Jordan Crawford has brought his A-game almost nightly.
The 10-14 Boston Celtics are in fourth place in the Atlantic Division and firmly in the NBA's Eastern Conference playoff picture. However, one wouldn't exactly rush to give them an exemplary grade for the quarter mark.
Obviously, the Celtics as a whole are passing, with room to breathe. This team didn't look like much on paper, but the collective effort has allowed it to win some games it wasn't supposed to and become surprisingly relevant in a down conference.
Individually there have been a variety of grades, ranging from stellar to somewhat incomplete. As the Celtics hit the quarter mark of their "rebuilding season" we grade out a surprising roster in the Bleacher Report classroom.
Quarter Grade: A
There was a recent push among local Boston Celtics fans and bloggers to get Jordan Crawford into the All-Star conversation. While it is still very much a stretch, the idea isn't quite as crazy as it would have sounded a few months ago.
Crawford has been absolutely excellent while running Brad Stevens' new Boston offense. He is having a very efficient career year, finding comfort in a new role and regular minutes.
"The only thing I wanted to make sure he knew from my standpoint was that it's a fresh start — that we believe in him," Stevens told Grantland's Zach Lowe about his starting point guard.
He is shooting 39.6 percent from beyond the arc and 45.9 percent overall. His previous best clips were 34.5 and 41.5 percent. Crawford is averaging 14.2 points to go along with career highs in assists (5.5) and rebounds (3.3).
Since turning the calendar to December, Crawford is on an incredible tear, pouring in 21.0 points and doling out 6.6 assists. There is no doubt that he has been a key part in keeping Boston competitive this season, but at this point Crawford is bordering along the lines of being Boston's most valuable player.
Quarter Grade: B
Avery Bradley's season has been perfectly average.
He's been up and down offensively, which was to be expected. He has also been a terror on defense once again, making just about every offensive guard the comes through Boston look damn near incompetent for stretches.
Still, this was all expected from Bradley. We haven't seen much of a leap forward in his play, particularly on offense. He is a capable starting guard in the league but obviously hasn't shown enough consistency to warrant a lucrative extension, and Boston will wait the season out.
A source told Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling, "The Celtics offered him a four-year, $24 million deal (with a team option on the fourth year) this past offseason, but he turned it down."
Bradley did show a bit of an uptick recently but wasn't facing much in terms of defensive guards. Then Chris Paul held him to eight points and two assists on eight shots.
If he keeps that three-point shooting up in the high 30s, (currently 38.1 percent) the Celtics may up their offer into the range Bradley is thinking. If that happens, this grade can inch closer to an A, as well.
Quarter Grade: B
It has been eight games since Jeff Green scored less than 15 points, which could mean one of two things.
First, he could be really turning a corner and finally settling into this role of big-time scorer and No. 1 option. On the other hand, Green could be due for one of his ghost-like performances that seem to pop up here and there.
Green is averaging 21.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game over this eight-game streak, in which the Boston Celtics are 4-4. The consistency has come as easy as pulling teeth, but it has definitely moved forward. Green is Boston's closest thing to an automatic 17-20 points on the board.
“That’s just natural, to want to fit in," Doc Rivers told The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn. "Now he looks at this team and this is his team. He has to take change and be aggressive, and he’s doing that.”
There are still major aspects of his game that hurt to watch. The aggression he shows comes in bursts, which is normally a decent trait. However, when Green isn't on one of those kicks, he doesn't just revert back to an average NBA player, he drops off the face of planet.
If he keeps up this scoring for another handful of games, this grade will elevate.
Quarter Grade: B+
Jared Sullinger definitely took a leap this season, but that doesn't mean he has finished growing or can rest.
Boston's starting power forward still has a long way to go till he gets to where Celtics fans would like him to go. He has now got to start working on that pesky consistency problem, which is the next step in his development
"Honestly, I'm shocked the way I'm playing now," Sullinger told ESPN's Chris Forsberg in November. "Coming off of surgery, to be able to do the things I'm doing. I feel pretty good about myself, as far as the movements."
Sullinger got his feet wet through half a season last year and has gone through a surge this year in playing time, production and notoriety. Now the Celtics would like to see him piece together three or four of those big games in a row, instead of deferring a fair amount.
The addition of a three-point shot, albeit not a good one, is certainly something to keep an eye on, as it allows Sullinger to play the game a different way. This lessens the weakness presented by his height and potentially creates another weapon on offense for Boston.
Quarter Grade: B
Brandon Bass being defensive leader isn't something that was possible a few years ago. However, he has become a backbone for the Boston Celtics and anchors a surprisingly stingy defense.
