By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The NBA season is just around the corner, and ESPN is releasing its player rankings for the new campaign. The Boston Celtics are prominently featured in the Top 50.
Four members of the C's cracked the Top 50, with three of them -- Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart -- making pretty big jumps from last year. The other, point guard Kemba Walker, took a sharp dip.
These rankings should be always taken with a grain of salt, and more times than not, they just rile up 30 NBA fanbases. But the placement of the four Celtics is pretty spot on heading into the new season:
No. 11: Jayson Tatum
Synopsis: Now with a signed max deal and as the franchise cornerstone, is Tatum the kind of player who can tilt a playoff series his team's direction or is he ultimately a great No. 2? You could argue the future of the Celtics is bound in this question. He has all the tools -- the size, the talent, the multi-positional skill and the instinct -- to rise to this level. But he's been inconsistent enough for questions to linger.
Everyone is buying into the Tatum hype these days. Welcome to the bandwagon. Some will argue that Tatum deserves a spot in the Top 10, but this is a good spot for him. Just outside of that illustrious group, but right there. Making a jump from No. 35 last year to No. 11 is nothing to wave off, either. It's a nice show of respect for Tatum and his progress over the last three years.
At No. 11, Tatum is ahead of players like Miami's Jimmy Butler (No. 12) and Bam Adebayo (No. 13), Philly's Joel Embiid (No. 14) and Ben Simmons (No. 16), Phoenix's Devin Booker (No. 17) and Utah's Donovan Mitchell (No. 18).
No. 32: Jaylen Brown
Synopsis: With Gordon Hayward in Charlotte and Kemba Walker sidelined temporarily, the chance for Brown to take another step forward and put himself in position to be named an All-Star is there for the taking. If Brown is able to do so, the Celtics will remain a team capable of getting home court in the East quarterfinals. If not, their ceiling is probably a level below that.
Brown made a huge leap this year, jumping from No. 51 in 2019-20. But if there is any beef to be had with this rankings, this is the place. It seems a tad bit low for Jaylen.
By season's end, chances are everyone will agree with that sentiment. Another year of being a two-way dynamo for Boston would help Brown's cause to get into the Top 25.
No. 37: Marcus Smart
Synopsis: Despite public perception to the contrary, Smart has become a respectable 3-point shooter, hitting 36.4% of his triples two years ago and 34.7% (on 6.6 attempts per game) last season. While Smart has always been a willing shooter, now he's a capable one. And, with Gordon Hayward gone and Kemba Walker injured, there will be more shots for Smart this season than ever.
Smart's jump was even bigger than Brown's, as he was ranked No. 87 last season. ESPN has some BIG expectations for Boston's defensive bulldog.
No. 48: Kemba Walker
Synopsis: There may be no bigger question in the Eastern Conference than what shape Walker's knee will be in when the playoffs arrive. Walker will miss the start of the season after getting a stem cell injection in the knee and undergoing a 12-week strengthening program. He declared he won't be rushing back, but all Boston is concerned about is whether he will be ready for the postseason.
Kemba's stock has taken a hit due to his injury concerns. The point guard dropped from the No. 17 spot last season. Ouch.
Elsewhere on the rankings, former Celtic/current Hornet Gordon Hayward went from No. 65 last season to No. 45 this season. Kyrie Irving sits at No. 25, down from No. 11.
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