Celtics

Celtics Report Card: Power ranking Boston's roster, Part 2

Celtics Report Card: Power ranking Boston's roster, Part 2

Around the quarter pole of the 2019-20 season, we power ranked the Celtics' roster based on each player's importance to the team’s overall success.

With the midseason mark approaching — Boston will play game No. 41 on Saturday when it hosts the Phoenix Suns — it felt like a good time to re-rank the roster and see what movement has occurred since the first attempt:

1. KEMBA WALKER (Last: 2 ⬆️)

Walker’s importance to Boston’s offense was very much confirmed when he sat out three games recently due to the flu.

The Celtics own an offensive rating of 116.5 during Walker’s 1,049 minutes of court time and it plummets to a team-worst 102.5 in the 732 minutes without him. To give you context on those numbers, the Mavericks lead the NBA with an offensive rating of 115.3, while the Golden State Warriors own the NBA’s worst mark at 102.7. So, essentially, the Celtics go from the best offense in the NBA with Walker to the worst.

Walker makes things easier for his teammates and is the primary reason Boston has the fifth-best offense in the league.

2. JAYSON TATUM (Last: 1 ⬇️)

The Celtics are no longer a net negative when Tatum is off the court — but just barely, with a net rating of plus-0.3 in the 520 minutes without Tatum. It’s still jarring that the next closest player is nearly 4.5 points away (Enes Kanter, plus-4.6). Balance that with Tatum’s plus-10.3 net rating on the floor and it’s clear to see his overall value.

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Yes, he’s struggled to score efficiently and, yet, performances like his 41-point outburst Saturday against the Pelicans remind us just how good he can be. When Tatum attacks the basket and utilizes his length to finish near the rim, he’s been exceptional. And his defense has quietly been fantastic with his Team USA coach Gregg Popovich the most recent to rave about his two-way potential.

3. JAYLEN BROWN (Last: 3 ↔️)

It would be a case of recency bias to drop Brown out of the top 3. Yes, he’s struggled a bit since getting that Eastern Conference Player of the Week award. In his last four games, Brown is shooting 28.6 percent from the floor and 29.2 percent beyond the arc, and his All-Star chances have taken a small hit, but there’s still plenty of time to state a final case before coaches vote for reserves.

For as good as Brown has been, one statistical oddity has been the team’s on/off splits. Boston owns a net rating of plus-5.8 during Brown’s 1,102 minutes of court time but it actually spikes to a team-best plus-10.5 in his 679 minutes off the floor.

4. GORDON HAYWARD (Last: 5 ⬆️)

Hayward has been solid in the 10 games played since his return on Christmas. The numbers don’t leap off the page and he’s had some rough shooting nights, but he steadies the offense whenever he’s on the court and consistently makes the right plays.

Overshadowed slightly by Tatum’s big night Saturday against New Orleans was that Hayward was also uber-efficient with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting and finished plus-38 in 28 minutes. Hayward’s rebounding and playmaking are huge for Boston even when he’s not scoring.

5. MARCUS SMART (Last: 4 ⬇️)

Smart hasn’t shot the ball great since his return from the eye infection that sapped most of his December, but that shouldn’t take away from the defensive tone he established early in the year.

Smart turned in his best offensive performance of the season last week in Philadelphia, putting up a season-high 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Alas, when this team is at full health, they really just need Smart to focus on defense and playmaking.

The offense is a nice bonus when it comes, especially if he can get back to 35+ percent beyond the 3-point arc. But he need not force those shots when there’s so much scoring talent around him.

6. ENES KANTER (Last: 8 ⬆️)

There's a case to be made that Kanter could muscle into the top 5 here. He’s produced double-digit rebounds in 10 of Boston’s last 13 games and a pure rebounder has been so rare for this team in recent years that it’s still jarring to watch him dominate the glass.

Add in efficient scoring, with Kanter content to chase putbacks or finish when passes find him near the rim, and the Turkish big man has become a vital piece on a team thin on healthy bigs. There’s going to be matchups that Kanter struggles in but, more often than not, he’s been a positive, as evidenced by his team-best net rating of plus-14.2 — the second best mark in the NBA among qualifiers with at least 15 minutes played per game.

7. DANIEL THEIS (Last: 6 ⬇️)

About the only gripe with Theis is that his 3-point shooting hasn’t been as solid as years passed, dipping from 38.8 percent a year ago to 27.9 this year. Maybe some of that is the knee tendinitis he’s been battling lately but the German big man has otherwise been solid.

Like Kanter, he’s content to play his role and take open looks when they come. He’s been excellent defensively when he’s not physically overmatched. His ability to defend opponents out to the 3-point line has helped Boston’s first unit defense.

