While the Celtics publicly gave Gordon Hayward a timetable of six weeks to return to the floor after surgery on his fractured left hand Nov. 9, the team understandably revealed the longer side of a possible recovery range. The swingman has experienced no setbacks with his recovery to date and is on the verge of going through a full-contact practice on Sunday with his teammates just four weeks into the recovery.
One team source told BostonSportsJournal.com that Hayward could be back in action as soon as this week depending on how well his hand responds to contact in practice. Whether the eventual return comes this week or next, the C’s have admirably fought without him, going 9-4 over the past 13 games.
“Our guys have done a good job thus far during that stretch,” Brad Stevens said Friday night. “That’s what good teams do. When guys are out, Kemba was out the one night, Marcus was out the other night against a good team, you just find a way to win. Gordon’s out, other guys have to step up.”
With Hayward back, the challenge (on paper) is finding the best way to bring him back into the fold with minimal disruption. However, concerns about his ability to fit in alongside a trio of streaking Celtics in Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and Jayson Tatum should not be much of an issue based on how that group fared before Hayward’s injury and the fact the offense has dropped off without Hayward in the mix. While various injuries/illnesses limited their time together as starters to just five games together before Hayward went down, the results those four had while sharing the floor together were incredibly promising.
64 minutes of Hayward/Walker/Tatum/Brown
Offensive rating: 116.8 points per 100 possessions (1st among Celtic lineups with 50+ minutes)
Defensive rating: 92.8 points per 100 possessions
Net rating: +24.0 (1st among Celtic lineups with +50 minutes)
There will be some time needed for Hayward to shake off the rust obviously and find his spots but his return is a far cry from his situation last season.
“I think you're always getting used to each other again, but it hasn’t been that long,” Stevens said of Hayward's absence. “So I’m not really worried about it. At the end of the day, the best version of ourselves includes all those guys, and we all know it, and our chance against the very very best to go as late as you want to go includes all those guys. So we got a long way to the end of the season. When he does get back, we’ll reintegrate him and we’ll just keep trying to get everybody to play their best basketball and make the right play. That’s been the theme the whole year, just make the right play. Everything will take care of itself.”
The truth is, not much about the starters’ roles will change when Hayward comes back. Everyone will be playing roughly the same number of minutes in the starting five, so it’s the second unit that will see their playing time slashed to some degree. There was plenty of mixing and matching early in the year as Stevens went 11 and 12 deep often, even when Hayward was active. That should change now that more roles have been established up and down the bench. A peek on how the rotation will shake itself out now when it comes to playing time.