Report Card: Grading the Boston Celtics through the 1st quarter of the season
The Boston Celtics have completed about a quarter of their games on the 2019-20 season. I can’t believe the first unofficial checkpoint has already arrived. It is a perfect time to take a step back and assess how the team is doing after their impressive 15-5 start. I have listed the Celtics in alphabetical order by last name and assigned them a letter grade. The grades are subjective and have been assigned based on how they’re performing against my perceived expectations. I’m looking forward to all your comments below so you can tell me where I went wrong. Here goes…
Danny Ainge Grade: B
Danny tried his butt off signing and acquiring big time talent over the past few seasons just to see a lot of it leave the organization this past summer. It’s hard to imagine the Celtics current standing after losing two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford to free agency this summer. They also dismissed other starting-caliber players in Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier and Aron Baynes. It’s been well documented that last year’s team did not work out even with a loaded roster, so losing some of those key pieces has molded what the team is today.
With a focus on team chemistry, Danny and company used some of the money saved to bring in All-Star point guard Kemba Walker. Limited by cap space, they also found a way to bring in a serviceable rotation big man Enes Kanter. The 2019 draft grade is incomplete, but there seems to be solid development and early contributors in their rookie class.
The bench has had their troubles at times, but that could be fixed as the rotation lengthens when everyone is healthy. If Danny can find a way to swing a trade to solidify the rotation, then Trader Danny may see his grade bump even further. Danny has done well under the circumstances, so he deserves his solid grade to this point.
Jaylen Brown Grade: A-
After the Celtics were mocked for drafting him at number 3 in the draft a few years ago, and others questioned the large contract extension before the season, we’re seeing exactly what we hoped for with Jaylen so far this season.
Jaylen has taken advantage of other teams blitzing Walker and Jayson Tatum. He is a tick under 20 points and seven rebounds per contest, while boasting career bests in points, rebounds, assists, steals, FG% and FT%. His ball handling has gotten so much better as well.
He has developed into a reliable two-way player due to his athleticism on defense. He is a key reason for the Celtics’ success so far this season and may be the most consistent Celtics player across the board. My question is, did I slight him by not giving him a straight A or am I being optimistic that he still has room to grow?
Carsen Edwards Grade: C-
This may be a little unfair to the Thigh God, but I had high expectations for him as a bench scorer this year. Initially I had given him a D grade, but I think back to when I was in school and had a 68.5 grade average - the teacher liked me so I did a little extra credit to earn that C-. That’s Carsen Edwards to this point.
Although he is shooting a disappointing 30.8% from the field this year, he has remained in Brad Stevens rotation. Brad has always said that he doesn’t mind when shots don’t go in as long as their good shots within the offense. Edwards is tempting, too, as we’ve seen with his 18-point outburst against the Wizards earlier this season.
Edwards needs to continue to do the little things to earn his playing time, and he’s too good of a shooter/scorer for the ball not to go in the net. Until that happens, though, he can’t earn a much higher grade than I’ve given here.
Tacko Fall Grade: Incomplete
Tacko burst onto the scene as the most hyped undrafted rookie that I can remember due to his 7’6” frame. He did enough before the season to earn a two-way contract. He has played just four garbage-time minutes for the Celtics, but he has been effective for the Maine Red Claws where he is averaging 15 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks across 24 minutes per game. Tacko has been limited to just six games after dealing with a knee injury, but expects to be back in action soon.
Javonte Green Grade: Incomplete
While Green has played in 70% of the Celtics’ games this season, it is difficult to give him a real letter grade here. He impressed in the summer and into camp which earned him the last spot on the roster. He is a fine depth piece at this point, but he has logged just 91 minutes on the season.
Green’s athleticism is obvious when you watch him play. He never seems to hurt the team when he is on the court, but he has a lot of talented and established players ahead of him. The Celtics have mentioned they see some Tony Allen in him, which would be nice if he can develop into that. We’ll just have to wait and see what he can become.
Gordon Hayward Grade: B
It is not his fault that he has been mostly injured as a member of the Celtics, but is it too much to want to watch Hayward play? He has had some unfortunate luck, and just when it looked like he was turning a corner and staring Utah Gordo right in the face, he broke his hand and has missed the last dozen games.
He’s still going to be out for a couple more weeks, but Celtics fans are hoping he can pick up where he left off. Hayward started the season playing great; averaging around 19 points, seven rebounds and 4 assists per game. He can do it all when he’s right, and his efficient shooting (55.5/43.3/84.2) is much needed.
The Celtics are optimistically expecting him back before the end of the year, and if he continues his early season play, there’s no place to go but up from his B grade.
Enes Kanter Grade: C
When the Celtics signed Kanter it felt like he was a shoo-in to be the starting center due to his NBA experience. He got the nod to start in the first game of the season against Joel Embiid and has started just two others since. He was set back by an injury, but it feels like his playing time is contingent on the match-ups of the opposing teams’ bigs.
