Celtics Report Card: Power Ranking the C's roster so far
In conjunction with our first-quarter report card last week, we asked you guys to pick Boston’s early season MVP. Given four options — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and Marcus Smart — voters were split. Smart prevailed in the balloting with 28 percent of votes but no one earned less than 22 percent. It hammered home how Boston’s early season success has been a group effort from their core players. And if we’d thrown Gordon Hayward in that mix, he probably would have earned a hefty share as well despite missing the last 13 games (he could be back as early as tonight’s visit from the Cavaliers).
In lieu of a report card — and inspired by last weeks’ voting — we attempted this week to try to power rank Celtics players based on their importance to the team’s success so far this season. Like the voters in our poll, we found that you could shuffle the top 5 in just about any order and make a case for your rankings.
1. Jayson Tatum
Among high-volume qualifiers (25+ minutes per game), Tatum ranks third in the NBA in net rating at plus-13.5 points per 100 possessions. Only MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo (plus-15.8) and his Milwaukee teammate Eric Bledsoe (plus-15.1, thanks to playing 77 percent of his minutes alongside Antetokounmpo) are ahead of him. Tatum still isn’t finishing as efficiently as he might like and yet he’s making scoring 20+ points every night look easy. We’ve raved about the shot profile throughout the season but the best recent development has been Tatum’s passing when opponents blitz him with multiple defenders.
A third of Tatum’s total assists this season have come in the last five games as he’s averaged four assists per game (double his career average). Boston’s overall talent takes some of the stress off Tatum but he’s been vital to the Celtics' success. Boston has a net rating of minus-6.6 without Tatum, the only player in the negative. In fact, the next closest is Gordon Hayward at plus-5.2.
2. Kemba Walker
We’re probably guilty of taking Walker’s excellence for granted. Even on seemingly quiet nights, you look up and he's up over 20 points. It’s crazy that he’s practically shooting the same beyond the arc (39.5 percent) as from the floor overall (41.3) with a whopping 51.5 percent of his shots coming from 3-point land.
Add in a career-high 4.6 rebounds to go along with five assists per game and Walker has lived up to his All-NBA billing. Better yet: He’s perfectly content to defer on the nights that his teammates have it going.
3. Jaylen Brown
No player on the roster has made as big of an individual leap this season as Brown, whose improved ball-handling and court vision have nudged him towards legitimate All-Star consideration. Brown is more confident attacking the basket, more able to create for others when defenses collapse on him, and has routinely made opponents pay for leaving him open while shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point land.
His rebounds, assists, and steals per game are all at career highs. Brown’s last seven games: 22.3 points while shooting 53.3 percent from the field and 42.6 percent beyond the arc, while adding 6.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. The lingering question: How will Hayward’s return impact other wings like Brown?
4. Marcus Smart
He probably hasn’t been the most valuable player (though a case can be made) but he might be the most irreplaceable. The Celtics sit fourth in the NBA in defensive rating and that can be traced to both Smart’s tone-setting and the versatility he’s provided. All his early season bumps and bruises have dragged down his offensive efficiency and even slowed him a bit on the defensive side for a stretch recently, but Smart is undeniably the defensive anchor. As the Celtics prep for Hayward’s return, it will be interesting to see if Smart can bring some consistency to a second unit that hasn’t had much offensive punch.
5. Gordon Hayward
The only thing dragging Hayward this low is his 13-game absence. There’s a chance he’s back on the court Monday night against Cleveland and Boston could really take flight once he’s back up to speed. Hayward’s playmaking will help an offense that stalled at times during his absence. His return will also limit how much coach Brad Stevens has to lean on rookies off the bench, bolstering Boston’s core rotation.
6. Daniel Theis
Yes, there’s occasional matchups against beefy bigs that Theis still struggles with, but he’s been Boston’s most consistent big man, which is reflected in the fact that he’s played at least 100 more minutes than every other big. The Celtics have a defensive rating of 97.7 with Theis on the court and that number jumps nearly five points when he’s on the bench.
Theis is content to do all the little things and be solid. He’s also OK when he gets the hook because of a bad matchup. That’s exactly the sort of team player the Celtics need as their fifth starter.
