Complete Boston Celtics Power Rankings After Season's 1st Month
The Eastern Conference is a lot closer this year, and the improved Boston Celtics are right in the mix.
Boston is 10-8, which is good for the eighth seed right now, and just 3.5 games behind the top spot in the East. The eye test suggests the Celtics will be back in the playoff mix once again.
Though they didn't manage to lure a big-time free agent this summer, internal growth of the young core has been sufficient so far. Boston is a tough nut to crack for any opponent. It fields one of the stingiest defenses in the league, but the lack of consistency on offense has led to some unbalanced performances.
The lack of a superstar is really what holds Boston back, with the team still losing games it should cruise through on paper.
Even though the pecking order is slowly being established, it will remain partially cloudy. There are simply too many players who need to play. Head coach Brad Stevens mixes and matches with lineups, and a different name can break out for a big performance on any given night.
Valuing each individual in such a deep roster is always tough, but some have come through on a more consistent basis.
All statistics referenced in the article are accurate as of Nov. 30.
15. Jordan Mickey
Mickey has played five minutes total this season and has spent most of his time in the D-League. The 33rd overall pick of last summer's draft has no shot to crack the frontcourt rotation for the Celtics.
14. James Young
Young didn't have a great rookie season, but he showed some glimpses of being an NBA player nonetheless. This year, he has barely received an opportunity to play. Barring any disastrous injuries to the starters, he'll struggle to earn regular playing time. He does have a nifty off-the-dribble game but is simply too raw for a roster with playoff contention in mind.
13. Terry Rozier
Rozier may be a slightly interesting talent, but Boston just can't afford to provide him with the room to grow. He has has logged double-digit minutes several times already but has mostly been an inefficient chucker. He is shooting 20.6 percent from the field.
12. Tyler Zeller
Zeller's decline has been discouraging. After a positive preseason, he received the starting nod, which was quickly taken away after a shaky start. He has practically fallen off a cliff, not really providing anything of value on either end of the court. He has looked tentative rolling to the rim, which has been his strength in the past. He is the sixth-best big on the roster right now.
11. R.J. Hunter
Unlike his fellow rookies, Hunter has actually looked more assertive. With Boston's backcourt ailing, Hunter has had a chance to play decent minutes in several games. He hasn't been afraid to shoot, and his stroke is looking good. He's a springy guard who has been quite fun to watch in his brief stints.
10. Jonas Jerebko
Jerebko has been in a massive slump lately, shooting just 18 percent from the field during his last seven games. He can only snag a couple of minutes here and there in the incredibly deep frontcourt, which forces him into playing at small forward even though he's more effective as a stretch 4.
Despite Jerebko throwing up bricks lately, his overall presence is a positive. If he can break out of the funk he's in, he provides another hybrid player who can pass, shoot and dribble. That's a valuable skill set in today's NBA, and it's right in line with what Stevens is looking for.
9. Evan Turner
Turner's placing may seem a little low, but it's not without justification. He is shooting just 14 percent from three-point range while hovering barely over 40 percent from the field. His ball-dominant style makes him practically unplayable next to another shaky shooter such as Marcus Smart.
To his credit, Turner has looked solid defensively. He is also capable of making some big plays. But he shoots too many mid-range jumpers, and the Celtics offense is 3.6 points per 100 possessions better when he sits, per NBA.com.
8. David Lee
Lee earned the starting nod at the beginning of the season, was stripped of the duties following a slow start and has since eased himself into a decent bench role. His playing time is a little erratic, but he is still a solid contributor.
Stevens loves big men who can pass and function in a flow offense, and Lee fits the bill. He has rehabilitated some of his post game and can whip around defense-collapsing passes that 95 percent of NBA players wouldn't even consider trying.
7. Kelly Olynyk
Olynyk has to battle for playing time with the rest of the big men, but he's a great weapon to have when the Celtics need an offensive boost. He can stretch the floor, pass and blow by slower bigs. He has also been surprisingly sturdy defensively.
Stevens can throw five shooters on the floor thanks to Olynyk, and those units can be scary offensively. The lineup featuring the current starters with Olynyk in place of Amir Johnson has put up a ridiculous 137.2 points per 100 possessions over a small sample size, per NBA.com. It feels like a group that Stevens should experiment with more often.
6. Amir Johnson
Even though Johnson has earned a starting spot, he is just outside the top five. He's not really an advanced statistics darling, but he still brings a lot of value to the table.
Johnson is the Celtics' lone competent rim protector, he has developed some offensive skills and will occasionally shoot threes. Although he hasn't been particularly efficient, he can still knock them down in the corner if left wide open. He is also an underrated and quick-thinking passer.
