and down all season. It’s still early and certainly part of that has to do with adjusting to a new team and to some degree, a slightly different role. But at the end of the day, it’s about getting the job done. And with Johnson, that has been an up and down proposition all season thus far. GRADE: B-
Summary: One of the tougher Boston Celtics to gauge, Jerebko just seems to make positive contributions when he gets in the game. He doesn’t necessarily do it as a scorer, and he is not what you would consider a lock-down defender. He is a high-energy talent who relies on heady, hustle plays in order to be effective. Still, you would like to see more offense from him when given an opportunity. GRADE: C+
Summary: Like Johnson, Lee has been somewhat erratic in terms of his play thus far. You love the fact that he can rebound the ball and start the break by himself. But the missed shots around the basket from a guy who has made a career out of scoring with either hand around the rim, does raise a red flag or two as far as whether Father Time is catching up to him or whether he’s just having trouble adjusting to his new teammates. Lately he looks as though he’s turning the corner, but a right heel injury kept him out of Saturday’s game at San Antonio with a return to the court to be determined. GRADE: C+
Summary: If only Olynyk could be tricked into thinking every game he plays is in Mexico City, the dude would be an all-star. Olynyk has a tremendous skillset. He’s 7-feet tall, can shoot 3s, play with his back to the basket, and has really thrived as a solid team defender. So what’s the problem? Those traits aren’t seen often enough. Because of that, it’s hard to factor Olynyk in as a player who can be relied upon to contribute with some degree of consistency. He’s got talent, but he will remain a role player until he shows he can play at a high level, with more steadiness. GRADE: C
A second-round pick from LSU, Mickey has been the ultimate tease on this roster. He has made the most of his chances to play, but there’s just too much depth and experience on the Boston roster in the frontcourt that will keep him on the outside-looking in, for most of this season. GRADE: B
He hasn’t even been with Boston a full year yet, but Crowder has indeed established himself as one of their leaders. Teammates respect the amount of time Crowder has worked on his game to get better, and his willingness to do what so many others are on this team – sacrificing their game for what’s in the best interest of the team. And while we talk a lot about what Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart bring to the game defensively, Crowder’s versatility makes him an invaluable player for Boston going forward. GRADE: B
Summary: The narrative on Turner no longer focuses on what he can’t do or the fact that he’s not a great long-range shooter. Turner has done more than enough for the Celtics to play around his weaknesses and still manage to win games. GRADE: B
Summary: First there was an injury in summer league and later one during the Celtics’ preseason slate. His career thus far has been filled with dominant D-League performances that have not translated over to NBA success. He’s only 20 years old, so he’s still very much in the untapped potential phase of his career. But you have to wonder will the Celtics be patient with his growth much longer, or will they decide to discard him and move on. GRADE: D