7. Brad Wanamaker
With Hayward sidelined and Smart playing heavy first-unit minutes, the Celtics needed a steady backup ball-handler to helm reserve groups. The 30-year-old NBA sophomore was fantastic and deserves to stick in the rotation even as Hayward returns. Wanamaker has thrived in transition and even flirted with 50/40/90 splits. He’s the sort of steady pro that Stevens can confidently lean on, something this bench desperately needs.
8. Enes Kanter
The knee bruise in the season-opener hindered Kanter for the first month of the season but he’s shown better lately, tag-teaming with Theis based on matchups and giving Boston’s second unit a much-needed offensive jolt. The Celtics own an offensive rating of 113.4 with Kanter on the court — or a fraction of a point behind Kemba Walker’s team-leading mark. When the reserve offense is sputtering, it’s a nice luxury to be able to just throw it inside to Kanter, who has also given Boston its first legitimate offensive rebounder in what feels like a decade.
9. Grant Williams
It’s truly wild that a rookie can miss 25 straight 3-pointers and shoot 24.6 percent from the field overall and still be a net positive when he’s on the floor. That’s just part of the Grant Williams experience. The undersized big man sets stout screens, plays tough defense, and typically makes the right play. He just hasn’t made shots.
10. Robert Williams
The story remains consistency for Williams, who continues to mix tantalizing potential with head-slapping blips of mindfulness. He’s admitted he just needs to be sharper and eliminate the preventable mistakes. But even beyond the dunks and blocks, it’s the glimpses of Williams’ passing (Dimelord!) and the evolving offensive toolbox that leave us wondering if he can evolve into a bigger rotation role once he earns Stevens’ trust defensively.
11. Semi Ojeleye
Ojeleye had a really sluggish start to the season but has capitalized on the increased minutes available during Hayward’s absence. The team’s defense has been excellent with Ojeleye on the floor (99.7 defensive rating) and Ojeleye has been a plus/minus monster the last six games (plus-57 in 137 minutes). Like the rest of the bench, minutes will be tougher with Hayward back, but Ojeleye has Stevens’ trust with his defensive versatility.
12. Javonte Green
Green’s had to settle for smaller chunks of minutes even with Hayward sidelined. He didn’t get double-digit minutes for a seven-game stretch before playing 12 against Denver on Friday night. Even in those bite-sized chunks, his athleticism has been intriguing and he’s been a more efficient scorer than most of his rookie brethren because of his ability to get to the rim.
13. Carsen Edwards
Edwards’ scoring talents simply haven’t transferred to the NBA level yet. He’s shooting 31.3 percent from both the floor and beyond the 3-point arc. That hasn’t been good enough to keep him on the court, especially when Boston’s offensive rating has been an anemic 95.6 in his 220 minutes of floor time. Hayward’s return could mean minutes are even scarcer for Edwards, who will have to earn the trust of coaches by making shots — either in practice or in Maine.
14. Tremont Waters
The G-League’s reigning Player of the Month has turned heads with both his scoring (20.2 points per game) and playmaking (8.6 assists per game). His pick-and-roll play is NBA ready — which he showed in a brief call-up — and he could be important depth later in the year if injuries ever thin Boston’s available ball-handlers. Waters’ development could be vital for the Celtics further down the road, especially considering all the big money committed to the top of the roster.
15. Vincent Poirier
Stevens was emphatic last week that, if the Celtics’ big-man depth was thinned, the team would feel secure with Poirier in a backup role. But with the Theis/Kanter/Rob Williams/Grant Williams quartet already fighting for limited minutes, especially with Stevens’ penchant for small ball, it’s limited Poirier to 35 total minutes in eight appearances. Poirier got dispatched to Maine twice last week for game reps and showed encouraging glimpses.
16. Tacko Fall
The 7-foot-6 big man is currently sidelined with a knee bruise but there’s plenty of reasons for optimism. He’s played well in Maine, averaging 15 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks over 24 minutes per game in six appearances off the bench. He showed well, too, in his NBA debut earlier in the season. The Celtics still have plenty of days to call him up to the parent club for emergency depth or just to get a further taste of the pro game.
17. Romeo Langford
There’s plenty of time for Langford to climb, but injuries have sapped any opportunity for this lottery pick to showcase his potential. He’s been stuck rehabbing a twice-sprained ankle in Boston recently while waiting to get clearance to return to practice activities that would at least allow him to get on the court again in Maine. It’s tempting to call it a red-shirt year, but let’s remember, it’s only December.