Before the NBA season was suspended due to coronavirus, the Celtics projected starting five (Kemba/Brown/Hayward/Tatum/Theis) started just 16 games together over 64 regular-season contests. Outside of Daniel Theis and Jayson Tatum, every single member of the starting five was down for a substantial stretch of the season at one point, or in the case of Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker, multiple occasions.
For a team that featured such a top-heavy rotation with the vast majority of its firepower among its top six players, particularly in the latter months of the season, it was a minor miracle the Celtics managed to put together a 43-21 record despite the constant injuries. However, as a lengthy NBA hiatus appeared poised to last well until the summer at the minimum, Hayward highlighted the only real positive the Celtics can take from what will amount to close to a full offseason if play is cleared to resume: A presumed clean bill of health for the entire roster.
“I think that’s one positive from this whole thing is that everyone’s been able to recover,” Hayward said. “I mean, we haven’t been able to do much so hopefully everyone will be healthy whenever and if ever we get back this year. The only issue is we haven’t been able to do treatment. So it’s really just time that’s been healing everything, which is like I said a good thing. But sometimes you need a bit of treatment too. But certainly, I think this has been good for everybody’s body.”
Outside of the Philadelphia 76ers (Ben Simmons was out indefinitely due to a back injury), there is perhaps no team in the NBA that could get a bigger boost than Boston if the season resumes from an extended layoff. The physical issues involving their current roster were lengthy when play was halted, even if many of those players were continuing to perform despite injuries.
Kemba Walker: The All-Star point guard was dealing with a sore left knee for the majority of this season that had caused a dramatic drop-off in his offensive play for much of February and March. On the heels of an incredibly long season that included months of play at the FIBA World Cup, a few months of rest to get Walker’s knee back closer to 100 percent could be a critical development for when play resumes.
“The knee is doing well,” Walker said last week of his recovery. “It’s difficult because I don’t have anyone around to get me some treatment or anything like that, so I have to do my own stuff, which I’m trying my best to do as much as possible. Still trying to stay on top of things, so at this point it’s all about discipline.”
Enes Kanter: Like Walker, Kanter was not the same player for the Celtics in February and March after suffering a bruised hip injury that forced him to miss two weeks. The big man did his best to play through the pain but it was evident his physical mobility and effectiveness were nowhere close to what we’d seen in December and January when he regularly posted double-doubles off Boston’s bench. Kanter played under 10 minutes in five of his last ten games and averaged just over 4 points per game in February/March, a far cry from what the C’s are looking for from an offensive-minded player. While physical fitness will undoubtedly be an issue for everyone when they return from such a lengthy layoff, Kanter will presumably be fully recovered from his hip injury, which should allow himself to play himself into shape at 100 percent health.
Gordon Hayward: The veteran swingman had carried one of the heaviest minutes load of his career (career-high 36.8 minutes per game in February) despite dealing with a sore foot that sidelined him for a couple weeks in December.
Jaylen Brown: The swingman had missed three straight games with a strained hamstring in March prior to the stoppage and was on pace to play a career-high 34 minutes per game.
Robert Williams: Was just cleared to resume to play after several months of recovering from a hip edema. A few more months of rest should only help with that recovery process.
The bigger question now with the whole team likely to benefit from a clean bill of health is exactly how much time will be needed for everyone to return to form after spending months without getting shots up. Hayward was poised that very question on Friday.