With Gordon Hayward Out, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown Will Be Given Bigger Roles
Five minutes into the season, Gordon Hayward lay on the court in Cleveland, his foot pointing in the wrong direction, while his leg went the other. Some injuries strike us in our guts. The term gut-wrenching is visceral and accurate in these cases. But rather than spend another paragraph on this one horrific injury, let’s focus on this: doctor’s expect a full recovery. The worst case scenario was avoided. Possibly even the medium case scenario. While it felt like the Celtics season was over five minutes into Game 1 of 82, that reaction should be reserved for those that weren’t heavily invested in this team. If the last several months have taught us anything as Celtics fans, its that we should expect the unexpected.
Pre-Hayward injury, these Celtics were built for next year. That fact is tough to swallow for optimists. But those in the know figured it would take 20–30 games for this reinvented lineup to find its flow, especially on defense. Depending on any 19 year-old for defense is a risky proposition. Tatum, Yabusele, Nader, and Semi all need time and repetition before they’ll get the defensive principles needed to rely on. Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and Shane Larkin are vets, but still need time to gel.
While incorporating so many new faces, the depth of the roster was going to take time to develop. The offensive balance of the starting unit had fans salivating. Hayward, Horford and the dynamic Irving are a tantalizing offensive trio. Now what that trio looks like on the court will be delayed one season. Instead, we’ll see even more of Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier. Rather than take Hayward’s 33 minutes and put them in one player’s pocket, Stevens will do what he’s always done over the last three years of roster movement: he’ll learn what he has by giving everyone opportunity and then he’ll reassess every few weeks.
For all the talk about Stevens’ after timeout wizardry, its his staff’s holistic approach to player development that might be his greatest strength. When you read player comments about him, you get the sense that everyone from Jordan Crawford to Evan Turner to Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas, these players believe his awareness of their strengths and pushing them in those directions on the court, while holding them to be aware of their weaknesses, make him a great coach. That, and he’s genuine. No bullshit.
The NBA media have heaped the praise on Stevens, and rightly so, but the issue lies in giving all, or most, credit to the coach instead of seeing the coach as laying out a blueprint, and the player working toward the realization of a shared path toward success. In an ego-driven culture, this egalitarian team ethos is critical to what the Celtics have built. The idea: if each individual becomes their “best version” of themselves on the court, the team will become its best version as well. It follows the “growth mindset” concept and is in line with the San Antonio Spurs philosophy but goes against the culture that develops around young NBA prospects, via AAU, recruitment, and social media. Its also about trust.
So, as Celtics fans, we can either trust that the team will build new bonds, develop new strengths and rise to these new opportunities, or we can lament one horrific injury.
Close losses to two of the East’s best teams, the Cavs and Bucks, showed us a few things: Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart are ready to take big steps forward in their new roles. Terry Rozier’s all around game against the Bucks was inspiring. Giannis was downright unstoppable. He tossed in 37 hyper-efficient points (22 shots) on his opening night.
Marcus Morris would have been better equipped than Tatum, Jaylen and the areay of defenders Boston attempted to use in corralling Giannis. Morris missed parts of preseason dealing with a trial. As he gets into game shape, his progress will be yet another topic on the team radar. Abdel Nader will be a solid perimeter defender, in the Sefolosha mold. If he can add some slashing or shooting stability, he’ll get minutes.
Kyrie is going to be heavily scrutinized, especially in the absence of Hayward. Let’s give him at least ten games before we assess.
Game 1: CLE, 102–99 (L)
Game 2: MIL, 108–100 (L)
Game 3: BOS, 102–92 (W)
Tue, 24th vs. NYK
Thu, 26th @ MIL
Sat, 28th @ MIA
The Heat game stands out. In Miami, against a team that Boston will likely be fighting for seeding with in April.