The Celtics recently showed a glimpse of their championship-caliber club and why this season's team is special. Although the team followed its six-game winning streak with a three-game slump, the players in Boston proved it is possible for them to get the job done.
The Celtics grabbed a steal in the 2012 NBA draft when they picked up Jared Sullinger with the 21st overall pick. Despite the medical red flag on Sullinger's back, the Celtics took a chance on the rookie and he's been proving doubters wrong since day one.
Sullinger averages six points and six rebounds in 20 minutes per game. While those raw numbers aren't too impressive, they don't accurately portray his value to the team. According to Basketball-Reference.com, his defensive rebound rate of 22.9 is second on the team only to Kevin Garnett. Also, he leads the team in both offensive rebound rate (13.1) and total rebound rate (18.1).
Last season, the Celtics were the worst rebounding team in the league. The addition of Sullinger and his ability to grab boards had an immediate impact. The rookie is underrated because he doesn't play enough minutes to put up big numbers. However, he's well ahead of his NBA peers. Among rookie power forwards who've played at least 30 games, Sullinger is tops in total rebound rate.
Boston's system works best when used with defensive-minded players who can make shots. Sullinger currently averages 6.1 points per game, but has jumped to 7.9 in the last 10 games.
As former Sixth Man of the Year, Jason Terry was expected to play a huge role in the Celtics' new and improved bench. However, after the team got off to a slow start, there were questions of whether Terry was a good replacement for Ray Allen.
Prior to the return of Avery Bradley, Terry spent much of his time as starting shooting guard for the Celtics. He is still struggling with his new role in Boston, as his stats are the lowest since his rookie season and are significantly lower than his career averages. Terry is averaging 10 points and 2.3 assists this season.
Still, Terry is a key veteran on the Celtics team. He was brought in to be a spark plug off the bench, and hopefully his production will rise now that he's resuming that role.
Last season with the Mavericks, Terry shot 43 percent and averaged 15.1 points per game. That is the Jason Terry the Celtics need consistency from moving forward. When he gets going offensively, it's hard to stop him.
After missing the entire 2011-12 season, Jeff Green returned to the Celtics as a key member of the secondary unit. It took him some time to learn his role on the team, but his production has been on a steady incline since the season began.
Prior to his arrival in Boston, Green had already made a name for himself as a gifted scorer. When he's hot, he lights up the court. As seen in the video below, Al Jefferson learned about Green's scoring ability the hard way.
The Celtics' biggest problem, however, was their lack of defense, and Green has improved significantly on defense too. ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg pointed out that Green has been very productive from an individual standpoint, ranking ninth among all NBA players with at least 200 defensive plays this season by allowing 0.721 points per play, according to Synergy Sports Data.
Jeff Green is the Celtics' most underrated player. He can both score and make much-needed defensive stops. The expectations set for Green's return were incredibly high, which is why his current level of production could seem like a disappointment to some. In reality, Green is getting better and better, and his evolution will be the key to the Celtics' success.
All stats are accurate as of Jan. 21.