Celtics player power rankings: Marcus Smart is turning into a complete guard

Celtics player power rankings: Marcus Smart is turning into a complete guard

COMMENTARY

The Boston Celtics are heading toward the All-Star break as one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They have won 11 of their last 12 games and are 24-7 in their last 31, a run that has earned them respect from plenty of notable figures around the association.

“Look, they’re a very good offensive team, one of the best,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said Monday. “They’ve got a legitimate chance to get to the Finals with that team out of the East. It’s a very, very good basketball team…”

With the trade deadline just a week away, the question that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and his staff now have to answer is just how much they buy into the team’s recent strides. The Celtics still have major holes on the roster, particularly in the frontcourt when it comes to size and rebounding. Still, they have managed to win despite those obvious woes, even without injured starting shooting guard Avery Bradley.

Will those issues become fatal flaws come playoff time if they are not addressed now? Or do the Celtics have enough talent elsewhere to overcome them? Ainge and co. have a few more days to come to a conclusion.

Not Ranked

Avery Bradley: The shooting guard has missed 11 of the past 12 games with an Achilles injury. The C’s are hopeful he will be able to return to the floor after the All-Star break.

14. Demetrius Jackson: A quiet week for the rookie in the D-League as he was called back up to the big squad over the weekend for depth purposes with Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown and Jae Crowder sidelined.

13. Jordan Mickey: The second-year forward appeared in two games on the team’s Western Conference road trip, but both came in garbage time situations. He remains at the bottom of the depth chart and could be a candidate to be moved at the trade deadline.

12. Tyler Zeller: The veteran center continues to fall down the rankings through no fault of his own. He played respectably in 24 total minutes over the past week but with head coach Brad Stevens going for more offensively-minded lineups, Zeller’s skills just don’t fit.

11. Jonas Jerebko: The Swede has really struggled to shoot the ball after a collision with Jaylen Brown caused him to break his nose. The injury didn’t keep Jerebko out of any games, but he’s hit just 25 percent of his shot attempts since suffering the break. Honestly, the slump make sense when you get a closer look at Jerebko’s mask.

Can we get Jonas a mask that doesn't mess with his hair? pic.twitter.com/K3LigJlZto

— Brian Robb (@CelticsHub) February 9, 2017

10. James Young: It’s amazing how quickly the power rankings can change in the course of a week. Young had been benched in five straight games before being called into action out west. He shined off the bench vs. Utah, Dallas and Philadelphia. He played all 12 fourth-quarter minutes against the Mavericks during the 111-98 win and got crunch time minutes yet again at the Garden on Wednesday night. Those strong performances may make the Celtics think twice about dealing or cutting the 21-year-old Young in the coming days.

9. Terry Rozier: Shooting remains a concern for the reserve guard (24.1 percent from field in last five games), but he’s limited his shot attempts and is playing within himself on both ends. The second-year guard has also provided a rebounding boost (three straight games with four boards in the last week) for the backcourt in Bradley’s absence.

8. Gerald Green: One of the streakier players on the roster has hit his stride in the last four games. The veteran swingman is shooting 16-of-25 from the field during that stretch, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range. He’s been consistent in his scoring as well (three double-digit point games) making him the kind of bench spark plug Danny Ainge had envisioned him as this offseason.

7. Jaylen Brown: A strained hip forced Brown to miss the conclusion of the road trip, but the strides in his offensive game look promising to Celtics fans. The No. 3 overall pick is averaging 8.8 points per game in the month of February, a three-point jump from his season average.

6. Amir Johnson: Here’s a stat you won’t see very often: Johnson is shooting better from the field (68.6 percent) than the free throw line (50 percent) during February. In fact, the 6-foot-9 center is the hottest Celtic on the roster this month, even from 3-point range (62.5 percent).

5. Jae Crowder: Crowder struggled after missing two straight games for personal reasons, but that didn’t stop his former head coach in Dallas from expressing remorse after trading the small forward a little over two years ago. “We shouldn’t have traded him,” Carlisle told reporters before the Celtics win over the Mavericks Monday. “Really he’s a three- or four-position player. … He’s a guy who I do think will get better over the years to come. He’s a worker.”

4. Kelly Olynyk: The seven-footer has found a groove in the last couple weeks on both ends of the floor.

Kelly Olynyk in last 5 games: 13.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 59.6% FG, 43.8% 3pt, 23.2 mpg.

— Brian Robb (@CelticsHub) February 14, 2017

He’s also emerged as the top defensive rebounder on the team in the last few weeks, a pivotal development with the Celtics languishing at the bottom of the league in that department.

3. Marcus Smart: The hybrid guard has split time between the starting lineup and bench with Avery Bradley sidelined, but he’s remained a defensive menace no matter when he plays. His 2.8 steals per game on the C’s road trip were reflective of his immense defensive impact. He continues to make strides offensively as well (14.3 ppg on road trip, 50% FG) and that type of production has helped C’s fight their way to 11 wins in 12 games without Bradley.

2. Al Horford: With Kevin Love sidelined for the next six weeks after a knee scope, teammates like Isaiah Thomas made a strong push for Horford to be his injury replacement in the All-Star Game. Horford’s all-around numbers 14.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.5 bpg) would have made him a better choice than Carmelo Anthony for the spot.

1. Isaiah Thomas: Remember Steph Curry’s MVP season last year? Isaiah Thomas has come close to putting up those kind of numbers since returning from a groin injury on Dec. 4.

Isaiah Thomas since returning from injury on Dec. 16:

32.5 ppg (1st in NBA)

49.5% FG

40.7% 3pt

93.1% FT (1st in NBA)

C's record: 23-7

— Brian Robb (@CelticsHub) February 14, 2017

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Original Article www.boston.com

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