How does the loss of Gordon Hayward impact the season expectations for rookie forward Jayson Tatum and second-year forward Jaylen Brown? What have we seen so far?
A little over five minutes into the first quarter of the first game of the 2017-18 NBA season, the Boston Celtics’ season trajectory was instantly altered. Gordon Hayward’s gruesome lower leg injury has forced the Celtics to adjust their expectations for the remainder of the season, lowering them to be specific.
The Celtics were projected to contend with the Cleveland Cavaliers at the top of the Eastern Conference to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. Although the Cavaliers were the favorites, the Celtics’ season was being viewed under the lens that they would build a foundation for future title contention by navigating through the first year with the highest expectations since the post-2010 rebuild.
But with the loss of Hayward, comes the forced and accelerated maturation process of rookie forward Jayson Tatum and second-year forward Jaylen Brown. With Hayward done for the season, the minutes and shots lost will need to be redistributed accordingly among the roster to absorb the loss of his production. Although not under ideal circumstances, both Tatum and Brown will shoulder biggers roles and opportunities to contribute the rest of the season through on the job experience out of necessity. Especially with recently-injured guard Marcus Smart (ankles) and Marcus Morris (knee) scheduled to miss time early on.
Head coach Brad Stevens re-focused his players during halftime of the season-opening 102-99 loss to the Cavaliers in which they climbed out of a 16-point halftime deficit to eventually take the lead before surrendering it and the game.
“We are a team that is going to be growing for a while,” said Stevens. “Just merely due to the amount of new guys and the youth we will be playing with. But I think the exciting thing for guys are that they have an opportunity to step up and contribute.”
With the loss of an All-Star in Hayward, Stevens knows adjustments will have to be made across the board, especially with how players have approached the loss of their high-profile free agent.
“They’ve put in a lot of good work,” said Stevens, speaking specifically of Boston’s youngsters. “A lot of those guys have worked out and prepared for their time all the way through, and so I’m excited about where they are. But I’m also not naive enough to not think we have a long way to go.”
Tatum is a more a more naturally polished offensive player than Brown but Brown is a superior all-around defender. Their weaknesses are each other’s strengths. Together they will get additional opportunities to learn from their mistakes in a season where the team’s expectations have lowered but their individual expectations and desired growth and development have risen due to the loss of Hayward.
The silver lining in losing Gordon is that both Tatum and Brown’s growth will take place more rapidly than gradually. In theory, they should be better players next season compared to if Gordon availability for this season was not lost.
Heading into the season, any production the team received from both Brown and Taytum would’ve been an added luxury, a reflection of their growth, but now the pressure is on because its expected for them to produce and contribute.
There will definitely be an adjustment period until the team adjusts to life without Hayward and the adjusted roles for each individual players are ironed out.
Through four games the Celtics stand at 2-2 but there are some takeaways from the short four-game sample size.
In the shooting department, Brown is shooting 36.4 percent (8-for-22) from the 3-point line and 53.8 (7-for-13) percent from the charity stripe with less than one assist per game at 0.8. Known more as a cutter and slasher any added shooting and play-making he provides will be essential in Steven’s motion offense.
Taytum, on the other hand, is shooting a blistering 45.5 percent (5-for-11) from beyond the arc 3-points made and is skinking free throws at 82.4 percent (14-for-17). Although, his playmaking numbers are also not encouraging as he is averaging 1.8 assists per game.
Both players are averaging over 34 minutes per game four games into the season, just behind Kyrie Irving. The most eyebrow-raising stat is that they both only have 11 assists between the both of them. Like I said before, it is a very limited and very small sample size but the year-long trial by fire will be very interesting and entertaining. There will be ups and downs, positives and negatives, steps taken forward and backward but that is expected from the two kids.