Now that it’s the All-Star break and the Celtics don’t play again until Friday in Sacramento, this is as good a time as any to award the Celtics with some superlatives, yearbook style, based on their performance through the season’s first 50-plus games.
Most Likely to Succeed: Marcus Smart/James Young – A pretty obvious way to start this exercise but seeing as how these are the two members of the roster who have the most upside, they both win.
Smart’s improvement from the beginning of the season up to this point has been well documented. His defense and energy have been top notch from the beginning, and he’s come a long way in terms of being an all-around point guard since Rajon Rondo was traded, especially the past couple of weeks. It would be nice to see him take the ball to the rim a little more often – the dude is built like a tank and he’s super quick, a combination that should render him quite well suited to breaking down defenses on his way through the paint. It’s safe to assume that will come in time.
Young has barely played, as his youth and inability to keep up on defense isn’t offset by what a dynamic shooter he is. But there’s enough athleticism and have been enough flashes of ability to portend good things as he grows and gains experience. Smart is further along thus far of course but Young looks like he has the tools to catch up and develop into a solid sidekick before too long.
Most Improved: Brandon Bass – Bass is pretty much the same guy he’s always been — a tough, hard-nosed, hard working pro who will take any role and any assignment and perform it efficiently and with maximum effort at all times.
Where Bass has improved is in his range, his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim and distributing the ball. Bass was moved into the starting lineup on the Celtics’ last west coast swing and immediately posted career high numbers in assists in consecutive games while upping his scoring and rebounding numbers thanks to the uptick in minutes.
It’s still a mystery why a contender isn’t more interested in a player like Bass, now nearing the end of his four-year contract with the Celts. At this point, maybe Danny Ainge should just keep him even if someone comes along looking to snag him. Players his age (29) who can still find ways to get better don’t come along every day.
Most Room for Improvement: Kelly Olynyk – Remember him? It’s OK if you don’t — he’s been out for a while and the Celtics are 6-5 in his absence. Olynyk is a young player being asked to do things he’s not terribly comfortable with when healthy and it shows up as general inconsistency. He’s a classic stretch 4 and once he’s freed up to spend as little time trying to bang with more traditional big men on both ends, he should get better. He can shoot, is an excellent passer and has a nice, quick first step for a 7-footer. Olynyk needs to play with more confidence and decisiveness if he’s going to develop further. We’ll see if he’s up to it.
Class Clown: Evan Turner – This may have been common knowledge already but thanks to Zack Cox of NESN.com and Jay King of MassLive.com, we all found out beyond the shadow of a doubt this past week that Turner is hilarious.
Evan Turner says he won’t watch the All-Star Game: “50 Shades of Grey is coming out, so I might catch that.”
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) February 11, 2015
Even more Turner: “Once a week, I have, like, a very athletic moment.”
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) February 11, 2015
Turner said those things to the assembled media prior to his game-winner that ended the Celtics’ comeback against the Hawks on Wednesday. It’s been an up-and-down year for Turner, who may be in play to potentially be traded by Thursday’s deadline. But whether he stays or goes, it’s a safe bet that he’s the funniest guy on the team right this minute.
Wisest Wise, Old Vet: Tayshaun Prince – Prince hasn’t been here nearly as long as Gerald Wallace. But given that he was in the rotation the minute he arrived while Wallace remains one of the last guys on the bench makes Prince the honorary wise man of the Celtics… at least until he gets bought out or traded again.
Prince, who came from Memphis in the Jeff Green deal, also has something no other veteran on the current roster does and that’s championship experience. He played for the Pistons when they ended the Shaq/Kobe/Phil Jackson reign once and for all back in 2004 and came within a couple vintage “Big Shot Rob” moments by then-Spurs forward Robert Horry of repeating. Of all the Celtics who can dole out sage advice to kids like Smart, Young, Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, Prince has the most credibility by a mile.
Best All-Around: Marcus Smart – It’s easy to make the argument that Sullinger and Avery Bradley and maybe even Turner are better than Smart right now. But as far as all-around ability, talent, upside, versatility and ceiling, Smart is at the top of the list.
Over at CelticsBlog, Kevin O’Connor has Smart mingling with names like Chris Paul, and Steph Curry via some advanced stats and while in practical terms that’s completely absurd, the fact that he’s making any kind of impression that puts him in a class alongside superduperstars like that is still a pretty impressive accomplishment. Smart looks like he’s capable of living up to his status as a high lottery pick and a cornerstone of the Celtics’ ongoing rebuild. There is one untouchable on this roster as presently constituted and it’s Marcus Smart.