Although it feels as if the Celtics have mostly underperformed this year, they entered the All-Star break with a 37-21 record, and with all of their goals still within reach.
Here are individual assessments of all 14 players at the break.
Irving, quite simply, is in the midst of the best season of his career. The All-Star point guard is averaging 23.6 points while shooting a career-best 49.8 percent from the field and being on pace for career highs in assists (6.9), rebounds (4.9), and steals (1.6), all while playing just 32.5 minutes per game, down slightly from his career average of 33.8.
In many other seasons, Irving would be in the MVP conversation. But Boston is tied for fourth in the East, Irving has missed 11 games, and players such as James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo are having truly transcendent seasons.
Nevertheless, the Celtics couldn’t ask for much more from their superstar.
Boston has outscored opponents by 9.4 points per 100 possessions with Irving on the court, tops on the team among the eight Celtics who have played at least 1,000 minutes. Irving had a fine year last season, but his 5.2 net rating trailed Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart.
It will be interesting to see if Irving’s looming free agency decision becomes a distraction as the season nears its end.
The Celtics do not have any more games against the Knicks or Anthony Davis this year, though.
Horford missed seven games in December because of left knee pain, and his playing time was limited in the first 10 games after his return. That is mostly why he is averaging a career low 28.5 minutes per contest. Unsurprisingly, his overall statistics have dipped, too.
But Horford’s per-36-minute numbers show he has actually been quite productive. He’s averaging 16.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and 1.1 steals, all of which would be his per-36-minute highs over his three years as a Celtic. Of course, it’s also possible he has been more productive in limited playing time because the decrease has kept him fresh. Horford shot 43.6 percent in six games on no rest, and 67.3 percent in five games that were preceded by at least three days off.
Horford, who turns 33 in June, has been widely lauded for his defense during his career, but this has not been his finest season at that end. Boston is allowing 105.6 points per 100 possessions with Horford on the court, and just 101.6 with him on the bench. Last year, the defense was 1 point per 100 possessions better with Horford.
The bad news is Tatum has not really taken a leap since his excellent rookie year, but the good news is he is having a fine season nonetheless. The only significant regression has come at the 3-point line, where his shooting has dipped from 43.4 percent to 37.9.
Having said that, part of Tatum’s focus for the rest of this season should be on taking more 3-pointers. He is attempting 4.2 per game, which ranks fifth on the team, behind players such as Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, and Terry Rozier. With his form, mechanics, and past success, Tatum should trail only Irving in attempts per game.
He has vowed to attack the basket more for this foul-shot-challenged team that ranks just 29th in the NBA, and he has shown promise in that area recently. After averaging 2.9 foul shots per game over the first four months, Tatum is averaging 4.9 in February.
Morris and Smart entered the starting lineup on Nov. 26, and the shift helped Boston rebound from its lukewarm 10-10 start to go 27-11 over the next 38 games. Boston’s 8.5 net rating over that time trails only the conference-leading Bucks.
Morris’s individual statistics have not changed much since he became a starter. His shooting numbers are actually slightly better as a reserve, in large part because of his 3-point surge that helped keep Boston’s offense afloat at the start.
Morris made 44.1 percent of his 3-pointers through Dec. 31, but has hit just 35.1 percent since then, an expected regression. The Celtics would be thrilled with something in the middle.
Smart is shooting 40.2 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from beyond the 3-point line, both of which would be career highs. But really those are just nice bonuses. He remains this team’s heartbeat, with his defense, intensity, aggression, and effort.
Irving was particularly invigorated by Smart’s presence alongside him in the starting lineup. The two boast an 11.3 net rating when they share the floor together.
When Smart’s 3-pointers are going in, too, the four-year, $52 million contract he signed last summer looks like a bigger bargain by the day. Smart, who has played in more than 67 games just once in his career and was sidelined for 28 games with injuries last year, has missed just one game this season.
No one really expected Hayward to return to his All-Star form this year after missing last season with an ankle injury, but there was reason to believe it was possible. It became clear quite quickly, however, that his road to recovery remained long, and his challenges this season have probably been the biggest reason for Boston’s regression.
Hayward’s situation put coach Brad Stevens in a difficult spot. Yes, the forward’s struggles were visible. But it’s also true that if Boston is to chase an NBA title, it will need Hayward to be an important contributor. There probably have been times when Hayward’s opportunities should have been more limited this season, but he will not find a rhythm by watching.
