The Boston Celtics are a deep, deep team. From guards to bigs, the Celtics have multiple guys who can play versatile roles and be productive on both sides of the court. The reason this team was a game within the NBA Finals without their two superstars was because of that two-way versatility they showcased across the board. With free agency coming up and the trade rumors swirling for the Celtics, it’s important to take a step back and re-assess how to rank this Celtics roster.
To do this, I separated the rankings based on three tiers: the core, the key rotation players, and the situational team. I find the exercise helpful in setting the stage for who are the main guys on the roster and how the accompanying pieces complement them on the roster. The players were ranked based on how big of an impact their contribution will have on the team’s ceiling which is just a long way of saying who I think is better. It doesn’t take into account their contract situation and age. This is the 2018-2019 season in a vacuum.
Tier 1: The Core
Kyrie Irving (24.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.1 apg, 60 gp)
This shouldn’t be hard to sell: Irving is the best player on the team and his progression will dictate the ceiling of the team. He had a tough year dealing with a well-documented knee issue, but he was still able to show that he was a good and willing passer, a passable defender and brought the same offensive scoring punch from Cleveland within the context of Brad Stevens’ offense. All reports are that Irving will be coming back to the team next season at 100% which will be the first time his knee would be completely clear in two years. Also, Irving quietly got a procedure to fix a deviated septum that he suffered a couple of years ago in Cleveland. This was a similar surgery Andre Drummond got that completely transformed his stamina. Things are paving the way for Irving to be in for a career year.
*Gordon Hayward (21.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.5 apg) *2016-17 stats used
Hayward came into the season with so much promise before his unfortunate injury during the season opener. There’s been some whispers on the internet that have suggested that he may never be the same player again, but the team has already stated that he will be back to 100% by August so he’ll get the end of summer, training camp, and the preseason to get comfortable going at game speed. The biggest thing with Hayward will be mental, but if he can get through that he’ll be back to being the all-around star he was in Utah. Hayward’s diverse game make him the most well-rounded player on the team and he’s the perfect star to pair with Irving. He’s a killer without the ball in his hands and is more than willing to run the offense if need be. Having either Hayward or Irving on the floor will do wonders for a Boston offense that spent the entire year playing at an average level offensively without his contributions.
Al Horford (12.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 4.7 apg 72 gp)
Horford has forever been the litmus test for those who understand the nuances of the game that increase the chance of winning and those that don’t. The C’s seem content with preserving Horford throughout the regular season and then unleashing him in the playoffs where he has proven to be an absolute nightmare for opposing team’s front courts. His leadership, elite feel on both ends of the court, and all-around skill-set make him arguably the most valuable member of the Celtics. If Kyrie Irving sets the ceiling for the team, Horford sets the floor.
Jaylen Brown (14.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.6 apg, 70gp)
This will come as a bit of a shock for those of you familiar with my thoughts on Tatum but let me explain. At 6’7, 230 lbs and 7’0 wingspan, Brown has become the team’s most important perimeter defender who was given the toughest assignments of the opponent’s perimeter guys every night. On the other end he was one of the teams most lethal marksmen from three and was an important component in spacing the floor. Then, when Irving went down he showed he can score as a primary option whether that was via post-up, DHO, or PnR. He did all this while maintaining his defensive assignments and keeping his efficiency up from three. His 18/4/5 averages in the playoffs on 39.3 3P% on 6.2 attempts proved that he could be a primary option on a title contending team. This is a kid who came into the league as a perceived non-shooter who wouldn’t be able to do much but attack closeouts and defend. Imagine what he can do by next year.
Jayson Tatum (13.9 ppg, 5rpg, 1.6 apg, 80gp)
Tatum did just about everything you could expect and more from a rookie. He was an iron man who only missed two games (both coming at the end of the season) and led the team in scoring during the postseason. His ability to make a play for himself is usually where everyone falls in love with Tatum, but the process of how he does it makes me giddy about his upside. He gets to the rim at will and led the team in FTA (5.1) in the postseason. He’s a willing passer almost to a fault and is someone who has hidden potential as a point forward that I’m sure will eventually be explored. On the other end of the court he competes defensively and knows how to play within the team’s defensive scheme at a high-level. He’s super switchable and just always seems to be in the right position. It’s easy to see the path where he becomes the team’s best player, but as of now he’ll just be part of a very devastating Boston offense that will be able to close out games with five guys who can score at all three levels and defend at a high-level.