Celtics player power rankings: Jae Crowder is regaining rhythm after ankle injury

The Celtics are 3-1 since Jae Crowder and Al Horford returned to the starting five.

Celtics' Jae Crowder reacting after making his first jump shot against the Spurs during first-quarter action at TD Garden.
Celtics' Jae Crowder reacting after making his first jump shot against the Spurs during first-quarter action at TD Garden. –Photo by Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

COMMENTARY

The Celtics missed a great chance at earning a signature win Friday (against the Spurs), but they will still get an opportunity this week to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the Eastern Conference. With four upcoming games against sub .500 opponents, Boston will have a terrific chance to improve its 9-7 record and seize control of the second seed in the East for the first time all year.

The looming stretch will also give head coach Brad Stevens an opportunity to narrow down his playing rotation after going 11 players deep in the four games since Jae Crowder and Al Horford have returned to action. Which players have strengthened their case for more minutes as the second unit is solidified? And could one player be in danger of falling out of the starting five? We examine all that and more in this week’s edition of the player power rankings.

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15. Demetrius Jackson: Consistency has come quickly for the rookie point guard in the D-League, as Jackson has scored at least 18 points in all three games he’s played with the Maine Red Claws.

14. Jordan Mickey: The second-year forward hasn’t just fallen out of the rotation since Al Horford’s return, but he’s failed to be on the 13-man active roster for the past four games. Unless an injury pops up in the frontcourt, Mickey’s next minutes are likely to come in the D-League.

13. Gerald Green: The swingman has not been given a chance to break out of his shooting slump as he tallied his sixth consecutive DNP-Coach’s Decision against the Spurs on Friday. Stevens remains confident that he’ll still contribute to the team this year down the line. “The biggest thing is you can’t play everybody,” Stevens explained last week when asked about Green’s playing time. “Gerald’s been a great pro. He’ll help us this year. I feel really good about that and his attitude is really good.”

12. James Young: Like Mickey, the 21-year-old Young may end up getting some reps with the Maine Red Claws in the month of December. Until Jae Crowder’s sore ankle completely heals though, the swingman will likely remain with the team as injury insurance on any given night.

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11. Tyler Zeller: Stevens has elected go small with a healthy roster in the past week and that’s kept Zeller’s minutes in the single digits over the past four games. With Boston’s rebounding woes continuing, the case can be made that Zeller, the team’s leader in rebounding percentage, should see the floor more consistently.

10. Jaylen Brown: Glimpses of Brown’s potential are harder to find as his minutes diminish, but he’s still showing flashes of his defensive promise against some of the top players in the league, as seen here against Kawhi Leonard.

9. Amir Johnson: The 11-year veteran remains in the starting five but has played no more than 20 minutes in each of the past five contests. He’s averaged 2.4 points per game during that stretch, but his rebounding (worst defensive rebounding percentage out of all Boston bigs) is the bigger factor keeping his playing time on the decline.

8. Kelly Olynyk: After a rough start to the year, the seven-footer’s outside shooting touch is slowly starting to return. He’s five of 11 from 3-point range in his last four games, but his rebounding (seven total boards in those contests) continues to make him a liability on the defensive glass.

7. Terry Rozier: Teammate Avery Bradley has received plenty of accolades for chipping in on the defensive glass despite his 6-foot-2 frame, but his 6-foot-2 backcourt mate Rozier has been nearly as productive in the trenches. The second-year guard has grabbed 5.9 defensive boards per 36 minutes, the fifth-highest mark on the team.

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6. Jonas Jerebko: The Swede continues to skyrocket up the rankings in the midst of a scorching hot shooting streak. Over his past five games, Jerebko has shot 81.3 percent from the field (13-of-16) and 85.7 percent from downtown (6-of-7). “This past week has been a really good week for him,” Stevens said. “His greatest strength is his ability to space the floor on offense for us, then mix up his cuts and energy to get baskets.”

5. Marcus Smart: Versatility remains Smart’s biggest strength for Boston as he’s averaging more than six rebounds and assists per game during his past four contests. Unfortunately, that production still does not entirely make up for his woeful shooting (9-of-37 from field) during that stretch, dragging his field goal percentage for the year down to 35.8 percent.

4. Jae Crowder: A 20-to-25 minute restriction per game has been forced upon Crowder since returning from his sprained left ankle, but he managed to talk his way out of it after a 18-point effort against the Spurs on Friday night. “Ed (Lacerte) doesn’t like it. The head trainer doesn’t like it,” Crowder said of advocating for more late-game minutes on Friday. “But I’m a player, man. It’s tough to just pull somebody out of the game when they feel like they can help the team.”

3. Avery Bradley: The 6-foot-2 shooting guard still ranks 30th in the NBA with eight rebounds per game. The only other guards averaging more than seven rebounds per game? James Harden (7.8) and Russell Westbrook (9.9)

2. Isaiah Thomas: Scoring hasn’t been an issue for Thomas since jamming his left middle finger on Nov. 12, but the point guard’s efficiency has taken a hit in the past two weeks. He’s shot just 39.9 percent from the field since suffering the injury. “There’s still a few misses here and there in the games where I’m at the rim and it just doesn’t go in,” Thomas said Saturday. “So those are the frustrating parts. But for the most part I’m working with what I’ve got.”

1. Al Horford: The Celtics improved to 5-2 as a team with Horford in the lineup last week, and the All-Star’s impact is perhaps best reflected among the team’s individual stat leaders. He ranks among the top-3 Celtics in nearly every major statistical category including points (3rd) rebounds (2nd) assists (2nd), blocks (1st), FG% (1st) and plus/minus (1st).

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