By Sterling Pingree
It struck me on Monday night watching Kyrie Irving close down the Celtics 21st victory of the season that only 25 games into his tenure as a Celtic, that Kyrie Irving is probably the second best athlete in Boston sports right now. Of course this got me thinking about what a list would look like of the top 10 athletes in Boston sports right now on Friday, December 8th.
It’s tough to compare athletes across various sports, but my ranking here takes into account how good that athlete is now relative to their sport. Think of it in terms of this: if one player is an MVP in their sport and the other is an all-star, the MVP gets the edge. The other thing to take into account is the timing, we are talking about where these athletes are right now. Julian Edelman isn’t on the list, if he was active and playing at a level we normally see from a healthy Edelman, he’d be on here but the injury is keeping him off this list. Without any more ado, these are the 10 best athletes in Boston sports right now.
- Tom Brady. Was there really any debate? At 40 years old, TB12 is on the shortest list of MVP candidates. This is Brady’s seat until somebody knocks him off.
- Kyrie Irving. 26 games into his run as a Celtic and he has sky rocketed up this list. The Garden walls are echoing M-V-P chants for Irving already and it’s richly deserved with his early season performance. Danny Ainge stockpiled assets and waited for the perfect player to take the Celtics to the next level and I’m not sure he could have found a player to fit better than Kyrie Irving is in Boston so far.
- Rob Gronkowski. How much will the Patriots miss Gronk this Monday night in Miami? Well, he does takes the third spot on this list. One of the most unique athletes in Boston sports history, Gronkowski has reminded fans this season, who may have forgotten during his time on IR last year, just how special of an athlete that he is by hauling in 55 balls and 7 touch downs in just 11 games.
- Chris Sale. One of three members of this list that has played one season or less in Boston. Sale finished runner up for the Cy Young award in his first Red Sox season and struck out 308 batters, coming up just five k’s shy of Pedro’s team record. Sale gets the edge over Mookie just barely, because we are talking about athletes right now. If I was going to pick someone for the next 5-7 years, Mookie would be the choice, but as it currently stands, Sale is the Red Sox player who is most on top of his game.
- Mookie Betts. Betts had a relative down year after finishing 2nd in the MVP voting in 2016, but made his second all-star game appearance and took home his second consecutive Gold Glove award. Betts has emerged as the Red Sox best everyday player and don’t forget, he just turned 25 years old 2 months ago. The best is yet to come, but what we’ve seen so far is pretty darn good.
- Al Horford. Last season Horford was seen, by the casual observer, as a disappointment because he didn’t put up gaudy superstar numbers even though he signed a max contract. That’s never been Horford, his best season 2013-14 with Atlanta he averaged 18-8. Last year in Boston he averaged 14 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5 assists. So far this year, Horford is putting up 14-8-5 with a blocked shot every night. His chemistry with Kyrie is brilliant and contagious as you watch him throw down lobs on a nightly basis.
- Patrice Bergeron. Because we need a Bruin on this list and Bergeron won the Frank J. Selke trophy in 2012, 14, 15 and 17. (Why does hockey have to name every award after somebody? I have to do a Google search just to see what each award means.) The definition of the Selke trophy is: “awarded to the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.” Bergeron has done that four times, so he gets the 7 spot on this list.
- Jayson Tatum. The key word in all of this is, right now. Jayson Tatum has been better than advertised since his first night in the NBA. The word that keeps coming to mind when I watch the one and done Dukie is; smooth. Tatum is just smooth; whether it’s his picture perfect jump shot or his one handed, palm the ball, Dr. J-style, up and under move, everything he does looks polished and easy. In almost any other year, Tatum would run away with the Rookie of the Year award, but with Ben Simmons on the ballot it currently seems unlikely, but so did trading the number one pick away and still getting the best player in the 2017 NBA Draft.
- Brandin Cooks. I describe Cooks as a 35 home run hitter who hits only .270. He doesn’t make contact all the time, but he’s capable of going deep at any moment. Cooks has shown that he can take the top off the defense and change the field very quickly. Cooks is as great of a home run threat has Brady has had since Randy Moss and that jet sweep “pass” they’ve run successfully twice inside the ten yard line is quickly becoming one of the most exciting plays, from perhaps Boston’s most exciting athlete.
- Craig Kimbrel. In comparing various sports, this is perhaps the hardest. How do you quantify a closer against any other position in sports? I’ll tell you that you don’t. I’m merely judging Kimbrel by his importance to his team and his ability to that of his peers in his position. Kimbrel has had a career that will most likely wind up in Cooperstown when all is said and done and 2017 ranks amongst the best of his career. Kimbrel posted a 1.43 ERA and his 126 strike outs were one shy of his career best (he did it in 8 less innings this year) and his 14 walks mark the lowest amount of free passes issued in his career.
That’s it, that’s the list. The honorable mentions list is incredibly impressive and I’d bank on most of them making this list in in the near future. Julian Edelman, Don’t’a Hightower, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Jaylen Brown and any Celtic named Marcus. Most cities would be over the moon to have our honorable mentions list as their top 10.
Such is life in New England.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.