Five burning questions for Celtics after the All-Star break
BOSTON --There is a clear and undeniable self-discovery dynamic to the Celtics this season as they try to navigate their way through has been a rougher-than-expected season prior to the All-Star break.
Now that the All-Star break is over and players and teams get a couple days off before returning to the floor, it serves as a great time to examine some of the burning questions whose answers will go far in determining just how successful this season will be.
1. How concerned should we be about Kyrie Irving’s health
Answer: I am nowhere close to hitting the panic button on Irving’s health, but I’m not nearly as confident about him being able to finish out these final 24 games injury-free as I would like.
Irving has been dealing with an assortment of bumps and bruises, most of which he has been able to play through.
Still, he’s returning to the floor against Milwaukee on Thursday after having missed the Celtics' past two games and six of the past 11.
He did play 25 minutes in the All-Star Game and looked no worse for wear with 13 points and nine rebounds along with six assists.
We’re too far into the season to be concerned about chemistry or continuity for that matter.
At this point, it’s all about players being the best version of themselves and for the Celtics, that means having a healthy Kyrie Irving available to unleash on teams.
To his credit, he has taken significant precautions to address his health, which for the most part, has not been as big an issue as many anticipated it would be this season.
He has missed 11 games so far. Coming into the season, the Celtics anticipated he would be out for a dozen or so games with minor injuries or rest.
“I don’t want to ever take games off,” Irving said. “But when it happens to do with my body, the investment I put into it, I’m glad it’s at a high level.”
2. The trade deadline has passed, but will we say the same for all the Anthony Davis talk?
Answer: Nothing can be (officially) done with Anthony Davis until July 1, but he will remain a hot topic of discussion because much of what happens between now and then will have some impact on what the Celtics do as far as trying to trade for him.
The asking price for Davis appears to be very fluid right now, although multiple league sources believe that any deal involving Boston would have to include Jayson Tatum.
And as we saw at All-Star weekend, one can understand why the Celtics will do whatever they can to keep Tatum in the fold and not include him in a package for Davis.
One must also keep a close eye on the Los Angeles Lakers, too.
They were among the most aggressive in trying to swing a deal for Davis and that’s unlikely to change this summer.
With LeBron James returning from injury, it’ll be worth keeping an eye on the Lakers and whether James can drag them into the playoffs, akin to what he did in Cleveland.
A strong finish for the Lakers, coupled with a playoff bid, might be enough to sway the Pelicans to deal Davis to the Lakers if those young Lakers prospects show up in a big way in catapulting them into the postseason.
And with no one able to do anything until July 1, it should not come as a surprise that others won’t try and get involved in the pursuit of Davis.
3. Which Celtic needs to step his game up in the final 24 games of the season?
Answer: It isn’t so much that he has to step up, but rather he has to stay healthy enough to play.
I’m talking about Aron Baynes, one of the more unsung heroes of this team.
He is on pace to play just 58 games, which would be the fewest he has played since he appeared in 53 in his second NBA season with the San Antonio Spurs.
What you love most about Baynes, is his ability to impact the game 1) without needing the ball in his hands and 2) doing so in a very limited window of time.
This season, Baynes has a defensive rating of 99.6, which is tops in the NBA among players who have appeared in at least 34 games while logging at least 14 minutes per game.
Baynes has been out with a foot injury and the most recent timetable indicates he’ll return sometime shortly after the All-Star break.
His return becomes necessary for a Celtics defense that has been solid but not nearly as lock-’em-up as we’ve seen in years past.
There’s still plenty of time to be that kind of team which becomes a lot easier to do when Baynes is in the mix.
4. Has Gordon Hayward turned the corner and returned to pre-injury form?
Answer: When Hayward returned to the floor this season, I was hopeful that he would start playing more like his pre-injury self around the All-Star break.
He has two 30-plus point performances this season, but the past two times we have seen Hayward on the floor were arguably the most impactful performances he has had in games that really tested the Celtics.
Against Philly, the team’s first game after Marcus Morris called out the team, Hayward erupted for 26 points off the bench on 8-for-11 shooting from the floor.
He followed that up the next night in a win over a Detroit team that, like the Sixers, was playing some of its best basketball to date.
And again Hayward came up big, tallying 18 points on just 5-for-8 shooting to go with eight assists and five rebounds.
While the Celtics certainly like the direction he’s going, I still say it’s too soon to say he’s back to where he was before suffering a season-ending left ankle injury just five minutes into last season.
Still, the one thing that’s undeniable, is that Hayward’s game is trending in the right direction at the right time.
He has scored at least 18 points in each of the past three games, the longest such stretch of play he has had all season.
For the season, Hayward averages 11.2 points, 3.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from 3-point range.
In February, Hayward’s numbers are up in all those categories to 14.6 points, 4.0 assists and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 57.1 percent from the floor and 52.4 percent on 3’s.
5. What should we make of a Celtics bench that seems to be in a perpetual state of uncertainty?
It has been a while since we talked about Boston’s BWA (Bench With Attitude) because if we’re being real, they haven’t had much of an attitude lately. A lot of that has to do with the second unit being retooled where the two players who brought the most attitude to the backups, Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris, have since been inserted into the starting lineup.
And that edge they brought to the bench, is now on hand from the outset of games.
Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Hayward have all had their share of strong performances helping key wins, but this group doesn’t play with the same kind of sharp edge to their game.
And for the second unit to truly be impactful, they have to play with more of a chip on their shoulder.
That has indeed been a work in progress, but the past few games have shown more glimmers of hope that the edgy, tough, grind-it-out brand of basketball that the second unit has to play with is within them, even with the two Marcuses in the starting lineup
In the past 10 games, the bench has averaged 42.3 points per game, which ranks seventh in the NBA according to Hoopsstats.com.
Within the same period, Boston has allowed opposing benches 33.0 points, which ranks third in the NBA.