Celtics

Celtics power rankings: Thirty games down, who’s on the upswing?

Marcuses Morris and Smart have helped keep Green afloat, but consistency remains an issue elsewhere.

Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris have been the critical trio to the Celtics start, and will be leaned on heavily as the schedule toughens. AP Photo

The last week afforded Brad Stevens a rare luxury in the rat-race NBA regular season: practice time. Hopefully Boston’s coach made the most of playing once in a five-day stretch, because his team is about to get busy.

Beginning Friday night against the Bucks, the Celtics are slated to play every other night through Jan. 4, meaning they’ll play eight games in 15 days — and these aren’t holiday cupcakes, either. On Sunday, the C’s welcome a Hornets team that beat them earlier, then Christmas is a playoff rematch against the 76ers at TD Garden. From there it’s a three-game trip to Houston, Memphis and San Antonio before returning home to take on Minnesota and Dallas.

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Kemba Walker, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, James Harden (likely without Chris Paul), Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns and Luca Doncic all need to be planned for and encountered before Stevens gets his next crack at leading a legitimate practice.

It will be a challenge, and one that has a chance to legitimize the gains the Celtics appear to have made in winning eight of their last 10. Collectively, despite Wednesday’s hiccup against the Suns, it has started to look more like most expected when installing Boston as an Eastern Conference favorite at the start of the year.

Here’s a look at how the roster stacks up, in the form of power rankings, through 30 games:

13. Guerschon Yabusele — He’s been out since he rolled his ankle as the Celtics enjoyed a 41-point lead over the Bulls earlier this month, but even before then he’d struggled to establish a role. He hasn’t appeared in more than two consecutive games this season and has played just 311 regular-season minutes for the Celtics since they took him 16th overall in 2016, fewer than all but one other player taken among the first 34 selections of that draft. It’s not apparent how he’ll add significantly to that total this season.

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12. Semi Ojeleye — The second-year wing checked into Wednesday night’s game twice, both times replacing Jayson Tatum. His first shift saw an eight-point lead shrink to one, then his second saw a six-point deficit double. Ojeleye’s only has seven negative plus-minuses in the 22 games he’s played, but three are from his last three games — plus a DNP against Detroit — and Friday night he could find himself with a heavy dose of defending Giannis Antetokounmpo.

11. Aron Baynes — On a team in need of role players, losing Baynes to a broken hand for a month will hurt. However, assuming Al Horford returns relatively soon and Williams continues to play well enough to avoid the ride back to Portland, the Celtics likely won’t miss more than a few minutes of physicality each night.

10. Robert Williams — His minutes are still limited, but how good has the rookie been as a rim protector? He’s averaging 6.4 blocks per 36 minutes of play; the NBA leader in blocks per 36, JaVale McGee of the Lakers, averages 3.9. The Time Lord’s offensive game at this point is more or less restricted to dunking, and he hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant a major increase in his role, though when he’s in the paint his presence is one opponents have to consider.

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9. Terry Rozier — Through 30 games last season, Rozier was averaging 23.4 minutes, 3.2 made field goals, 9.2 points and 2.1 assists per contest. Through the same span at the start of this season, he’s averaging 23.3 minutes, 3.2 made field goals, 8.6 points and 2.4 assists. The numbers say Rozier is the same guy, so the question could be whether injuries create increased opportunities for him (like they did last year) or whether his next major opportunity comes with another team.

8. Daniel Theis — In his second NBA season he’s shooting more, hitting 3-pointers at a higher rate and looking like more of a threat than merely an energy guy. He scored more than 12 points just once last season, but did it twice in a week during the eight-game winning streak, and his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) slots him between Tatum and Gordon Hayward amid the team rankings.

7. Al Horford — Left knee soreness continues to keep him on the bench, where he’s been for all but four games since Thanksgiving. Horford’s most recent contribution was his best of the year — a 19-point, 12-board double-double against the Knicks — but there’s no reason to rush anything with a 32-year-old in his 12th season, even with Baynes missing.

6. Jaylen Brown — It’s been especially rough for Brown this past week — 6-for-25 shooting and 12 points over three games — as he adjusts to his role within the rotation. It’s been an up-and-down open to the season, though a couple of statistics might illuminate his path to consistency. In the eight games he’s attempted at least four free throws, he’s averaging 15.8 points. In the eight games he’s taken more than four 3s, he’s scoring 10.8 points per game. The Celtics need the Brown who’s aggressive in going to the basket, particularly when he’s shooting only 27 percent from 3-point land for the season.

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5. Gordon Hayward — It feels like Hayward is getting better as he becomes further removed from last season’s ankle injury, but somewhat interestingly, the only time he’s scored in double-figures in three consecutive games was the first three games of this season. He’s struggled with his shot in the five games since his 30-point outburst in Minnesota; consistency remains the biggest concern.

4. Marcus Smart — Since Brad Stevens inserted Smart into the starting lineup, the Celtics are 8-2. Individually, Smart’s plus-minus was a negative-11 or worse in five of the six games preceding that transition, but as a member of the first unit in those 10 games, Smart was a negative just once. That’s perfectly logical for a player like him: Winning plays matter more when the others on the court are winning players.

3. Marcus Morris — On a roster where questions about roles and redundancies dominated so much of the early season, Morris’s consistency has been something of a lifesaver and his performance reiterated he’s exactly the sort of player the Celtics need once the rest of the rotation settles. Reliable secondary scoring has been a concern of Boston’s the past few years, but if Morris can continue to make shots at the 49.2 percent rate he has so far this season, he’s shown capable of creating enough instant offense to make a run at Sixth Man of the Year honors if Stevens shifts him back to the bench.

2. Jayson Tatum — His shooting percentage has climbed from 40.4 percent in October to 46.6 percent in November and 51.3 percent in December, and Tatum’s overall season follows a similar trajectory. After an up-and-down start he’s scored in double-figures for 19 straight games, is his team’s leading rebounder and calmed any concerns of a sophomore slump while asserting himself as the club’s clear No. 2 behind his fellow Blue Devil.

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1. Kyrie Irving — When the Celtics needed saving in Phoenix to avoid a third straight loss, he scored 39. When they welcomed Toronto for an early Eastern Conference statement game, he dropped 43. And when they staggered back to .500 in the final week of November, he responded with four straight masterpieces, shooting almost 54 percent from the floor, averaging 24.5 points and dishing out almost eight assists per game. This is Irving’s team, and when it needs its superstar to be exactly that — especially this month — he has routinely risen to the occasion. Just like is expected of a player who deserves to be ranked among the six or seven best in the NBA.