Irving and Hayward Are Finally Healthy. How Does That Affect Rest of the Celtics?
The Boston Celtics came within a game of the NBA Finals last year, all while their two best players watched helplessly from the sideline. Both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward suffered major injuries during the 2017-18 season, and are finally set to return to action.
Without a doubt this is huge, wonderful news for the Celtics. The team is welcoming back two big time All-Stars. For a club with promising youngsters and a wealth of depth, however, it will be a tricky calculus for head coach Brad Stevens as he builds line-ups and roles. Let’s explore all the ramifications a bit more closely:
Welcoming back Kyrie
Before he was shelved with precautionary knee-surgery last year, Kyrie Irving was having himself one hell of a year. He posted 24.4 points per game on career-high marks from the field and from deep. His trademark insta-offense was sharp, reliable, and deadly.
Adding him back into the mix will immediately benefit Jayson Tatum and Al Horford, two of the club’s preeminent scoring threats. They and their teammates will enjoy better looks and lowered responsibility so long as Kyrie is healthy. Tatum isn’t quite ready to be the offensive centerpiece, and the rest of the Celtics work much better as complimentary scorers. Kyrie is an important and welcome nucleus.
For Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart, however, Irving’s return is a bit of a problem. Stevens’ lineups depend on positional flexibility, and few players exemplify this like Smart. But still, he and Rozier will inevitably see a reduced role with Kyrie back. Smart will find ways to be useful, I’m less worried about him.
Rozier seems to thrive with opportunity; this could be a problem, especially as his celebrity burns brighter by the day. He showed in the postseason that he can serve as a starting point guard in the NBA.
At the same time, Rozier is Boston’s insurance heading into Kyrie’s impending free agency this summer. The C’s will need to keep the Louisville product content and productive. (President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge could also move Rozier as he no doubt eyes an Anthony Davis trade, but that’s for another post.)
Before Irving went down, the Celtics won 68.1 percent of their games, posting the third best net rating in the Association. We sort of know what we’re getting with Kyrie at the helm of this Celtics team.
But then again…
Welcoming back Hayward
It’s easy enough to insert Kyrie back into the fold, at least on paper anyway. Again, it’s sort of a known commodity. Because Gordon Hayward missed all of last season, though, it’s hard to know for sure what this Celtics team actually looks like.
The Celtics have the potential to be exceptionally good next season, with perhaps the best starting line-up outside of Oakland, CA. First things first, the casual fan probably underestimates just how good Hayward really is. Here’s what Al Horford had to say about Hair Gordon just last week:
“People have some idea, but I don’t think they realize how good Gordon really is. He can do so many things on the floor. He just does it all. I think he’s going to really open the game up & make people better.”
Jaylen Brown will be directly affected by Hayward’s return. Brown will find himself coming off the bench some games, because I do believe Brad Stevens will opt for a more traditional frontcourt against certain opponents. That said, he should have an opportunity to make an impact regardless.
The person most impacted will actually be Marcus Morris. Though he served admirably on the appropriately named “Hospital Celtics” last season, a fully-healthy squad will force Morris to be the ninth or even tenth man off the bench. That’s certainly something to keep an eye on as the season unfolds.
A good problem to have
If last season is any indication, Boston has maybe nine players that could comfortably start for a good team in the NBA. Its roster is going to be impressive, its attack simply relentless.
Boston is functionally adding two All-Stars to an Eastern Conference Finalist, which all told, is pretty bananas. There will be bumps in the road, and immense scrutiny on any perceived tension, principally among the likes of Rozier and Brown.
If there’s one coach up to the task, however, it’s Brad Stevens. It’s a tough problem to have, but certainly a bigger one for the rest of the East.