The Celtics (22-15) sit fifth in the East. The next team in the standings is the Heat (18-18), and from there the conference devolves into a sub-.500 collection of flotsam and jetsam. Even Miami, while just 3.5 games back, doesn’t appear to be a threat to Boston’s top-five status.
The question, however, is where the C’s belong among that upper tier. They’re only a loss behind the Sixers (25-14) for fourth and trail the Pacers (25-12) by three games for third, but they’ve lost ground to everybody by going just 5-5 the past two weeks.
Collectively, there remain problems with consistency that could be tied to the evolving nature of roles and a rotation that’s still taking shape. Individually, though, patterns may be emerging. The value of each player is continuing to be defined.
Here’s a look at how the Celtics stack up, according to our latest power rankings:
13. Semi Ojeleye (Dec. 21 ranking: 12): He drew the start against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks on Dec. 21, contributing 10 points, but totaled 9:23 of playing time in the four games between Christmas and the new year. His role has become dependent on specific matchups and which Celtics are injured.
12. Robert Williams (10): The Time Lord hasn’t played in any of the past five games due to a groin injury. Before that, his plus-minus was negative-12 or worse in three of five contests, so it would appear a trip back to Portland is probably in order before he gets back into Boston’s rotation.
11. Guerschon Yabusele (13): He joined Hayward as the first guys off the bench against the Timberwolves and he’s been getting run with more regularity of late. He hasn’t made a major contribution as of yet, but the opportunity may be coming.
10. Daniel Theis (8): After an excellent start to December, Theis has been inconsistent. He was eaten alive at Houston — posting a minus-27 in barely 18 minutes — and the next night he saw less than six minutes on the floor. His defense and rebounding were both better Wednesday night than they’d been recently, perhaps an indicator he is moving back toward a better direction.
9. Aron Baynes (11): Hand surgery has kept him out since Dec. 19, and here is a sampling of big-man production against the Celtics since: Andre Drummond, 19 points and 20 rebounds; Deandre Ayton, 23 and 18; Willy Hernangomez, 19 and 10 off the bench; Joel Embiid, 34 and 16; Clint Capela, 24 and 19; LaMarcus Aldridge, 32 points; Karl-Anthony Towns, 28 and 12. Baynes’ 14.2 minutes per game never looked so valuable.
8. Jaylen Brown (6): The Celtics would be fools to give up on Brown or to bury him, but at this point he just doesn’t seem to fit smoothly into their success. In going 5-5 their past 10 games, Brown has averaged 6.4 points in the wins and 15.4 in the losses. Not surprisingly, his 30-point outburst came in the setback to the Spurs.
7. Terry Rozier (9): Maybe it was just the mind playing tricks, but not only did Rozier look more aggressive and assertive as a starter, he also looked faster — perhaps facilitating the uptick in the aforementioned areas and in his production. There’s no good time to lose Kyrie Irving to injury, but the trade deadline is Feb. 7. If Irving’s eye injury keeps him out a month, Rozier gets a month to remind teams of what he showed in the playoffs last season and what he’s capable of doing as a starter. It could create the perfect conditions for Danny Ainge to maximize the market on Scary Terry.
6. Al Horford (7): He’s down about three minutes per game and has missed nine games because of injury, but Horford still ranks fourth on the team in terms of total win shares (2.5) — and each of the players ahead of him have played at least six more contests. The Celtics have outscored their opponents with him on the floor in 19 of his 28 games, including five of six since he returned from his knee ailment.
5. Gordon Hayward (5): He came out chuckin’ on Wednesday, quickly hoisting a couple of shots in an apparent effort to make good on the scoreless 0-fer at San Antonio. Both clanked. However, Hayward couldn’t miss the rest of the night, finishing 14-for-18 — including 10-for-11 from inside the arc — and once again lit up the Timberwolves. He’s now gone for 30-plus against Minnesota twice in about a month, but the hard part has been consistency. Only once in December did Hayward hit for double-figures in consecutive games, and that was just a total of 21 points in 65 minutes across a couple of losses.
4. Marcus Smart (4): His arm seemed almost to be hanging off his right side after he absorbed the force of a Towns pick on Wednesday night, when the Twitter doctors sprang to the diagnosis that he was done for a while. Moments later, he was back on the floor and finished the night plus-17, with eight assists and a couple of steals in 22 minutes. As usual, his toughness translates.
3. Jayson Tatum (2): He’s been quiet since a double-double on Christmas night, with Wednesday marking the third time in four games he scored fewer than 10 points. In the first two of those, he totaled just 13 field goal attempts, and he went three straight contests without getting to the foul line. All this after a 22-game stretch where he averaged 18.2 points per contest and hit double figures every night. Is something wrong, or is Tatum falling into the same January slump that plagued him as a rookie?
2. Marcus Morris (3): If this keeps up, he deserves to get paid this summer, and in the meantime might also deserve to have all his expenses paid for a February trip to Charlotte and the NBA All-Star Game. He’s the C’s second-most valuable player according to Basketball Reference, and in December he averaged 18.3 points on 52 percent shooting (including 45 percent from 3-point land). He has consistently picked up the slack during the team’s topsy-turvy start, and if any Celtic other than Irving deserves to represent the East, it’s the free agent-to-be.
1. Kyrie Irving (1): He could miss extended time with a scratched cornea, and if so it’ll spoil the gains of a two-week stretch where the guard shot less than 50 percent from the floor just once in seven contests and posted at least 23 points and 10 assists three times. His defense hasn’t been great, but since Thanksgiving his offense has mostly been at an MVP level. Long term, his absence would be impossible to ignore for a team in need of his steady explosiveness.