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Report card, part 1 of 2: grading the Celtics’ starters

They’re 13-3, so most players get high marks.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Boston Celtics
Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown battle for a rebound.
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like the season just started, yet somehow, it’s already 1/5 of the way through.

The Celtics are undeniably the hottest, and best, team in basketball. They’ve won nine straight, to move to 13-3 overall, and are showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Whenever a key player is out, another key player steps up and fills the void. The stars have played like stars, their fellow starters have been excellent sidekicks and the bench is quite possibly the top reserve unit in the NBA.

Having said that, there’s always room for improvement. Here’s a look at what each starter has done well so far and what they can improve upon moving forward.

Jayson Tatum: A

Giving Tatum anything other than an A would simply be unfair. He’s been the best player on the best team in the NBA and is a legitimate contender for MVP.

He’s started all 16 games and is averaging 30.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.3 blocks and 0.9 steals. He’s arguably the most complete and well-rounded player in the league and has taken his game to the next level this season.

Tatum zeroed in on what he needed to address this the offseason. His finishing ability, decision making and game management have all improved significantly. Even when he’s off (by his standards), he manages to affect the game in other ways. He’s a superstar in every sense of the word. A tip of the cap to you, sir.

Jaylen Brown: A-

Brown is posting career-best marks in points (25.3), rebounds (6.9) and assists (3.5), while shooting a career-high 49 percent from the floor. He’s excelling defensively, is an extremely tough cover and often seems to deliver a timely bucket when the Celtics need it.

He would get an A, but the unfortunate reality is that his turnover woes haven’t slowed down. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. He’s averaging 3.3 per game, which is the worst mark of his career and the 14th-highest total in the NBA (in fairness, he’s sandwiched between LeBron James and Kevin Durant). He coughed it up seven times against the Pelicans on Friday – his second seven-turnover game in the last six outings. That ain’t gonna cut it.

It’s important to note that he has the ball a ton, so it’s natural he’d turn it over more than a role player. At the same time, he needs to continue to work on valuing every possession and not falling for the trap defenses set when he beats his man off the dribble. Don’t take the bait. Wait for the play to develop and make the simple, correct read. He’s fully capable.

Marcus Smart: B+

Smart has firmly established himself as one of the best passers in the NBA, period. His playmaking ability has improved significantly over the past few years, and anyone questioning whether he’s a legitimate starting point guard on a contender clearly doesn’t watch the Celtics much.

On the flip side, he’s shooting just 29.2 percent from 3-point range, which is his worst mark since 2016-17. His defense also hasn’t been quite at the level it wast last year. Granted, that’s a difficult bar to match, and it will likely improve as the season unfolds, but he’s not quite wreaking havoc on that end like he did during his Defensive Player of the Year season.

He still has a shot at the award, but he’s not the favorite right now. The Celtics are 14th in defensive rating (though they are improving), and Smart is as capable as anyone as helping that number continue to trend in the right direction.

Al Horford: A-

It’s pretty incredible what Horford is doing, and people honestly probably aren’t talking about it enough. It’s easy to take it for granted, but it’s quite commendable that he’s putting up 11.5 and 6.9 a night on the best team in the NBA at age 36.

Horford is shooting 56.3 percent from the floor and 47.5 percent from 3-point range. Though those numbers will likely go down a bit, the general trend is very sustainable. Teams have to worry so much about Tatum and Brown that Horford is often the beneficiary. He makes defenses pay over the over again with his trademark high release and follows it up with a quarter-smirk.

His 2.2 3-pointers per game is a career-high as well, and he’s playing extremely consistent basketball. The only reason he doesn't get an A is because he’s looked a step slow on defense at times. Just a step, but it’s noticeable in certain moments. It’s not his fault, it’s just reality. He’s had an amazing season so far.

Derrick White: B+

White is trying to tip the scales here with his recent sizzling shooting, yet overall, he’s been solid but not great. Malcolm Brogdon’s absence has actually helped him get back into a rhythm, as he’s scored in double figures in each of the last five games.

Before that, he didn’t score in double digits in eight straight games and looked timid at times. White’s value extends far beyond his scoring, and his playmaking has been consistent throughout, but the Celtics are a far more dangerous team when he’s regularly putting the ball in the basket.

He’s shooting 45.2 percent from 3 on the season, which is quite commendable, but it feels like he has some moments where he’s aggressive and others where he blends in and passes up high-percentage shots. The Celtics need him to consistently be aggressive like he has the past few games.

Grant Williams: A

Williams, who has started seven games, has established himself as one of the best role players in the NBA. His up-fake, side-step 3 is lethal – think Kareem’s hook or Duncan’s bank shot (this is a joke; don’t worry). Defenders have to respect the shot and close out, and he either side-steps or drives by them when they do so.

He’s putting up 10.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per night – all career highs by a landslide – and is shooting a career-best 57.8 percent from the floor and 48.2 percent from 3. Let that sink in for a second. This is the same Williams who missed his first 25 3-point attempts. Twenty-five!

He’s come a long way and deserves a lot of credit for diversifying his game. He’s a weapon as a shooter, a driver, and finisher, a passer, a rebounder, a defender and a hustle guy. Now he just has to stop complaining to the refs so much, but he doesn’t get any demerits for that.

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