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SI's top-100 NBA players for 2020 - Three Celtics ranked #51-100

Sports Illustrated just came out with their Top-100 NBA players for 2020, and numbers 51-through-100 came out today. There are three current Celtics players in that number-range, and here they are - with analysis by SI's Rob Mahoney:

#82: Marcus Smart
Marcus Smart makes his debut in the SI Top 100 after his most impressive season to date—and his first in which he managed to shoot better than 40% from the field. Specialists are notoriously hard to rank, for the simple reason that they can provide different teams with dramatically different value. Smart simplified that analysis by more fully rounding out his game. Not only did he shoot 36% from beyond the arc, but he did so at volume, hitting just 11 fewer threes for the season than Kevin Durant did. Smart’s attempts obviously come much easier. What’s important, though, is that his career-best shooting wasn’t some fluke of infrequency. Smart is a better shooter than he was previously, and a more stable playmaker, and a better finisher. There is still an unpredictability to Smart’s game, only it doesn’t manifest in the kinds of wild swerves that would derail possessions. All of which only serves to qualify what we already knew to be true: that Smart is one of the sport’s most suffocating defenders, capable of swinging games even before his offense gave him a chance.

My comment on Mahoney's evaluation of Smart is that Marcus' "unpredictability" has become more of a positive factor than a negative one - meaning that he can prey on unsuspecting opponents whilst not chucking up so many desperate shots or making mental errors - which may have been Mahoney's point all along.


#68: Jaylen Brown
Just when Jaylen Brown seemed ready to enter the next phase of his development, his game—and Boston’s entire season—went sideways. These things happen. Even successful careers in basketball can usually be traced in zigs and zags, bouncing off contextual factors and natural limitations. If Brown only turns out to be the uneven contributor he was last season, he would still help his team win. Added intrigue comes with his upward mobility. Any wing with Brown’s skill, bounce, and intelligence has the makings of a star, if only they could find the traction. To reach that point, Brown will need to find comfort in making quick decisions; refine his work with the ball; and harness his athleticism more fully. There’s a strong frame in place. Now it’s up to Brown to find what all it can bear.

The above comments really hit on two important points. Jaylen has improved as to making quick decisions, but he can still be tentative. And I have written many times that his elite athleticism needs to be controlled. He has improved that also.


#59: Gordon Hayward
To say that Gordon Hayward underwhelmed last season is putting it kindly. Perhaps we should have known better when the Celtics were downplaying things from the start, insisting even before the season that Hayward’s first year back from a fractured leg and dislocated ankle would be a deliberate process. It certainly was; Hayward looked himself only in flashes, after which he would recede from view. The problem wasn’t that Hayward’s contributions were quiet or subtle. They were flatly insufficient. A ranking like this one assumes that Hayward, another year removed from devastating injury, will more closely resemble his better basketball self. Any optimism must be couched. We projected too much too soon in ranking Hayward in the top 30 a year ago. Placing him at 59 reflects both the star he was in Utah and the fickle contributor he’s been since. Even if Hayward’s days as a star really are over, it seems fair to give him one more season to prove it so. Expect him to make a big move in the Top 100 of 2021, one way or another.

SI took the middle ground on Gordon. The too-high ranking last year was much too optimistic, but this one hopefully is too low. This one is a hard one to predict.


Follow Tom at @CelticsSentinel and @_Celtics_Center



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