Who is the brightest star in Boston? The Patriots have Tom Brady (once Week 5 rolls around anyway) and the Red Sox have David Ortiz (for the rest of this season). Legendary figures that have long stood as the face of their respective franchises.
Who do the Boston Celtics have? This is no longer a roster ripe with future surefire Hall of Famers, but there is talent on this team. They may not have the iconic leader that some of their fellow Boston teams can point to and say, “This is his team.” That doesn’t mean the Celtics don’t have stars.
ESPN’s Chris Forsberg’s Celtics Summer Forecast recently released an installment asking which Celtics would be selected as All-Stars for the 2016-17 season. The overwhelming majority picked at least one of Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas, while many such as myself picked both. If this prediction comes to fruition it will be the first time that the Celtics have had multiple All-Stars in a season since Paul Pierce last represented the green alongside Rajon Rondo in 2012 (Rondo was selected again the following year along with Kevin Garnett, but didn’t play due to injury).
The consensus is that the Celtics have at least two players worthy of All-Star consideration, but which of these stars will shine brightest on the parquet floor. Who will be the Celtics MVP?
Horford stands out as a prime candidate. The four-time All-Star earned himself a lucrative free agent contract, making him the prize of Boston’s offseason and the piece expected to take this team to the next level. There is little doubt that Horford is now the most accomplished player on the roster, but does that make him the team’s best player heading into the season?
Thomas has always played with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He silenced his critics last season that claimed a player of his diminutive stature couldn’t be a star. Now he’ll aim to prove that last year was no flash in the pan and that he can still perform at a high level after the team has brought in a more established star.
Horford may steal a few touches and shots from Thomas, as the Celtics look to implement him as their best interior scoring presence as well as take advantage of his expanding range. However, don’t expect the addition of Boston’s new big man to put too much of a dent into Thomas’ production. IT was 11th in the league last season with a 29.5 usage rate, while Horford found himself outside the top 100 with a 19.5 usage rate. Horford doesn’t need to dominate the ball in order to be effective and has managed to become a star despite topping out at a career-high 22.7 usage rate three seasons ago. His usage may increase now that he’s no longer sharing the frontcourt with a star forward like Paul Milsap, but not to the extent that Thomas’ will suddenly plummet.
If anything, the addition of Horford will only make Thomas even better. Opposing defenses will no longer be able to lock down on Thomas with triple-teams the way we saw in Boston’s first-round loss to Horford’s Atlanta Hawks last year. Last year also saw Horford annihilate his career-high in three-point attempts, while shooting at a respectable 34.4 percent from beyond the arc. Defenses will have to respect his outside shot far more than they ever did for the disappointing Jared Sullinger, spreading the floor for Thomas to dart toward the basket.
Great players are at their best when they are surrounded by talent. Thomas shined bright on a team that most believed lacked star power entering the season, so we can only expect that he can improve with more to work with.
Thomas arguably surpassed Horford as the more valuable player last season, producing a 21.54 PER and 13.9 EWA compared to 19.46 PER and 11.6 EWA for Horford. At this point we know what the 30-year old Horford brings to the table, but the 27-year old Thomas may still have some untapped potential.
Horford remains a great player and should be expected to put together another All-Star campaign in his first season in Boston. He may unseat Jae Crowder as the team’s best two-way player, but Thomas is the one that makes the engine run. This is still his team and he’s eager to prove it.
If the Celtics meet our expectations of leaping into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference then they’ll be deserving of multiple All-Stars, but it will be Thomas that shines brightest as the most valuable player on this Celtics team.