Bass has been one of Boston's most consistent players, supplying constant veteran leadership to a young and inexperienced frontcourt. His size and footwork have allowed him to defend a certain style of big, athletic forward, like Carmelo Anthony.
"We have some very good individuals with what they’re able to do," Brad Stevens told Jay King of MassLive.com. "I think Bass has been extremely consistent defensively all year, and has been a good anchor for us in that regard."
While helping the Celtics win three of their last five games, Bass is averaging 15.2 points and 9.6 rebounds. His steadying influence on the team is perhaps best illustrated by his 85.2 percent free-throw shooting. In December he is getting to the line 7.8 times per game.
Bass' calling card, the mid-range jumper, has been typically reliable. He has hit 50 of 112 shots from 10-19 feet.
Quarter Grade: C-
It is tough to call Gerald Wallace a disappointment, given how low expectations were coming into the season.
However, the veteran swingman has just been quiet all year. When you're making north of $10 million, it definitely tints everything you do on the court.
Wallace gets a lot of credit for contributing intangibles to the Celtics, but there has to be more to his game. He simply doesn't have it offensively any more. Losing a step of athleticism has forced him to give away a lot of startling turnovers. He also lacks the necessary quickness to get his own shot off with any regularity, which he has covered up by simply not shooting. There have been three games this season in which Wallace played more than 20 minutes and didn't attempt a shot.
“Five years ago, I was dunking anything and everything that was close to the rim,” said Wallace to Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe. “Nowadays, I’ve got to be wide open to dunk.”
Intangibles are an easy cop-out when crediting a veteran who has simply lost it and can't do much anymore. Wallace's minutes are being tapered off for a reason. He is down to just 21.6 over the last five games, and it is because he isn't contributing to the team winning or playing well enough to raise any sort of trade value.
Wallace is good for a few rebounds and a flashy steal or transition play per game, but that doesn't get you a good grade in the NBA.
Quarter Grade: C+
This has been a grind of a season thus far for Courtney Lee. It has been a struggle to find his rhythm after getting dinged up for a couple games, but also just a battle to keep his role.
Brad Stevens isn't in the business of gifting minutes to players, so if Lee isn't showing the aggression necessary for him to play well, No. 11 finds himself on the bench and submitting a nonexistent nine-minute performance.
“As you get older, the less minutes and the more consistent minutes that you get, it’s kind of helping,” Lee said to MassLive.com's Jay King. “Everybody that’s going out there playing is doing a good job."
The aggression was definitely there early on this season. Lee was driving to the basket and taking threes. He averaged 6.4 attempts per game in November. The small sample size of his return from a minor injury hasn't been great, as Stevens has made moves to work in other players.
Quarter Grade: B-
Give Phil Pressey a lot of credit for what he has done this season. He has gone from an undrafted, non-guaranteed training-camp invitee to a legitimate NBA reserve.
He has proven to Brad Stevens that he is capable of running his second-unit offense for stretches, despite an obvious height and stroke disadvantage. Pressey is responsible with the ball, averaging 1.9 assists to just 0.6 turnovers per game, allowing those reserves to really hold their ground while the opposition tries to race ahead or fight back into the ball game.
“Just trying to maintain stability with that second group and making sure our offense is where it needs to be,” Pressey told NESN's Ben Watanabe about his role on the team.
It has seemingly been a long time since the Boston Celtics had a quality backup point guard. Now, it appears that when Rajon Rondo returns, they will have two.
Quarter Grade: B
While he has had to grow used to a limited bench role of late, Vitor Faverani was a big help to the Boston Celtics early on.
Now that Jared Sullinger is getting a full dosage of minutes, Faverani has found himself with single-digit playing time in four of the last five games.
“We just didn’t have much size," Stevens told Jay King of MassLive.com following Boston's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. "And I should have put Vitor in the second half. I’ll be kicking myself for that.”
Faverani played just five minutes in the game, as the Clippers poured in 42 points in the paint.
His 5.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in November were massively helpful for Boston and a major reason the team remained competitive through that early slate. What the future holds for him remains to be seen, but it appears the late offseason pickup was a definite hit for the Celtics.
Quarter Grade: C+
Unfortunately, Kelly Olynyk's extended absence will dock him a little bit here.
A sprained ankle has now forced the lottery pick to miss 10 games. We are now well beyond the original two-week timetable, which obviously can't speak a ton to Olynyk's toughness. Still, it is clear the physical part of healing is giving him more trouble than the mental.
