The Celtics finished off the 2015 calendar year on a disappointing note after an ugly home loss to the lowly Los Angeles Lakers, but that setback was a minor blemish on what has been a successful start to the 2015-16 campaign.
Boston had won a season-high four straight games prior to the defeat, putting their overall record a game-high five games over the .500 mark, the best mark of the Brad Stevens era.
With point guard Marcus Smart back in the fold, this week’s player power rankings include some dramatic shifts, after head coach Brad Stevens tried to manage a roster that’s at full strength for the first time in nearly two months. Let’s take a look at how things shook out before the Celtics get a prime opportunity to jump a few spots in the standings comes over the next few days via a pair of matchups against the 9-23 Brooklyn Nets.
15. Jordan Mickey: The rookie joined a short list of Celtics big man prospects (which includes Fab Melo) to register a triple-double in the D-League. The LSU product posted 13 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks in a Red Claws win on New Year’s Eve.
14. Terry Rozier: Rozier’s jump shot remains a question mark (25 percent from 3-point range in the D-League), but his playmaking ability has been on display in Maine. In just five games of action, the point guard is nearly averaging a double-double per contest with 19.6 points and 9.8 assists.
13. James Young: After racking up a DNP-coach’s decision in three straight games, the second-year swingman found himself back in the rotation for a quick stint in Wednesday’s loss against the Lakers. The good news? He drilled a 3-pointer and finished with five points in just eight minutes. The bad news? He had the second-worst plus/minus on the team (-11).
12. R.J. Hunter: Hunter missed Friday’s practice with a sore shoulder after posting 28 points in his first assignment with the Red Claws on Thursday. With Marcus Smart back healthy, the No. 28 overall pick will lose most of the playing time he had locked up in the past few weeks.
11. Tyler Zeller: David Lee’s return from back spasms Wednesday sent Zeller back to bench warmer status for Wednesday’s loss to the Lakers. Averaging just 8.6 minutes per appearance in 21 contests this year, the seven-footer’s patience may be wearing thin as he waits for a consistent opportunity.
10. Marcus Smart: The good vibes from Smart’s return to the lineup dissipated quickly upon the revelation Wednesday that he had missed shootaround prior to the Lakers loss. The 21-year-old was benched for the majority of the first half for his unexcused absence, while Stevens revealed Friday that it wasn’t the first instance of tardiness for Smart this season.
9. Jonas Jerebko: The former Piston got a nice bit of revenge against his ex-team with a clutch basket last Saturday, which helped clinch a road win for Boston.
8. David Lee: The veteran power forward looked refreshed Wednesday after a two-game absence due to the back spasms. He breathed some life into the Celtics’ offense with some nifty low post moves in Boston’s failed comeback against the Lakers, strengthening his case to remain in Stevens’ crowded rotation.
7. Amir Johnson: Sixty-six percent shooting is an encouraging number for the 6-foot-9 big man after sitting out a pair of games with plantar fasciitis. However, one of the main reasons he was brought to Boston was for his 3-point shooting and that hasn’t been a consistent threat (25 percent from downtown) for the Celtics’ offense thus far.
6. Jared Sullinger: Sullinger’s shooting woes have lasted for a month now and they are starting to become particularly concerning at the charity stripe. Despite being a career 73 percent free throw shooter, Sullinger is shooting a team-worst 56.7 percent (34 of 60) at the line this year. Combine that number with the big man hitting just 35 percent of his field goal attempts in December and you have to wonder how secure his starting spot is moving forward.
5. Kelly Olynyk: Want to figure out if Boston is going to win on any particular night? Olynyk’s production in the box score has been a pretty good indicator of the team’s success. He’s scoring 12.2 points in 17 Celtic victories on 51 percent shooting, while those numbers drop to 6.1 points and 36 percent respectively in the team’s 14 losses.
4. Evan Turner: The swingman has played some of the best basketball of his Celtics career in the past week, averaging 17.5 ppg off the pine with several nifty finishes at the rim on drives like this:
3. Avery Bradley: No one on the Celtics is happier to see Brooklyn on the schedule than the veteran shooting guard. In two games against the division rival this season, Bradley is averaging 24 ppg on 57.6 percent shooting against a subpar Nets backcourt.
2. Isaiah Thomas: Despite his 5-foot-9 frame, no player on the roster is getting to the free throw line with more regularity than Thomas. He’s shooting a team-best 90 percent at the stripe while averaging six attempts per game, a top-20 mark in the NBA.
1. Jae Crowder: How consistent was Crowder in the month of December? He played only one game without scoring in double digits. That kind of offensive output combined with his defensive and rebounding contributions (5.9 per game) has made him stand out as the team’s best two-way contributor in recent weeks.