8. BRAD WANAMAKER (Last: 7 ⬇️)

Wanamaker was alarmingly efficient early in the year, but his offense has come back to Earth a bit. Since Dec. 1, he’s shooting 34.9 percent from the field and 28 percent beyond the 3-point arc. He still has an uncanny ability to finish in transition and gives you steady playmaking with reserve groups, even if that brief 50/40/90 flirtation ended in a hurry.

Stevens clearly trusts Wanamaker and, outside of a DNP in Philadelphia when the Celtics leaned harder on Smart at the 1, he’s going to be a rotation presence.

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9. SEMI OJELEYE (Last: 11 ⬆️)

Ojeleye is the type of player who can get a DNP one night and then Stevens will leave him out there for a 15-minute stretch the next. He’s a luxury when the Celtics need a little extra size and defense guarding bigger wings and yet his offensive limitations have made it tough to generate consistent time.

Over his last 14 appearances since early December, Ojeleye is shooting 40 percent beyond the 3-point arc but just 35.5 percent overall while averaging just 2.3 points per game in that span. He had three starts in December and Boston posted three wins.

10. GRANT WILLIAMS (Last: 9 ⬇️)

Outside of games against Philadelphia, Williams has been a pretty steady rotation presence. His offense has come along since getting his first 3-pointer to fall and, in the 15 appearances since, he’s shooting 54.3 percent overall and 38.1 percent beyond the arc.

You can see the potential in Williams, with a Smart-like instinct to make the right play. He fouls a bit too much at the moment but he tries hard on defense and helps move the ball on the offensive end. This is an important stretch, especially with Boston’s big-man depth depleted, for Williams to gain coach Brad Stevens’ trust.

11. JAVONTE GREEN (Last: 12 ⬆️)

When Boston’s wings are all healthy, it’s tougher for Green to find consistent time. He’s had a couple DNPs in the new calendar year and played double digits in minutes only twice in his last eight appearances.

He still showcases his explosiveness and absurd hops every time he’s on the floor. If he can develop a 3-point shot and harness that athleticism on the defensive side, he’s a very intriguing weapon for Stevens to deploy.

12. ROMEO LANGFORD (Last: 17 ⬆️)

Poor Langford. The injury bug wouldn’t stop nibbling on him at the start of his pro career but he had an eight-game stretch in December in which he finally got a chance to showcase his potential. But just as Boston’s wings were getting healthy, Langford got sick, and missed four games with the flu.

Like Green, it’s hard to see a path to consistent time and, yet, when he’s not with Maine, it will be interesting to see if he gets NBA minutes. His defense might help his cause as he showed nice instincts during that December cameo.

13. ROBERT WILLIAMS (Last: 10 ⬇️)

Inactive since hip issues flared in early December, it’s easy to forget about Williams. He’s played only 19 games this year but was part of the Celtics’ three-center rotation with Kanter and Theis before his injury woes returned. There’s so much potential and yet injuries have routinely conspired against him.

Brad Stevens said last week the team would give him three more weeks before figuring out the next step in his return to basketball action. That seemingly means we won’t see Timelord until after the All-Star break but — if healthy — he’d be quite an in-season boost, especially the way his skill set complements that of Boston’s other bigs and gives them options when others have a tough matchup.

14. TREMONT WATERS (Last: 14 ↔️)

Only five appearances for the parent club but it’s easy to see why the organization is so high on the point guard (who has been excellent in the G-League). He’s a steady and confident ball-handler with an ability to get past defenders and create for others.

If the Celtics’ ball-handling depth was thinned, Stevens would have the confidence in Waters to run the offense. There’s still plenty of call-up days available for Waters to lend a hand to the NBA squad.

15. CARSEN EDWARDS (Last: 13 ⬇️)

Edwards has played sparingly since early December. Right now, his offense is his meal ticket but he’s shooting just 30.5 percent (both overall and beyond the arc). The Celtics recently dispatched him to the G-League for reps and, until he can consistently knock down shots, it’s hard to see a path to playing time when this team is anywhere near full health.

16. TACKO FALL (Last: 16 ↔️)

The Celtics tossed Fall out there in the second quarter against the Spurs this month, in part while looking for a jolt on a night the team was otherwise lifeless, but also because they’ve been impressed with the progress he’s made early in his pro career.

Yes, he’s only logged 21 minutes but there’s an undeniable electricity when he’s on the court. Early returns have had Fall sixth in the East in frontcourt All-Star voting and, while that’s not a reflection on his contributions, it’s a reminder that TackoMania hasn’t lost any steam.

17. VINCENT POIRIER (Last: 15  ⬇️)

Sidelined since mid-December with a pinkie fracture, Poirier has missed out on a chance to showcase what he can do, especially while Robert Williams has been sidelined.

