Five things that will help Celtics stay competitive without Hayward
BOSTON -- The Celtics have had a couple days to catch their breath after a whirlwind of a start that included them playing three games in four nights.
Adding to the tough schedule from the outset, was losing Gordon Hayward (left ankle) for the season after just five minutes of court time in the season-opener.
Down went Marcus Smart (ankle) after suffering an ankle sprain the next night against Milwaukee, although Smart says he'll just miss the one game on Friday at Philadelphia.
That said, the absence of Hayward has not only changed the outlook many have for the Celtics this season, but also how they as a team will play.
Here are five things that will help the Celtics stay competitive as they begin their season-long journey without one of their top players, Gordon Hayward.
BETTER USE OF IRVING
He’s averaging 20 points after three games, but Irving’s impact hasn’t been nearly as great as most would have anticipated since Hayward’s injury. While there are some who are surprised Irving isn’t looking to shoot early and often without Hayward around, folks have to remember this: Irving did a lot of that his first three years in the league and his teams, to be frank, weren’t very good. Since then, he has a better understanding of the need to both be himself on the floor, but also make sure to get his other teammates involved. That’s a lot tougher to do without Hayward, who was going to really benefit from playing with Irving and vice versa. Teams couldn't blitz or double-team Irving at the levels we've seen thus far, because Hayward's presence and ability would have made them pay and thus, force them to play Irving more straight-up which would have benefited the Celtics greatly. Figuring out how to best utilize Irving's talents without Hayward around, is one of the many challenges awaiting Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.
MORE POST-UPS FOR WING PLAYERS
Coach Brad Stevens has talked about this going more post-ups for his young wing players, and it’s a great idea. Most games, either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum will have an advantage on the offensive end that they can exploit not only on the perimeter but also in the post. Tatum has a 7-foot wing span and often finds himself matched up against small forwards or shooting guards when he’s on the floor. He has shown a comfort level of shooting over players, but don’t be surprised to see him looked upon more as a scorer in the post. Ditto for Brown who is averaging 17.3 points after three games, which is second on the team. Brown is the stronger of the two, but that also has meant him being defended by bigger, stronger players than Tatum's defenders. Still, it’s a tweak the Celtics can make going forward that should pay off for them more often than not.
Jayson Tatum is playing at a high level, so the Celtics aren’t overly concerned with what he brings to the floor. But it’s the other five rookies Boston has played thus far this season, whose contributions very much will change from one game to the next. In a perfect world, the Celtics will have a sense of which of the team’s first-year players they can count on with some degree of consistency. But when it comes to rookies in this league, that’s unlikely to happen. So in lieu of that, Boston will need different rookies to step up, pretty much every night. In their lone win, Daniel Theis (three rebounds in 10 minutes, 39 seconds) gave them good minutes, as did Guerschon Yabusele (3 points), Abdel Nader (2 rebounds) and Jabari Bird (3 points) whose defense on J.J. Redick was vital to the Celtics getting the victory. You can’t expect them to all play, let alone play well every game. But for Boston to be successful, they’ll need some combination of their first-year players to step up and contribute.
Celtics fans are going to be pleasantly surprised at how having Morris on the floor will help them. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, he provides Boston with some much-needed toughness and versatility on offense due to his ability to score around the rim and from 3-point range. In addition, having a healthy Morris will take some of the pressure off of Boston’s rookies who have the talent to help, but they don’t have the experience or proven track record for contributing on a night-in, night-out basis that Morris brings to the game. It may not manifest itself from Day One, but in time the value in having Morris in the lineup will shine through for the Celtics.
WHO'S NUMBER THREE?
Kyrie Irving is Boston’s number one option and Al Horford, if you look at what he does in terms of scoring and setting up teammates as a facilitator, is the number two guy. But as we’ve seen throughout the league, the elite teams have at least three guys they rely on consistently. So who will that be number three for Boston? The first to come to mind is Jaylen Brown, the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s NBA draft. He came into the season pegged as an integral part of what the Celtics have to do defensively. But with Hayward going down for the season, Brown has taken it upon himself to be more of a scorer and is currently second on the team with a 17.3 points per game average. Rookie Jayson Tatum has to be given some consideration as well. He’s fifth on the team in scoring at 12.3 points per game, and is averaging a team-high nine rebounds per outing. Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are other possible options, although their impact seems to be at its best coming off the bench as high-energy players with the ability to change the game’s momentum in Boston’s favor.