In the summer of 2017, Danny Ainge shook up the basketball world by trading Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving and signing Gordon Hayward. The idea was to combine Irving, Hayward, and Al Horford to form one of the most talented trios in the NBA. It's a year later than planned, but all three All-Stars are healthy and ready to wreak havoc on the Eastern Conference.
Just how formidable are these Celtics? Irving, Hayward, and Horford all crack the Top 25. Coming off a devastating leg injury, SI ranks Hayward "conservatively" at 25. Irving and Horford appear back-to-back at Nos. 17 and 16 respectively.
Expectations were high for the Celtics last season . . . for about five minutes. Hayward's gruesome injury early in the first game of the regular season makes it feel like he hasn't been on the court in forever. But in 2016-17, Hayward's steady improvement culminated in the first All-Star selection in his seven professional seasons. The versatile wing scored nearly 22 points per game to go along with 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He can spread the floor on offense and defends with purpose. As Rob Mahoney of SI says "There isn't an offense Hayward can't better or a defense he can't execute."
Until late into last season, Kyrie Irving was in serious MVP conversations. That is until a nagging knee injury ended his regular season and overdue surgery ended his postseason. Irving fit well into coach Brad Steven's offense, picking his spots to show off his silky isolation game. Uncle Drew posted very nice numbers - 24.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 5.1 APG while, as SI points out, "flirting with the first 50/40/90 season of his career." SI's Ben Golliver writes that health is the only thing "separating him from an annual spot on the All-NBA teams and a consensus 'Top 10' reputation."
Al Horford is the ultimate glue guy. His stats may not jump off the page (12.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 4.7 APG), but Mahoney says his impact is "only a few degrees removed from Draymond Green." He anchored one of the league's best defenses all season long and displayed incredible individual defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo in the postseason. Horford is the least flashy of Boston's six Top 100 players (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are already ranked in the Top 50, and Terry Rozier also made the list), but SI calls him the Celtic's "most valuable."