5. Jae Crowder
Boston liked what it saw after acquiring Jae Crowder in the Rajon Rondo deal last season, awarding the energetic wing with a five-year, $35 million deal shortly thereafter. The idea was for Crowder to develop into the next DeMarre Carroll—a reliable three-point shooter who can guard multiple positions.
He isn't quite there, but Crowder continues to have Stevens' confidence. He is averaging 29.7 minutes per game and is heavily involved in the offense. He is still way too streaky of a shooter, and his defense has become somewhat overrated.
He can completely shut down the best wing scorers on certain possessions but has a tendency to gamble. He reaches for steals too often—even when guarding the post—will occasionally fall asleep when defending against off-ball action and doesn't always communicate well. He is also prone to committing silly fouls. That being said, Crowder can competently defend four positions when he's focused.
Crowder lacks a smooth stroke, as he is connecting on a mediocre 31.3 percent of his threes over a decent sample size. His shooting motion isn't consistent, as he sometimes rushes to get the ball up. That generally leads to a lot of hard shots, eliminating the possibility of a friendly bounce.
4. Marcus Smart
Smart remains the Celtics' most intriguing pet project. He has a high ceiling, and Boston is pouring in a lot of resources in order to squeeze out his potential.
However, his inability to stay healthy isn't helping the cause. He has been out since Nov. 20 with a knee injury and is reportedly still weeks away from a return, per Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com.
Smart is already one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, and All-NBA Defensive Team nominations will undoubtedly flow his way, eventually. He has a relentless pit bull mentality, is a nightmare for elite perimeter scorers (as he hounds them all over the court) and has an incredible motor.
The defense and the effort will always be there. The question is whether Smart will develop into a slightly superior version of Tony Allen or if he can add enough offensive punch to become an All-Star.
Compared to last season, his efficiency has not improved through the nine games he has appeared in so far. His playmaking looks slightly better and he has shown flashes, but he still can't run the offense very well and is rough around the edges in practically every related skill.
3. Jared Sullinger
Jared Sullinger has been the Celtics' best big man by a landslide.
It took three games for him to regain a starting spot, and he hasn't missed a beat since then. Even though his pudgy frame remains intact, he looks like he is in better shape this year.
Sullinger has cemented himself in the paint, grabbing seemingly every brick his teammates throw up. Despite only playing 25.1 minutes per game, the fewest since his rookie season, Sullinger has collected the fourth-most offensive rebounds in the league. He also ranks in the top 14 in rebounds per game.
He hasn't had his number called a ton on offense, but he hasn't looked bad, either. Sullinger is more efficient, and his jumper looks improved. Being in better shape might have something to do with it, as he seems to have his legs under him on every spot-up opportunity.
Sullinger still isn't a reliable option on offense, but he can heat up occasionally and provide a welcomed boost. He sees the floor well and is a decent passer.
2. Avery Bradley
Bradley is a close second on this list. He started the season a little shaky, and a calf injury slowed him down further. Ever since returning to action, however, he has looked fantastic.
With Smart sidelined, Bradley has assumed a higher share of the ball-handling duties. His mid-range pull-up jumper has been automatic, and he has utilized it a ton when curling around screens on handoffs and pick-and-rolls. He has also been lethal from three-point range.
Bradley ranks top-20 in three-point attempts and 13th in three-point makes per game. He very rarely turns down looks from deep, as he's connecting on a career-high 41.2 percent of those shots.
He has also sparked a lot of opportunities in transition. Bradley smothers his matchups, pushes the ball well in the open court and looks a tad more explosive than in the past. He still isn't a great playmaker, although he's improved in that department as well.
Overall, Bradley has looked like he is capable of being a very solid starter on a championship-contending roster.
1. Isaiah Thomas
Thomas might not be able to match the defensive prowess of his backcourt teammates, but at least he tries. He plays hard despite being severely undersized, and though a lot of bigger guards can shoot over him, he still puts in a lot of effort despite shouldering the offensive load.
Thomas single-handedly runs Boston's offense. The team has collapsed without him on the floor, scoring 9.7 fewer points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. That's an incredible drop-off, and the difference between seventh and 29th in offensive efficiency, per ESPN.com's Hollinger stats.
Boston moves the ball well as a team and can occasionally create good looks just through movement and smart cuts. But eventually, the offense stagnates, and no other player can replace what Thomas adds in those situations. He is a pick-and-roll wizard who can burst past just about any defender.
Thomas makes tough shots on a regular basis, and initiates a lot of action as the initial penetrator. As the team's leading scorer, the Celtics would be lost without him.