“It sucks. Every player wants to play and help your team. Physically not being able to [play] is tough,” Olynyk told Pat Bradley of NESN. “You see the game from a different perspective, more as a whole from start to finish rather than trying to analyze it too much. It’s a bigger picture from an outside view.”
In that respect, it may not be a terrible thing for Olynyk to sit for these few weeks. Despite averaging 7.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, his shot was really suffering. He was shooting just 38.9 percent before going down.
If this different perspective helps him grasp the NBA game a little better, then it is a good thing moving forward.
Quarter Grade: B-
Kris Humphries has been one of the biggest reasons Kelly Olynyk's extended absence hasn't been noticed.
The veteran power forward saw a minutes increase around the turn of the month and showed just why he deserves the playing time. Unfortunately a bruised knee kept him out of the Boston Celtics' most recent game, but prior to that he had a handful of respectable performances.
Against the Denver Nuggets, Humphries was called upon to stem the opponent's rush. He came through with 18 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes. Similarly, early in the season in Boston's big win over the Miami Heat, Humphries posted nine points and five boards in 19 important minutes.
“He’s done a good job for us, and I think that speaks to his professionalism too,” said head coach Brad Stevens following Humphries' big game against the Denver Nuggets, per MassLive.com's Jay King.
In tight games against good teams, it says a lot that Stevens is willing to utilize Humphries as a steady source of production. Boston is going the route of developing younger guys, but that doesn't mean he will be forgotten entirely.
MarShon Brooks: D+
The Boston Celtics really needed a surge of offense midway through their game with the Los Angeles Clippers recently, and Brad Stevens opted to give MarShon Brooks a shot.
Four minutes and three turnovers later, Brooks was on the bench once again. In that brief stint he more or less showed why he hasn't been getting time for Boston. Even when Courtney Lee went down for a pair of games in November, Brooks saw just six minutes total.
“It’s way too early for that,” Brooks told CBS Boston's Brian Robb about possibly wanting to be traded. “I trust Brad Stevens. He told me I’m going to get my opportunity, so I’m just waiting on my opportunity, honestly.”
He has scored when given even minuscule time, putting in eight points in six minutes against the New York Knicks, but that isn't enough. Brooks has to be able to take care of the ball and make smart decisions on the floor.
Until he shows that at practice, and a Boston guard suffers an injury or is traded, he'll remain biding his time on the sidelines.
Quarter Grade: INC
Until we see Rajon Rondo in a uniform and running around the court during a game, it is tough to grade him.
He has been active in timeouts and on the bench, in teammates' ears about what he is seeing from the sidelines and what they can look for when they get back on the court.
“He’s playing one-on-one and two-on-two, that type of thing, but he hasn’t been cleared to do much more than that,” Danny Ainge said to The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes.
As far as we know, he is doing everything in his power to get back into playing condition and has recently made strides to get there.
As always, his fashion game gets an A from me.
Quarter Grade: D
If only for keeping himself healthy, Keith Bogans deserves a fairly low grade.
The veteran guard has been gotten sick a few times this season, forcing him to be inactive in a handful of games. Bogans hasn't played since Nov. 30, when he saw six minutes against the Milwaukee Bucks. He still has yet to score a point or register an assist on the season.
“[I gave him my seat] so he could talk to ‘Do (Rondo), sit in between the two of us,” Bogans told Jessica Camerato of HoopsWorld.com. “We could talk to him about the game a little bit, educate him a little bit. He’s a young guy. He needs to learn. [I decided to] put him between us, listen to what we’re talking about.”
The only thing keeping Bogans from earning a failing grade to go along with that $5 million paycheck is that he appears to be developing a friendship with Rajon Rondo on the bench. They have been spotted laughing together many times, and it is becoming clear that Rondo respects the older Bogans. Together they are extra assistant coaches on the bench.
If this is a real thing, than Bogans' importance to the team cannot be overstated.
Quarter Grade: A
It certainly didn't take long for Brad Stevens—in his first year as an NBA head coach—to learn the ropes of the pro league.
Stevens recently had the Boston Celtics winning six of eight games and approaching a .500 record despite missing the team's best player and having very low expectations from the start.
“I think he’s an easy coach to play for,” Rajon Rondo told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. “He’s very positive. He not a yeller. He’s always encouraging and moving on to the next play. Who wouldn’t want to play for a coach like that?"
Stevens' even-keeled approach and work turning Jordan Crawford into a legitimate point guard have him earning fans throughout the league. From his early-season victory over the Miami Heat to his recent undressing of Mike Woodson and the New York Knicks, Stevens is a sponge and only growing in NBA knowledge.
It is still early, and Boston still has a losing record, but it appears Stevens is a big hit for Danny Ainge and company.