Are 2024 Boston Celtics the ultimate four-player depth team?

Where does the Boston Celtics' top four players, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, Jayson Tatum and Derrick White, rank among other previous champions' top four? Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

These Boston Celtics have a tendency to break our basketball brains.

Going into the season, they were the best team in the league on paper, and they took care of business during the regular season with the co-best net rating of any NBA team since the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls while going 64-18. And yet, Boston has had plenty of doubters throughout its playoff run, including during the lead-up to its Finals matchup with the Dallas Mavericks.

The Celtics lead 3-1 going into Game 5 at home on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET on ABC), but even that comes on the heels of a near-record blowout loss in Game 4, dropping their point differential in the Finals to minus-6. As always, the Celtics exist to confuse us.

So why can't we ever fully wrap our minds around this Celtics team? One of the biggest reasons might be that it looks different from the way other potential champions are typically constructed.

Contrary to what Dallas coach Jason Kidd said after Game 1 of the Finals, Jayson Tatum has been Boston's best player by Estimated RAPTOR Wins Above Replacement during the playoffs, accumulating 2.4 WAR in 18 postseason games. But Kidd was onto something when he posited that someone other than Tatum might still at least plausibly be the top Celtic -- whether that be Jaylen Brown, or someone else. In this Finals, a different player led the team in scoring in each of its wins (Brown in Game 1, Jrue Holiday in Game 2 and Tatum in Game 3), while Derrick White scored at least 15 in all three of those games.

In other words, when it is clicking (like in Games 1 through 3), Boston is about an ensemble of stars rather than a singular superstar. If we compare the 2024 Celtics to every NBA champion since the 1976 ABA merger on the basis of playoff WAR per team game from their top player, Tatum and Boston would rank fifth lowest out of the 36 champs since 1977, despite potentially having one of the highest playoff net ratings of any champion in that span if they can close out the Mavs.

But a better way of understanding these Celtics is to grade their depth instead.

With that in mind, let's run through where Boston's top foursome of Tatum, Brown, White and Holiday would rank relative to the top four in playoff WAR per game on NBA champs since the merger, if they win. (With apologies to Kristaps Porzingis, who has only played six of Boston's 17 games this postseason and will probably miss the rest of the Finals with a leg injury.)

We'll also do it based on how good each team's fourth-best player was -- emphasizing how special it is to build a quartet of stars who can do so many different things