Celtics big man Enes Kanter spent Tuesday morning working out with old friend Gordon Hayward and offered his assessment of Hayward’s progress now nearly two years removed from the gruesome ankle injury in Cleveland.
“Gordon Hayward — I think he should definitely start eyeing the All-Star Game,” Kanter told NBC Sports Boston on the Celtics Talk Podcast. “He had a very bad injury [but] I see his work ethic, he’s been doing an amazing job.
"I just actually played against him [Tuesday morning] and he looked amazing. Very good shape, lot of confidence, and he is comfortable out here.”
Kanter is the latest member of the Celtics organization to hop on a Hayward hype train that rumbled throughout the summer. Kanter’s assessment carries a bit more heft if only because the two players were teammates together for three-plus seasons in Utah and Kanter had a front-row seat for Hayward’s ascent to becoming an NBA All-Star in 2016-17.
"I played with that dude three and a half years with Utah Jazz. I know the guy, I know how hard he works, how much he is willing to learn, and he makes his teammates better,” said Kanter. "I’m very excited about him. He should definitely be eyeing the All-Star Game.”
Hayward showed flashes of his pre-injury form late in the 2018-19 season but never quite harnessed it consistently. He was fantastic for much of Boston’s first-round sweep of Indiana to open the playoffs then struggled against the Bucks as the Celtics were eliminated in five games in the East semifinals.
Hayward spent nearly all of his summer in Boston and worked out most mornings with the team’s coaching staff at the Auerbach Center. Coach Brad Stevens has lauded Hayward for setting a tone that left many Celtics players spending extended time at the practice facility this summer.
Kanter, even as he’s toured the country putting on 49 youth camps (his 50th and final occurs in Boston later this month), has checked in regularly and has seen Hayward’s progress.
"He’s been here all summer,” said Kanter. “[Hayward] puts the work in, [he] focused on what he needed to focus on. Like I said, again, obviously he’s a really really good basketball player but the confidence, with that injury -- I think last year was a little rough for him but I think this year, man, I see him, he looks strong, he looks in really good shape, and he’s enjoying his time here.”
The Celtics signed Kanter to a two-year, $10 million contract this summer as they look to help patch a frontcourt void left by the departures of Al Horford and Aron Baynes. Kanter, who averaged 11.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in the Portland Trail Blazers' postseason run to the Western Conference finals, projects as Boston’s starting 5 but the Celtics could lean heavily on a committee of big men including Robert Williams, Daniel Theis, Vincent Poirier, and Grant Williams.
Check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast to hear the full interview with Kanter, who discusses that new-look frontcourt, why he devoted so much time and resources this summer to his youth camps, his early impressions of Brad Stevens, and why others are sleeping on Boston as the 2019-20 season approaches.
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