Hayward’s 106 defensive rating is the worst on the team, and Boston has been 4.5 points per 100 possessions better when Hayward is not on the floor. Hayward has had bright moments that ignited optimism, like topping the 30-point mark in games against the Timberwolves. But they were most often followed by wobbly performances.
The good news for the Celtics is that Hayward is currently in the midst of his most sustained run of good play all season. From the start of the season until Feb. 1, Hayward made 41.8 percent of his shots and 31.4 percent of his 3-pointers. In February, he is shooting 57.1 percent overall and 52.4 percent on threes. Most important, the coinciding return of his confidence has been obvious. It would not be stunning to see him back in the starting lineup by the time the playoffs begin.
This has been a disappointing season for a player who dreamed of challenging for an All-Star selection, and instead was moved to the bench and spent much of the year struggling with his jump shot. Boston has been 3.5 points per 100 possessions better when Brown is not on the court.
His shooting numbers steadied after his miserable start, but his field goal and 3-point percentages remain at career lows, and his per-36-minute stats are mostly unchanged since last year.
Brown was initially frustrated by being moved to the bench, but he appears to have accepted it for now and has actually been better in a reserve role. His 3-point shooting has dipped once again, though, as he’s hitting just 24 percent of his tries in February. When Brown is making outside shots, his ability to attack makes him one of the more unusual weapons in the league.
Rozier’s breakout performance in last season’s playoffs in place of Irving gave the Celtics great hope this year. But a return to a reserve role seems to have stunted the progress of Rozier, who will be a restricted free agent at season’s end.
This season the Celtics have a 105.6 offensive rating with Rozier on the court and a massive 115.5 rating with him on the bench. When he has reentered the starting lineup in place of Irving, though, he has played with the 2018 playoffs confidence that made him a revelation.
In 47 games as a backup, Rozier is averaging 8.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 0.8 steals, while shooting 36.8 percent overall, 34.9 percent on threes, and 77.8 percent from the foul line.
In 10 games as a starter, he is averaging 13.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.8 steals, while shooting 43.9 percent overall, 41.1 percent on threes, and 94.1 percent from the foul line.
The gap is partly because he is playing about nine more minutes per game as a starter, but the difference in the shooting percentages is glaring.
Baynes remains sidelined indefinitely with a foot contusion, but the Celtics are hopeful he will be able to return soon.
Despite a limited role, Baynes remains a defensive force. Boston has an elite 99.6 defensive rating with him on the floor. Before Baynes suffered his latest injury, Stevens had said he wanted to pair Baynes and Horford more often, and that would likely give Horford’s defense a boost.
If Baynes is sidelined for an extended period, the Celtics might look to fill their empty roster spot with a big man, but they have other reinforcements, too.
Although Theis is not quite as physically imposing as Baynes, he’s certainly an excellent insurance policy. Theis’s 11.0 net rating is actually the best on the team among Celtics who have played at least 500 minutes. He has also turned into an unlikely marksman, shooting a blistering 46 percent from beyond the 3-point line, including 7 for 9 so far in February.
Ojeleye has been another advanced stats darling despite a surprisingly limited role. The second-year forward has a team-leading 13.2 net rating, including an otherworldly 95.9 defensive rating over his 429 total minutes.
He has probably deserved a chance to steal some of Hayward’s playing time, but the Celtics remain understandably committed to getting their star forward back to form. Still, Ojeleye could be valuable in a postseason matchup against players such as Ben Simmons or Antetokounmpo.
Wanamaker appears to be another solid minimum-salary find by the Celtics. He has been used sparingly but has stepped in as a capable backup to Rozier when Irving is out. He has made 16 of 31 3-pointers (51.6 percent), and the 29-year-old will not be fazed if he’s called upon in a big moment.
Yabusele remains at the bottom of the depth chart and hasn’t really shown much in his rare opportunities. It was somewhat surprising to see the Celtics pick up their team option on his contract for next season, but that might have been partly because of their desire to have another trade piece this summer.
Even though Williams has played just 200 minutes, his jaw-dropping blocked shots and alley-oops have been enough to create noticeable buzz whenever he enters a home game. Williams is averaging 5.8 blocks per 36 minutes. His athleticism is tantalizing.