It’s been nearly four weeks since Celtics forward Gordon Hayward suffered a broken hand in San Antonio and, in all, things have not gone too badly for Boston since. They were 7-1 at the time of the injury and have gone 8-4 since. That includes a 2-3 Western Conference trip in which the three losses were by a total of eight points.
In Hayward’s absence, forward Jaylen Brown has thrived, averaging 20.3 points and 7.4 rebounds on 48.9 percent shooting and 39.1 percent shooting from the 3-point line. Guard Brad Wanamaker, too, has thrived, averaging 10.0 points on 50.7 percent shooting with Hayward out.
Hayward, though, could be close to coming back earlier than expected. The original prognosis on recovery time for his hand was four-to-six weeks, which would have put him back somewhere around this weekend at the earliest and the 22nd of December at the latest.
But Hayward has been participating in non-contact aspects of Celtics practices and because it is a hand injury, he has been able to maintain his conditioning.
“I mean, it’s hard to say with these things exactly what the timeline is,” Hayward told reporters last week. “But like I said, I feel good, and most importantly I’ve been able to continue with my leg work and stuff like that, so that’s really important.”
Those around the team are teasing an early return for Hayward, though it’s unlikely that he could be back on the court before this weekend, with the Celtics slated to play Miami on Wednesday followed by an off day Thursday.
That means Denver on Friday would be the earliest possible return for Hayward. After that, the team is off until Monday against Cleveland and if Hayward played against the Cavs, he’d have been out more than four weeks.
A more likely early return date would be next Thursday, December 12, at home against the Sixers, the team that dealt Boston its only bad loss of the season, back on Opening Night. That would have Hayward back in the lineup just short of five weeks after the injury.
But because of a quirk in the schedule, after that game against Philadelphia, the Celtics don’t play until December 18 in Dallas. That’s a full five days off. The very cautious approach for the Celtics, even if they want to get Hayward back early, would be to allow him to heal as much as possible, wait for that five-day break and have him come back against the Mavs. That’s still a few days ahead of the six-week mark.
Boston Celtics Projected Starting Lineup
C– Daniel Theis
PF– Jayson Tatum
SF– Gordon Hayward
SG– Jaylen Brown
PG– Kemba Walker
That would leave Celtics coach Brad Stevens an issue with which he has become familiar in recent years—a crowd on the wing, where Hayward, Brown and Jayson Tatum all need minutes and shot attempts. That’ll take some sorting out, though the Celtics’ hot start offered Stevens some confidence that the Celtics could win with all three in the lineup together.
Because Brown also had an early-season injury, the Celtics only played five games with the Hayward-Brown-Tatum combo but had enormous success with it thus far. In 69 minutes, a very small sample size, the Celtics’ offense averaged 119.7 points per 100 possessions and, defensively, allowed 92.6. That’s an impressive net rating of 27.2 points.
The player most immediately affected figures to be Marcus Smart, who has started 14 games with the injuries to Brown and Hayward. Smart’s net rating has been 5.7 as a starter but only 2.0 as a reserve. He’s struggled with his shot all year, making only 37.7 percent from the field.
Boston Celtics Roster for the 2019-20 NBA Season
Here is a look at the current Celtics roster and depth chart, with a healthy Gordon Hayward.
C–Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, Robert Williams, Vincent Poirier, Tacko Fall (two-way, injured)
PF– Gordon Hayward, Grant Williams
SF– Jayson Tatum, Semi Ojeleye
SG–Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Carsen Edwards, Javonte Green, Romeo Langford (injured)
PG– Kemba Walker, Brad Wanamaker, Tremont Waters (two-way)