Ranking the top 15 players in Celtics-Hawks playoff series


It's time for the stars to shine.

The Boston Celtics begin their playoff journey Saturday afternoon at TD Garden when they battle the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of their first-round NBA playoff matchup.

While the Hawks shouldn't be overlooked after upsetting the Miami Heat in the NBA play-in tournament, the Celtics enter the series as heavy favorites after finishing with the league's second-best record.

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So, where does Boston have the biggest edge over Atlanta? Considering the NBA is a star-driven league, we decided the rank the top 15 players in the series overall, based on their talent and the impact they can make in the postseason.

We'll just say this: You may have to scroll down a bit to find the third Hawks player on this list.

1. Jayson Tatum, Celtics

2022-23 stats: 30.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 46.6 percent FG, 35.0 percent 3PT

This one's a no-brainer. Tatum just became the first player in NBA history to improve his scoring, rebounding and assist averages in each of his first six seasons and should be a lock to earn his second straight First-Team All-NBA nod.

He's one of the five best players in the NBA right now, and the other four certainly aren't in Atlanta.

2. Jaylen Brown, Celtics

2022-23 stats: 26.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 49.1 percent FG, 33.5 percent 3PT

Brown is enjoying the best offensive season of his career, averaging career highs in points, field goal percentage, 2-point field goal percentage (57.6) and assists. He's an elite defender, as well, making him one of the NBA's premier two-way wings who has a serious case for Second- or Third-Team All-NBA.

Even if Trae Young is more gifted offensively, Brown is the better all-around player.

3. Trae Young, Hawks

2022-23 stats: 26.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 10.2 assists, 42.9 percent FG, 33.5 percent 3PT

Young is an offensive wizard who can shred pick-and-roll defenses with his unlimited range and brilliant passing. He had at least 63 more assists than any player in the league this season and can get to the basket at will despite his 6-foot-1 frame.

But that frame limits Young on the other end, where he's a defensive liability who is repeatedly exploited by opponents. For all of Young's offensive talents, he's a big reason why Atlanta had a bottom-10 defense this season.

4. Dejounte Murray, Hawks

2022-23 stats: 20.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 46.4 percent FG, 34.4 percent 3PT

Unlike his backcourt mate, Murray is an excellent defender who led the NBA in steals a year ago and can guard multiple positions at 6-foot-4, 180 pounds. He's also a strong rebounder with a well-rounded offensive game that includes an excellent finishing ability.

Murray could help Atlanta steal a game or two in this series with his potential to impact the game on both ends of the floor.

5. Robert Williams, Celtics

2022-23 stats: 8.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 blocks, 74.7 percent FG

Williams' high-level stats aren't particularly impressive -- and yet he might be the most impactful Celtic not named Jaylen or Jayson. Williams is a human pogo stick on defense who can block or alter shots at all three levels. He's a ferocious rebounder and an underrated passer who keeps the ball humming on offense with his quick reads.

It's no wonder, then, that Time Lord's 11.4 net rating is the third-best in the NBA (minimum 20 minutes per game). Williams' biggest issue is his health, but when he's on the floor, Boston is very hard to beat.

6. Marcus Smart, Celtics

2022-23 stats: 11.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 41.5 percent FG, 33.6 percent 3PT

Smart had a down season by his standards on offense and defense, but he's still the Celtics' best facilitator on offense and a disruptive force on defense.

Smart was Boston's third-leading scorer during the 2022 postseason (15.4 points per game), so the team's longest-tenured player and emotional leader is capable of elevating his play to meet the moment.

7. Derrick White, Celtics

2022-23 stats: 12.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 46.2 percent FG, 38.1 percent 3PT

You could make a legitimate case for White over Smart based on how much White improved this season. The sixth-year guard increased his 3-point rate by nearly seven percent from 2021-22, developing into a legitimate offensive weapon for Boston when the team was missing its stars.

White also led all NBA guards in blocks and is one of the team's best passers. He's a luxury to have off the bench.

8. Malcolm Brogdon, Celtics

2022-23 stats: 14.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 48.4 percent FG, 44.4 percent 3PT

Speaking of luxuries off the bench, it's a testament to Boston's depth that the potential Sixth Man of the Year is this far down the list. Despite starting zero games, Brogdon finished third on the Celtics in scoring and fourth in the entire NBA in 3-point percentage.

His ability to create his own offense has significantly elevated the Celtics' second unit, and his poise in crunch time could be what the C's need to get over the hump.

9. Al Horford, Celtics

2022-23 stats: 9.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 47.6 percent FG, 44.6 percent 3PT

The Celtics managed Horford's mileage carefully this season, and he rewarded them with the best outside shooting season of his career. The 36-year-old is an excellent floor-spacer and a more-than-capable defender who held his own with the likes of Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo last postseason.

You could argue for Clint Capela over Horford here, but Horford's postseason experience and more well-rounded game give him the edge.

10. Clint Capela, Hawks

2022-23 stats: 12.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.2 blocks, 65.3 percent FG

Capela makes his biggest impact on the boards, as the Heat found out the hard way when he snatched 21 rebounds (eight offensive) in Atlanta's play-in tournament upset of Miami.

Capela is a double-double machine, but like Williams, he doesn't have much of an offensive game away from the basket -- and unlike Williams isn't a strong facilitator.

Best of the Rest (No. 11 through No. 15)

11. John Collins, Hawks

12. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Hawks

13. De'Andre Hunter, Hawks

14. Saddiq Bey, Hawks

15. Grant Williams, Celtics

It's not that the Hawks lack depth; they boast seven double-digit scorers, and the quartet of Collins, Bogdanovic, Hunter and Bey are all solid starters or rotation players.

It's just that the Celtics are arguably the deepest team in the NBA. The C's have little to no weaknesses on offense or defense among their top seven players, while Atlanta boasts comparable offensive talent but fewer defensive stoppers.

With seven of the top 10 players in this series, Boston has a clear depth advantage over the Hawks that should help power the C's into the second round.

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