The All-Star break is just about over, meaning Boston Celtics basketball is finally back.
It was a productive resting period for the C’s, as Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown dominated the 2023 NBA All-Star Game, Joe Mazzulla got a more permanent promotion, and forward Grant Williams became the First Vice-President of the NBA Players Association.
Plus, the rest of the Green Team got healthy, as Boston will have its entire lineup (outside of the injured Danilo Gallinari) ready to go versus the Indiana Pacers tonight.
As the C’s prepare for their 60th game of the season, they stand just 22 games away from the end of the regular season. With the NBA playoffs looming large, let’s grade the individual performances of the key players that have helped the Celtics reach the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The newest All-Star Game MVP showcased what he could do in Salt Lake City, and it wasn’t too different from what he’s been doing all season.
Jayson Tatum won the Kobe Bryant MVP All-Star Game MVP after scoring an #NBAAllStar record 55 PTS & becoming the first player in NBA history to score 50 in the:
▪️ Regular Season (60)
▪️ Playoffs (50)
▪️ All-Star Game (55)
He also scored 50 in the pic.twitter.com/88Lxkn9VmI… https://t.co/gz3HUtKdkg
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) February 20, 2023
Tatum is averaging a career-high 30.6 points per game during the 2022-23 campaign, and his 1,685 total points scored this season are the most in the league. A major reason why the 24-year-old star has been able to score so much is his incredible durability because, unlike many great players in the NBA, Tatum has stayed on the court.
Through 59 games Tatum has only missed four, which is quite impressive given all the minutes he played last year. In the load management era of the NBA, Tatum’s commitment to playing almost every night is not just respectable, but extremely valuable. If he can continue to stay healthy and lead the offense like he’s done all year, the Celtics will be in great shape.
Tatum isn’t the only Celtics star having a career year so far. Brown has also been offensively dominant this season, as he’s averaging a career-high 26.5 points per game and shooting the best field goal percentage (48.7%) of his career.
He even showed out in the 2023 All-Star Game while going head-to-head with his star teammate:
Jaylen Brown (35 PTS) and Jayson Tatum (55 PTS) combined for 90 PTS on Sunday, the most EVER by a pair of teammates in All-Star Game history ☘️#NBAAllStar pic.twitter.com/2kFxLnJeaP
— NBA (@NBA) February 21, 2023
Although Brown hasn’t been as healthy as Tatum, he’s still played a majority of the season and received more minutes per game than he ever has (35.6 MPG). While it’s a bit concerning that Brown averages three turnovers an outing, he is enough of a star to hopefully clean that up for when the games really start to count.
The heart and soul of the Celtics can be found in their longest-tenured player: point guard Marcus Smart. Unfortunately, the 28-year-old has had trouble staying on the court due to a variety of injuries. He’s missed 17 games this season, but the C’s were lucky enough to have him return just before the All-Star break:
Marcus Smart is the first Celtic to have at least 6 PTS, 6 REB, 6 AST, and 6 STL in a game since Rajon Rondo (3/23/11) pic.twitter.com/xKKVT72gsv
— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) February 16, 2023
Injuries aside, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is shooting a career-best 42.5% from the field and averaging another career-high with 7.1 assists per game. With his facilitating of the offense, Smart has become more of a true point guard this season while still exhibiting the defensive grit and hustle he’s always had.
His conversion rate on 33.3% of his shots from deep isn’t great, yet overall, the C’s benefit when he’s on the court.
Perhaps the biggest unsung hero of the Celtics’ season is guard Derrick White. While he didn’t have the best debut for the C’s last year, White has been a pivotal part of Boston’s success in 2023.
First of all, he’s the only Celtic to play in every single game. Along with that impressive feat, White has averaged about 39% from deep and recorded a block in almost every outing (0.9 BPG). For his efforts recently, White earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors for February 6th to 12th, as he averaged 24.5 points per game in that span.
Your NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week: DERRICK WHITE!!! pic.twitter.com/uZBNjQY9qk
— Boston Sports Gordo (@BOSSportsGordo) February 13, 2023
If there’s an unlikely X-factor on this Celtics squad, it’s undoubtedly White. His durability and effectiveness on both ends of the floor have made him a key component of Boston’s dominance this year.
Malcolm Brogdon hasn’t started one game this season, but he’s been one of the best Celtics during the 2022-23 season.
The former Indiana Pacer is putting up 14.7 points per game in just 25.3 minutes per outing, making him one of the best bench players in the league. What’s more, he’s shooting a league-leading 45.5% from beyond the arc, which is far and away a career-high for him.
With Brogdon’s ability to lock down on defense and shoot the lights out on offense, he may have a case for the Sixth Man of the Year Award. He’ll just have to remain healthy enough to do so.
Robert Williams III
Boston’s best big man missed multiple months to start the season, however, he seems to be finding his groove a little more lately.
The NBA All-Defensive Second Teamer is still swatting shots with regularity (1.1 blocks per game) and rebounding well too. His offensive game is down a bit, but with Tatum, Brown, Brogdon, and others, he doesn’t have to put up double-digits every game for Boston to win. More simply, he has to remain a force in the paint who’s always lurking for a putback dunk or an alley-oop.
If he can avoid the injury bug, which is unfortunately a big “if,” Williams III can get back to where he was last season.
The eldest Celtic has changed his game since the beginning of his lengthy career. In his early years with the Atlanta Hawks, Horford rarely approached the 3-point line. Nowadays, he’s frequently beyond the arc and looking to increase his 3-point conversion rate of 42.2%.
While the former Florida Gator is less of a scoring threat in the pain than he used to be, he can still defend well and match up with opposing bigs. Per Extra StatMuse, Horford has held opponents to one of the lowest field goal percentages in the NBA this year:
Best defenders this season (based on opp. FG%). pic.twitter.com/MBGj8iDgen
— Extra StatMuse (@extrastatmuse) February 21, 2023
For a 36-year-old who’s older than the head coach, that’s not bad at all. As the season progresses, Horford will continue to be a critical part of Boston’s defense.
Boston couldn’t get a deal done to extend Grant Williams, so the forward decided to bet on himself and hope for a bigger contract in 2024. Early on in the season that gamble seemed to pay off, but now things are unclear.
The former two-time SEC Player of the Year is averaging a respectable 8.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game this season. While that’s not shabby, it’s also not worthy of a potential $20 million annual contract.
Williams certainly has enough two-way ability to make him beneficial to the Celtics, but if he can’t step it up like he did last season, this could be his final year as a Celtic.
Last, but not least is Celtics sharp-shooter Sam Hauser. Fresh off a new contract, Hauser was a bit of a wild card heading into the season.
While his numbers off the bench aren’t game-breaking, he’s shot the ball well in his limited minutes. If he can continue to connect on his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, he’ll remain a nice complimentary shooter surrounding Tatum and Brown.
Maybe he can even hit some more circus shots like this one against the Milwaukee Bucks as the season marches on:
Sam Hauser with the clutch shot 😤
Bucks vs. Celtics is going to OT ‼️
🎥: @NBA | #BleedGreen pic.twitter.com/XBINEfEs8h
— FanDuel (@FanDuel) February 15, 2023