Just over two months ago expectations for the Celtics’ were sky-high. A hugely productive off-season that brought Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to Boston also brought massive expectations. The Garden was loud on opening night. But just a few minutes into the game, Gordon Hayward came crashing down and so did the Celtics. We were done. There goes our pick. We lost the game. Our team is lost. For Celtics fans, that was a dark day. But now, the Celtics boast a league leading 19 wins with only 4 losses. So that begs the question: would the Celtics be better than with Gordon Hayward on the court?
Jayson Tatum is the primary beneficiary of Hayward’s vacated minutes. According to teamrankings.com, he is playing 30 minutes a game, averaging 13.74 PPG, 5.26RPG and 1.48APG. Among a great rookie class, Tatum is keeping pace and making a bid for rookie of the year. That said, Hayward is still a better player. Last year he played 35 minutes again averaging 21.9 PPG, 5.4RPG and 3.5APG. That was with the turtle paced Utah Jazz. Sure, there would be an adjustment period with the Celtics, and Tatum shows ton of promise. However I’d still pick Hayward scoring and facilitation.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
This year, the Celtics are only 19th in the league in scoring, but are #4 in margin of victory. Thanks in large part to their defense. They have only allowed 96.8 opponent points per game this year, which is #1 in the league. The Celtics still struggle to get points in the paint, but I don’t think having or not having Hayward makes a difference there. Even though the Celtics’ defense is top 5 in the league during the first half, the offense sputters. They are ranked #23 in the first quarter and #27 in the second quarter respectively (teamrankings.com). If Hayward was starting, we would see the second unit’s offense run through Tatum. We’d likely see Tatum’s efficiency rise when playing against the competition’s 6, 7 and 8th men. This is where we miss Hayward the most. Because what would be our second unit’s core of Tatum, Brown and Marcus Smart, now go up against starters, we don’t get to see them wreak havoc against others teams’ benches.
In summary, the Celtics would be a better team with Hayward – even with a current record that is just about impossible to beat. That said, getting guys like Jaylen Brown, Jason Tatum, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye and Jabari Bird get minutes – on a winning team is priceless for our future. Typically, it’s either lots of development minutes on a losing team or playing garbage time for a contender. These Celtics’ players are getting better and learning how to win at the same time – that’s special. When Hayward comes back, this team will be deep, experienced and have real world knowledge of how to win.