Who's the best player on the Boston Celtics?
The question, spawned from a newsroom debate during Boston's gritty road win over Oklahoma City Thunder then lobbed at me during NBC 10's Boston Sports Live show on Sunday night, left me considering the answer a lot harder than I previously might have.
It had to be Kemba Walker, right? The now four-time NBA All-Star and lynchpin of the Celtics's offense. Boston's offensive rating is a staggering 116.8 when Walker is on the floor and nosedives to 106 when he's not. For context, the Celtics would lead the NBA in offensive rating if they could maintain that mark while Walker is on the floor, and would be tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 24th mark in the NBA without him.
But watching Jayson Tatum blossom over the past month, you can at least argue that Walker has competition for the best-player title - and quicker than most probably expected. With the Celtics enduring perpetual injuries (even Tatum missed three games with a groin strain), Tatum has taken his play to new heights. He's validated his All-Star nod and looks like someone on a path to becoming one of the league's elite two-way players.
In the bigger picture, the fact that you can even have a best-player debate is important for Boston's title chances moving forward. The franchise's ability to compete hinges directly on what both Tatum and Jaylen Brown become with Walker as their running mate.
What we feel a bit more comfortable about is elevating Tatum back to the top spot in our Celtics player power rankings. Tatum had the top spot early in the year, Walker muscled it away around the midpoint of the season, and now, as the Celtics motor towards the All-Star break, it's Tatum who again takes the baton based on his recent play:
Celtics Report Card: Jayson Tatum's star on the rise originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston