Gruesome. Horrific. Shocking. Sickening. These were all adjectives used to describe the scene less than six minutes into the NBA season. As fast as Gordon Hayward was introduced to the Celtic faithful for our first game, he was unfathomably taken away from us. Thankfully he had successful surgery and is expected to make a full recovery. He will almost surely miss his entire first season as a Celtic. The team is now scrambling trying to find ways to make up for the loss.
Losing a player of Hayward’s caliber is like hitting the reset button. This is a button that is not supposed to be hit after a month of training camp, especially when you are actually ready to put it on the floor. The offense will be different without him, so these first few games were almost like a new preseason for the team. Let’s take a look at how the paradigm of this season has shifted since opening night.
KYRIE FOR MVP?
I’m not saying he’s going to win MVP this season, but if he’s not at least in the discussion, as IT was last year, we are not going to be a great team. Obviously Danny Ainge and the Celtics value Kyrie higher than Isaiah. This was shown by how much extra they gave up in addition to him. He was already going to be the man in Boston, but with Hayward out, he has now become THE MAN. When asked if there was a question of whether he took some poor shots after shooting 7-25 in game two, he simply responded “Gotta get ’em up.” He will continue to get a ton of shots up all season. Kyrie needs to improve his looks to improve his percentages.
What is more important though, is getting his teammates involved. He is starting alongside young guys in Jayson Tatum (19), and Jaylen Brown (20), and they will need some help from their point guard in finding their spots. Irving was shook up pretty bad from the injury, and still didn’t seem right the next day. After getting some much needed down time, he should settle in and just play ball.
YOUNG AND YOUNGER
Jaylen Brown looks ready to go in a starting role this season. He is getting the minutes he needs to improve, averaging 34.9 through three games. He worked strenuously this off season. If posting a career high with 25 points in the season opener was any indication, he has already vastly improved since last year ended. He had a game-high 40 minutes in the contest.
Through three games, Jayson Tatum has averaged 35.3mpg, 12.3ppg and 9rpg. He recorded a double double in his first NBA game, something that hasn’t been done by a Celtic since Larry Bird. You could see his confidence grow from the first half to the second in the opener, and even further into the second and third games. Perhaps more startling was seeing him in at the end of the game in all contests. If he continues to start and see heavy minutes, his confidence will continue to grow. With the intangibles and skill set as elite as Tatum’s, only confidence could hold him back. Brad Stevens will make sure that doesn’t happen.
A lot of this is because of injuries, even beyond Hayward; both Brown’s and Tatum’s minutes figure to take a hit when Marcus Morris returns. Marcus Smart missed the third game with an ankle injury. Regardless, these guys should continue to see extensive playing time. This is pivotal for the development of young players with as much potential as both have displayed.
PUT ME IN, COACH!
Here is a chart showing some statistics for all 10 All-Star starters from last season during their respective rookie campaigns.
The trend here is minutes. These guys simply need court time to improve and be successful. The best players, outside of the top two or three in the league, didn’t dominate in their rookie seasons. Rather, they received heavy minutes, made mistakes, and were better equipped to dominate in the years to come. It’s all about the coach entrusting the player to work through the bad times on the court. Taking them out is not going to allow them to learn from their mistakes, and will only hurt confidence. Brad Stevens will trust the young players on this team, something that will instill a superior confidence in them.
Jimmy Butler is an interesting case. He hardly played at all in his rookie season, but shot up to 26mpg in his second year. He averaged 13.1ppg in his third year behind 38.7mpg, receiving the minutes he needed to come back in his fourth year as an elite talent. Butler made his first all-star game that year behind 20ppg. Our friend Gordon Hayward followed a similar path. He received just 16.9mpg his rookie year, but jumped to 30.5 in his 2nd year. He has improved on his ppg average every season of his seven-year NBA career.
The Celtics have had as bad a start to the season as seems humanly possible, losing one of their best players tragically, and subsequently their first two games. Having a back-to-back was rough given the situation. Stevens has had to adjust drastically, literally on the fly, from one city to the next. Not to mention his emotional ties to the situation. Losing a star player for the season is always a tough pill to swallow, especially in such an awful manner. Put this on top of that player being someone you’ve been close to for almost a decade, and you might need a day off.
WE’RE GOING TO BE ALRIGHT
The future looks promising with the young talent of this team, most namely Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. With the Hayward injury, they are now going to be leaned on a lot earlier than anyone expected. It is going to be a learning process, but it is now on the fast track. Ramping up their development should actually prove to be a priceless advantage for the C’s in the future. By the time Hayward comes back, the young players will be much better equipped to contribute to a championship-caliber team.
Getting the first win of the season was huge for this team. The three-day break immediately following is another blessing. They now have the time to take a deep breath, recollect themselves, and game plan for life without Gordon this season. Doing this after a win should infuse some positivity back into this group while they figure it out. They’ve got a big game coming up this week against the Bucks, which you can read about here. This team needs some positives right now, and they are slowly starting to show themselves in the wake of Gordon’s injury. Get better G, and best wishes to you and your family!