The Boston Celtics will need other players to step up as Gordon Hayward works to regain his pre-injury form. Here are the players who can take some of the heat off Hayward so he can recover at his own pace.
In four preseason games, it became quite clear that Gordon Hayward is not as far along in his recovery as he may have hoped. Hayward’s second surgery, an unanticipated procedure to remove the hardware in his surgically-repaired left ankle, set his recovery plan back weeks.
According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Hayward did not start playing one-on-one until August 28th and he didn’t start playing full court five-on-five until early September. With the preseason opener on September 28th, Hayward can hardly be blamed for not looking his pre-injury All-Star self.
As Hayward detailed in his new video documentary The Return, on The Athletic (subscription required), the recovery has challenged him both mentally and physically.
Most players had all summer to hone their skills and and condition themselves for training camp–Hayward had a few weeks. When he played extended consecutive minutes towards the end of the first half of the first game against Cleveland, Hayward simply ran out of gas. There were a couple defensive plays from Hayward where Celtics coach Brad Stevens probably had to remind himself, ‘he’s not being lazy, he’s just tired’.
A week or more of training camp for Hayward without any games will help him hone those old instincts, but its reasonable to expect that the former All-Star will have to play himself into true game shape beginning on October 16th. Both the speed of play in an NBA regular season game and the speed of the mental processing required to compete at a high level in said game, cannot be simulated fully in a practice or exhibition game.
For Hayward, certain moves or actions will be done for the first time after surgery in games with real significance. Hayward’s abbreviated summer recovery has given his early-season play a steeper learning curve.
At times, he will struggle and we as fans will wonder when he’ll be back.
But Boston has plenty of reinforcements to call on if and when Hayward needs help. Who can the Celtics count on to step up while Hayward eases himself back into the deep end?