Al Horford and Jayson Tatum

Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

SI got it way wrong -- not only is Al Horford not the Celtics' best player, neither is Irving or Hayward

John Tomase
September 14, 2018 - 4:45 pm

Sports Illustrated recently released its list of the top 100 players in the NBA, and the Celtics were represented by an impressive six players, which is half their active roster on any given night. It's a testament to Danny Ainge's powers of evaluation and Brad Stevens' ability to develop and maximize talent.

The SI list raised eyebrows, however, by placing Al Horford atop the list of C's, at No. 16 overall, one slot ahead of teammate Kyrie Irving. Here's what SI said about Horford while praising his ability to impact a game not only on both ends of the floor, but in the locker room and creating a culture:

From an impact perspective, Horford is only a few degrees removed from Draymond Green. Both rank among the league’s best defensive players (Horford, for what it’s worth, led the top defense overall) and augment high-functioning offenses with their playmaking. And each, in his own way, has made himself completely indispensable to one of the best teams in the league. The Celtics were forced to do without their two biggest stars last season. They marched all the way to the Eastern Conference finals regardless—because their most valuable player was still in uniform.

That's high praise, and Horford deserves it. Even the Average Al crowd recognizes his impact; they just wish he'd be more overt about it on a nightly basis. That said, before we get to the actual best player on the team, here are the rest of SI's rankings:

16 - Horford
17 - Irving
25 - Gordon Hayward
39 - Jayson Tatum
47 - Jaylen Brown
82 - Terry Rozier

While Rozier's inclusion is mildly surprising -- he really didn't emerge until the postseason after spending most of the year as the backup to the backup point guard -- the rest of the list is hard to argue. SI chose Horford over Irving and Hayward largely for reasons of durability. Irving has missed 21 percent of his teams' games in his career, a number that limits his effectiveness. There's little doubt he's a top-10 player when healthy, but he needs to stay healthy.

Similarly, with Hayward coming off a devastating broken leg, he'll need to prove he's recovered, too. A year ago, he was a consensus top-20 player whose all-around game consistently placed him slightly ahead of Irving and Horford on these lists. The fact that he's still No. 25 after missing an entire season speaks to the respect he commands around the league.

As great as both of them can be, I have a sneaking suspicion we'll be talking about No. 39 on this list as No. 1 on the Celtics when the season is over. Tatum was the best player on the floor for huge chunks of Game 7 against the Cavaliers last May, and he was clearly the best player on the team throughout its improbable playoff run.

With a sweet-shooting stroke, the length and strength to hold up defensively, and the confidence to dunk on LeBron James and then let him know it, Tatum isn't just the future face of the Celtics. He's already their best player, and don't be surprised this upcoming season when he proves it.