Kanter has been as advertised. He’s an incredible offensive rebounder which this team has lacked for years. But on the other end of the court, he is slow-footed and is not a very good defender. His lack of versatility has seemingly hurt his chances at consistent minutes thus far. There will be games where he helps the team, and others where he’s nonexistent, so a solid C seems to make sense here.
Romeo Langford Grade: Incomplete
Romeo, where art thou? If Tacko Fall is the most hyped undrafted player ever, then Langford may be the most overlooked lottery pick for the Celtics that I can recall. As a Celtics fan, I’m usually drooling over the new green blood on the team. With so many other rookies, and the fact that we just aren’t sure what Romeo is yet, he has flown under the radar.
Receiving just a few seconds of garbage time for the Celtics, he remains difficult to grade. He has battled multiple injuries throughout his short tenure, but he has shown flashes in just three games with the Red Claws, highlighted by a 27 point effort against the Delaware Blue Coats.
Semi Ojeleye Grade: B-
Ojeleye is the type of player that contenders want on their team. He’s a strong, sturdy and versatile defender that doesn’t make waves if he plays two minutes or 28. Semi’s a hard worker behind the scenes that leads by example with his first-in, last-out mentality.
A solid B- for a guy that is averaging just 2.9 points per game? Absolutely. He is just one of three Celtics to play in every game to this point. He shows up to work every day ready to play hard defense. In the December 4th game against Miami, he played 24 straight minutes in the second and third quarters. Brad Stevens said after the game that it was no surprise that those two quarters may have been the best two quarters of defense the team has had.
Semi isn’t ever going to be a scorer, but he’s improved his shot and is shooting a very respectable 37% from the three-point line this season. He’s a solid contributor that deserves to be at the bottom of the rotation for the foreseeable future. Anything less than a B- would be a shot at a guy that doesn’t do anything wrong.
Vincent Poirier Grade: Incomplete
Poirier came to the Celtics from overseas as a rebounder and a rim-runner on offense. We have yet to see much of this, as Brad Stevens stated early that Poirier is a little behind the other bigs in what the Celtics are trying to accomplish. He has played in just seven games and 32 minutes on the season.
Before the season I thought there was a shot that Poirier could get a look as a starting big because he likes to do “dirty job.” It seemed like he was going to fill a need, but again, we’ve yet to see it.
He was assigned to the Maine Red Claws on December 5th where he played a solid 26 minutes and putting up 14 points and nine rebounds. This was a good opportunity for him to get some game action and gain confidence. It’d be unfair to give him any other grade at this point.
Marcus Smart Grade: B+
Marcus, Marcus, Marcus. How can’t you love him as a player? His contributions to winning are difficult to quantify. He is the heart and soul of the Boston Celtics. He brings the energy every night and his teammates feed off it. He is the longest tenured Celtic and one of the real leaders on this team. Marcus is always fighting through battle-injuries to further prove his toughness. If it’s guarding seven-footers, taking a charge or diving on the floor for a 50/50 ball, he’s contributing to winning basketball.
Most don’t cringe when he pulls a three-pointer anymore, although he remains a below average shooter. Everyone talks about the developmental leap of Brown and Tatum, which are warranted and easier to notice on the stat sheet, but Marcus has become a better player this season. He is a smart player with the ball in his hands highlighted by his 4.05 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is second in the league to just Ricky Rubio for those players with 85+ assists on the season.
Marcus is one of the most important players on the team. If he continues to play the way he has to start the season, the Celtics will be in a good position when it matters.
Brad Stevens Grade: B
Brad has done a fine job this season. He’s done well managing the rotation with different injuries to the players. He’s used the bottom of the roster to get through games and has not been afraid to experiment. For example, Brad started rookie Grant Williams with Smart out against Miami, even though Grant is shooting less than 30% from the field on the season. In the same game, we saw a lineup that consisted of two bigs - Kanter and Robert Williams - on the court at the same for the first time this season.
It seems as if he’s learned from a disappointing last season. Every other time a player speaks they are touching on the chemistry or togetherness of the team. This team likes each other and is winning, and Brad has something to do with that.
Jayson Tatum Grade: A-
I wrestled with this grade a bit. Overall, I’ve been pleased with Tatum, but his inefficiency is killing me. On one hand, I was pushing him to shoot more (especially from three and in the paint). And on the other, I cringe when he’s missing lay-ups and taking ill-advised threes. Even though I’ve given him a strong grade, he really needs to improve his 40.5% shooting from the floor.
With the negative, there have been a lot of positives in Tatum’s game. He has improved his rebounding and play-making. He’s also third in the NBA in overall plus/minus at +195.