Poirier has played sparingly in nine appearances but could get a chance here to be part of the center rotation as he preps for a return. He can climb this list in a hurry if he proves to be a potential third option behind Theis and Kanter.

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Enes Kanter wants to finish season, thinks Celtics have a chance to win title

Enes Kanter wants to finish season, thinks Celtics have a chance to win title

It has now been 25 days since the Boston Celtics last played and 24 days since the NBA suspended its season over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. And right now, it's unclear when -- or if -- the season will resume.

And even if the games do return, there is going to be an adjustment period for players as they look to get back into game shape. In a Zoom conference on Friday, Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter outlined why the league can't just jump right back into the playoffs without any sort of tune-up.

"I think we’ll need two to three weeks just to get back on the court because people are in their apartments and not moving at all," Kanter said, as transcribed by Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. "We have to make sure everyone is doing their stuff and in great shape, so they can go out and compete. If you jump straight to playoffs, playoffs are like a war, where you have to give it everything you have. Make sure everyone is 100 percent healthy, in game shape, and then we can compete."

This completely makes sense, as the last thing the league wants is to put the players in danger of suffering long-term injuries by bringing them back too quickly. Additionally, the league probably would also want their players in peak physical shape in order to avoid fielding a subpar product in the playoffs.

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Even with the uncertainty surrounding a potential NBA return, Kanter is holding out hope that the season will return. And he's pretty confident in the C's chances of going all the way if it does happen.

"We are competitors man, so we want to go out there and finish the season,'' he said. "Especially, like, it’s crazy — we actually have a really good chance to go out there and win a championship.''

Kanter has a point. The Celtics were the No. 3 seed in the East at the time of the league's suspension, but with time to get healthy, they may have a chance to have their full roster available, something they've rarely had this season. And their relative youth could allow them to get into shape quicker than some other more veteran-laden teams.

Still, until the league actually does return, it'll be more waiting and wondering what could've been for the Celtics had the season continued.

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Kevin Garnett's greatest impact? Elevating everything - and everyone - around him

Kevin Garnett's greatest impact? Elevating everything - and everyone - around him

When it comes to Kevin Garnett, statistically speaking, he’s one of the best of our generation and a no-brainer to go into the Naismith Hall of Fame on his first shot at basketball immortality.

But my fondest memories of him have little to do with the 2008 NBA title in Boston or the menacing scowl all opponents were greeted with every game, or even the intensity that he played with every second he was on the floor. 

When I think of Kevin Garnett, I think of how he elevated everything and everyone around him and cared for those around him more than he often let on. 

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Rookies soon found out the guy who was kicking their ass in practice and cussing them out when they didn’t listen is the same dude who would buy them suits at the start of the season because he wanted them to not only learn how to be pros but also look like it.

“He did a lot of good things that people didn’t know,” former Celtics coach Doc Rivers said on more than one occasion. “When rookies came in, he would bring them up to my office. He’d sit them down, and then he would bring his tailor in and say, ‘If you want to be a pro, you’ve got to dress like a pro.’ And he would buy each rookie two suits, and he did it every year. To me, that says a lot about Kevin Garnett as a teammate.” 

One of my first encounters with Kevin Garnett came in the early 2000s when he was in Minnesota and I was in Detroit covering the Detroit Pistons. 

Joe Smith, the former No. 1 overall pick and at that time one of KG’s best friends, was returning to Minnesota after a one-year stint in Detroit. So, naturally, the three of us reporters traveling with the team were waiting in the locker room to talk with Smith at the team’s morning shoot-around. 

Out of nowhere, KG came in, nodded to us before saying, “I’ll be with you guys in a minute.” And we were like, ‘uh … OK.”

He must have spent 15 minutes talking to us about his relationship with Joe Smith, the importance of friendship and trust and family, respect for the game … it all made sense to me at that moment. If you are a competitor, there is no better teammate in the world than Kevin Garnett. 

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“He’s the best, man,” Chauncey Billups, a former Celtic and Piston and — maybe most important — good friend of KG’s, told me back then. “He’s a great player. Everybody knows that. But as a teammate? They don’t come any better than KG.”

Indeed, Garnett is passionate about everything it takes to play basketball at the highest level. I have always felt there’s a short list of elite players who fall under the category of five-tool talents who can score, rebound, defend, pass and make their teammates better — all at a high level. 

In all my years of covering sports, KG is the only player I have ever been around who had Hall of Fame-caliber skills in all five of those categories. 

And since he has retired, we have chatted a few times about his days in Boston and how he’s getting used to his new role on the other side of the camera. 

More smiles now, but the intensity to be his best? It’s still there and then some.

Now, he’s off to the Hall of Fame where he will finally be in the company of those whose passion for the game is close to his own, men and women who for years Garnett appreciated for the paths they blazed for him and so many others who have come and will continue to come after him.