By Kevin Cook
After the wave of Celtics personnel moves this past summer, many circles of fans fretted over what might be a loss of culture – namely, a loss of grit and underdog mentality. While I already opined recently on how I do not fear that being the case, recent indications in the media are that there is still going to be plenty to fuel the motivations of the newish roster.
ESPN recently released its annual player rank – a particularly hilarious piece in this go-round. An early pleasant surprise, with Marcus Smart coming in at #65, held fans over for a bit…even as it quickly became apparent how off-the-wall this was going to be, with the patently superior Avery Bradley coming in just a few spots later, at #61.
Al Horford came in at #40, a rank that the seasoned fan knows is not quite fair; but I didn’t take great issue with it, given his hot and cold performance last season. What stung a bit more was seeing that Al had dropped 18 spots from #22 last season, a seemingly precipitous fall for a guy who pretty much is what he is and continued to be last season.
But the real drama began when Kyrie Irving showed up at #25, something that surely made many heads spin and brought us to wonder if we were in fact having a practical joke played on us. My first reaction was to see what he was ranked last year, wondering if I was just contextually insane and if he had never been considered as great a player as I thought. He was #15 last year. What he did this past season to fall 10 spots, while perennial bores like Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry came in ahead of him, I’m not sure…other than that he invited the disdain of those more comfortable with an existence revolving around the fortification of Lebron James. If Kyrie – somebody who surely considers himself a top 10 player – needed any personal motivation beyond what was already in place, this will surely provide it.
Gordon Hayward filed in just a bit later at #20, a solid rank for him that felt just about right. While Kyrie and Gordon probably won’t talk about their relative positions and any associated sensitivities, you can bet perception of the team’s best player will be another thing driving the new point guard.
And last, but not least – Jae Crowder was ranked #38. We all remember Jae as a solid role player in Boston during the best of times. A streaky shooter who couldn’t really dribble, couldn’t go to the hoop effectively and may or may not have been able to dunk. Now that he is with Cleveland, the popular narrative is that he’s the next Draymond Green and his reward is to be ranked higher than Avery Bradley, Al Horford…even one spot higher than DeMar Derozan, who only averaged 27.3 points per game last season.
Truth be told, these rankings are very driven by advanced statistics…at least the most subjectively favorite ones of those creating the content. So they do warrant a degree of contemplation. Ultimately, they can at least challenge your preconceived notions in a productive way.
But a few Celtics will be pissed off this coming season, and that’s a very good thing.