Tatum is trusted to play in every situation. Recently, Stevens has had him playing with the second unit as the primary scorer (which may have had an effect on his scoring percentage). His play in the team defense has been a positive as well. The Celtics are a lot better with him on the court than off. His net plus/minus is +19.6 per 100 possessions when he is on the court compared to being off.
Tatum is developing into a number one scoring option and he’s taken his bumps with some poor shooting nights, but the arrow is pointing up. He leads the team in shots while averaging 21 points per game. The highlight for the first quarter of his season was the game-winner against the Knicks.
Daniel Theis Grade: B
Theis was a bit of an afterthought before the season started. I figured he would be in the rotation, but I did not expect him to start 80% of the Celtics games so far this season. He’s battled a couple injuries in the previous two years, so it was easy to forget how he was coming along in his first year before being squeezed out last year.
He is a bit undersized for a starting center, but he has been effectively playing solid team defense. He knows where to be. He’s not asked to score, but he’s averaging just under seven boards and leading the team with 1.6 blocks per game. I thought we’d see better production from the three-point line since he’s hit them in the past and Brad typically encourages his big men to shoot, but if he continues playing the way has, he’s going to deserve his solid grade through the first quarter.
Kemba Walker Grade: B+
Kemba came to the Celtics with high expectations after signing a max contract and earning All-NBA honors last season. I assumed that his scoring average of 25.6 would come down with more options around him this year, so his 21.9 points per game is meeting expectations.
Although he is shooting a stellar 39.6% from three, I would love to see his overall 40.9% shooting percentage see an uptick as the season goes on. Part of the issue is that he has had his shot blocked a team-high 29 times which is mostly due to his smaller frame. I thought his size would hinder the defense, but he is not a liability on that end of the floor.
I also figured that we would see his career-high in assists this year since he is surrounded by a lot more talent, but his 5.1 average is actually below is 5.5 assists per game average he had during his Charlotte career. This isn’t that big of a deal, though, as Brian Scalabrine has noted on multiple occasions how efficient Kemba is in the pick-and-roll. Scal has also been impressed with how good he is playing off the ball which is allowing the team to give different looks on offense.
The All-Star guard should earn that status again this season, but since his bar is set high, I have given him room to grow with his grade. And since you can’t talk to a member of the Celtics about Kemba without them mentioning how good of a guy, leader and teammate he is, the green’s new point guard has fit in perfectly.
Brad Wanamaker Grade: B+
Before the season there were some people calling for Wanamaker to be cut for some of the new green blood, but after watching him early in the season, some have wondered why he didn’t take more of Terry Rozier’s minutes last season.
As the oldest player on the Celtics at 30, he plays a mature game. He is flirting with the impressive 50/40/90 shooting percentages which have been difficult for any player to meet throughout history. He has earned his back-up guard minutes and he should be a staple there for the remainder of the season. I think it’s no stretch to say that Wanamaker has been the biggest surprise of the season for the Celtics.
Tremont Waters Grade: Incomplete
Waters is the second leg of the Celtics’ two-way contracts and he’s making the most of it. If I were grading on G-League performance alone, then he would have earned an A. Waters received Player of the Month honors for the G-League after pouring in 22 points and 8 assists per game for the Red Claws in November. Promising start to his career for sure.
He has played in one game with the Celtics when Walker was out and he looked like he belonged. Until he is contributing on a regular basis for the Celtics, though, his mark will remain incomplete.
Grant Williams Grade: C
Grant Williams was drafted by the Celtics in the first round of the 2019 NBA draft and quickly showed that he may be the most NBA-ready of the bunch. His basketball IQ has been lauded by those in the Celtics’ circle which has allowed him to be a consistent member of the rotation.
His shooting needs improvement though. He’s shooting an abysmal 25.9% from the floor and has not made a three (0-22) in his career. He does enough to help the team win, as many have compared him to Marcus Smart’s “mini-me,” so he will continue to earn minutes.
Some of his teammates have said that he could be a 40% three-point shooter with the way he shoots in practice, so once they start falling and he continues to play winning basketball, we can expect his grade to improve as he grows as a player.
Robert Williams Grade: C
Timelord is still just 22 years old, and while he shows flashes of athleticism and smart play at times, he also shows lapses in judgment on the court. Consistency is one of the hardest things for young players to development and that has been no different for him.
He leads the regulars in blocks (4.0) and defensive rating (94) per 100 possessions. We can see his defensive potential; we just want to see it more often. He plays above the rim on the offensive end and is an underrated passer as well. He’s earning bench minutes right now, but until he becomes more steady, he won’t be relied on for 20+ minutes on a consistent basis.
Let me know what you think of these Celtics grades. Too high? Too low? There’s one thing I know, the Celtics have performed better in the first quarter of the season than they do in first quarters of games. Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @Mike_Auc to debate.