Celtics

Jayson Tatum cracks Top 40 in SI's Top 100 NBA player ranking

Jayson Tatum cracks Top 40 in SI's Top 100 NBA player ranking

Jayson Tatum didn't make the leap into NBA superstardom last season that some expected out of him after a magical playoff run in 2018. Still, Tatum flashed his potential and managed to be a consistent source of offense on a maddeningly inconsistent Celtics team during the 2019-20 campaign. 

Now that Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have gone and signed with Eastern Conference rivals, the Celtics will lean on Tatum for more than just his scoring. He'll have to defend at a higher level, make plays for others and lead both on and off the court. 

If he can improve all aspects of his game while maintaining the efficiency he's displayed on the offensive end, he'll probably find himself higher on next year's Sports Illustrated Top 100 list

This year, however, he finds himself at No. 35. 

It might be helpful to compartmentalize the version of Jayson Tatum we saw last season from the player he could be one day. That isn’t to deny the existence of the former; Tatum’s mystifying efforts to become a mid-post specialist proved to be a failure on every level. If that is the crux of his game, he will level out as a player without so much as sniffing stardom. That said, cleaning up his shot profile even slightly would go a long way. The 21-year-old has a lot of the qualities teams look for in a centerpiece prospect: three-level scoring, strong defensive fundamentals, positional fluidity—Tatum even has an NBA proof of concept with his performance in the 2018 playoffs. You can see all the pieces, if only Tatum could crystallize his game a bit. There have been too many nights where Tatum becomes just another guy: a positive contributor, but a forgettable one. Some of that was the byproduct of Boston’s ensemble last season. Some other part stems from the way Tatum has operated thus far. Once that changes, so will his status within the league.

Tatum is the highest ranking Celtic so far in these rankings. Marcus Smart came in at No. 82, Jaylen Brown at 68 and Gordon Hayward at 59. Kemba Walker's standing has yet to be revealed, so he should figure to be in the Top 20 at the least. 

This season should tell us plenty about what the Celtics have in their core of young stars. For Tatum and Brown, they have a chance to prove that they deserve to be talked about in the same breath as the league's elite. If they can't elevate their games in a big way in 2019-20, the Celtics' season, as well as their future, will start to look real bleak.

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Isaiah Thomas gives Carsen Edwards a glowing endorsement on Twitter

Isaiah Thomas gives Carsen Edwards a glowing endorsement on Twitter

Boston Celtics rookie Carsen Edwards makes a big first impression for someone of his stature.

Isaiah Thomas can relate.

Edwards scored a career-high 18 points off the bench Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards while rocking No. 4, the same number Thomas wore during his successful tenure in Boston.

The 5-foot-11 Edwards then admitted he views the 5-foot-9 Thomas as an inspiration for shorter players like himself. On Thursday, Thomas reciprocated Edwards' respect.

Edwards already is turning heads early in his NBA career: His preseason 3-point barrage against the Cleveland Cavaliers drew the eye of ex-superstar Dwyane Wade, while others have labeled the 33rd overall pick a steal in the 2019 NBA Draft.

But Thomas' endorsement has to be extra special for Edwards considering he faced even more adversity than the Purdue product. Thomas was picked dead last in the 2011 NBA Draft and heard constant concerns about his height before becoming an All-Star in Boston.

Edwards has a much smaller role on Boston's talented roster than Thomas did as a rookie in Sacramento. But here's a stat to consider: Edwards is averaging 16.8 points per 36 minutes, while Thomas averaged 16.3 points per 36 minutes during his rookie season.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Warriors, which tips off Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Here's one aspect of Gordon Hayward's injury that makes Danny Ainge wary

Here's one aspect of Gordon Hayward's injury that makes Danny Ainge wary

Gordon Hayward fracturing his hand isn't the end of the world. The Boston Celtics forward should be back by the end of the calendar year and has endured far worse injuries.

But there's one factor about Hayward's injury that gives Danny Ainge pause, and it involves recent history.

In his weekly interview Thursday on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Toucher & Rich," the Celtics president of basketball operations explained that Boston's biggest challenge with Hayward's injury won't be losing him for six weeks, but how to re-integrate him when those six weeks are up.

"Gordon has been playing so great. He's our most efficient player, shooting 57 percent from the field, having a terrific year," Ainge said. "So now, other guys have to do more. And so then when Gordon comes back, then other guys get to do less."

Does that scenario ring any bells? It should.

Many believe the genesis of the Celtics' struggles in 2018-19 were injuries to Hayward and Kyrie Irving that kept them out of the 2017-18 playoffs, allowing young players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier to take on much bigger roles.

When Hayward and Irving both returned at full strength last season, the "young guys" had to revert to their previous roles, an adaptation that seemed to splinter the locker room.

That tricky scenario -- specifically how it affects team chemistry -- isn't lost on Ainge.

"I think that (Hayward's injury is) a good opportunity for the guys on our team right now," Ainge said. "And then when Gordon comes back, trying to fit that back in is sometimes a challenge just when he returns to play.

"That's the only bummer about it. We were really developing -- there's been a lot of talk about chemistry on this team and they're great kids, but they're really figuring each other out on the court, too.

"So, now that takes a little bit of a step back, and you try to reinvent the rotations and reinvent everything when you lose a significant player like that."

These Celtics are built much differently than last year's Celtics, starting with Kemba Walker, who carries a strong reputation as an unselfish leader. Boston also has won two straight in Hayward's absence, and the team appears to be enjoying each other's company.

But as Ainge suggests, the real test for this team may come in the days and weeks following Hayward's return.

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Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Warriors, which tips off Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.