While the Boston Celtics continue to tread water in an Eastern Conference where mediocrity reigns outside of the top three clubs, fans in Beantown still have some reason to feel good about their team.
The fact that the Cs have locked down a pair of young All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown probably sits at the top of that list.
However, not everyone understands how valuable Boston’s dynamic duo is; not just to the current Celtics squad, but moving forward in the team’s pursuit of title No. 18. And a group of ESPN insiders appears to be among those that are missing the boat on Tatum and Brown.
On Tuesday, the “Worldwide Leader” put out its list of the NBA’s 25 best players under the age of 25. And while both Celtics players featured in the rankings, some of the players that were valued ahead of them are sure to ruffle some feathers in the Massachusetts Bay.
LaMelo Ball Beats Out Jayson Tatum AND Jaylen Brown
In a vacuum, Tatum’s placement in the ESPN rankings — which were compiled by Bobby Marks, Kevin Pelton and Mike Schmitz — may not seem like a major slight. The two-time All-Star and 2020 All-NBA selection came in at No. 5 in the list.
Celtics fans and hoops pundits alike might quibble with that evaluation, but there are a lot of good players in the league, right? For example, Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic sits at the top of the list and he is an MVP-level player.
And at No. 2, New Orleans Pelicans big man Zion Williamson has the look of a generational player by some accounts.
However, the rankings become potentially problematic when LaMelo Ball — a rookie whose first foray into the pro game ended after just 41 games due to a wrist injury — is ranked No. 3 overall.
For the record, Tatum is averaging 25 points, seven boards and nearly five assists per contest this season. He has also led his team to two appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals. At just 23 years old, he is already a franchise player.
Ball, meanwhile, showed signs of brilliance as a rookie, logging a 16-6-6 line. But, again, he has only played in 41 career games and the Hornets are a .500 team. He looked great for a 19-year-old, maybe even all-time great, but whether or not he will actually become a great player remains to be seen.
For his part, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith was livid about Ball’s placement:
Jaylen Brown Ranked No. 12
While Tatum sits in the top five, Brown entered the list at No. 12 overall. He was placed just behind Pels sharpshooter Brandon Ingram at No. 11 and one spot ahead of Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray at No. 13.
Fans can debate the merits of some of the players ranked ahead of him and it would likely make for stimulating conversation. Doncic, Williamson, Tatum, Donovan Mitchell (4), Ben Simmons (7) and Devin Booker (8), for example, all have incredible resumes.
However, the Ball pick still stings where Brown is concerned. And there may be something to be said for De’Aaron Fox (6), Bam Adebayo (9), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (10) and Ingram finishing ahead of Brown, an All-Star who has looked like the Cs best player at times this season.
Brown is averaging 24.3 points, nearly six rebounds and four assists per game in 2020-21.