Boston Celtics: What’s the goal for 2017-18 without Gordon Hayward?

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images /

After the long-awaited debut of NBA basketball, Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome ankle injury that tainted the night. Hayward will be out for an extended period, so what are the new goals for the Boston Celtics in 2017-18?

Let me start this off by saying, as bad as Gordon Hayward’s injury looked, and as horribly disappointing as it was for him and the Boston Celtics, a dislocated ankle and fractured tibia is actually a (relatively) great diagnosis. If that was the severity of the injury, and there were no ruptured tendons or ligament damage, Hayward will hopefully be able to return this season.

If he does get ruled out for the season though, it gives the younger players a chance to increase their roles, and hopefully making the jump into a starters’ workload.

The Celtics’ personnel has changed, but the goal must stay the same. They proved they cannot just get figuratively run over (LeBron James literally ran over them a few times), and their athleticism and youth will be their new foundation. Until Hayward’s return, the goals of seeing the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals should stay the same, but the path has already changed.

Make the playoffs

The Celtics need to make the playoffs. Without Gordon Hayward this will be tough, but compared to the other Eastern Conference teams, they still have one of the more talented rosters. Players like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will be forced into tough situations, but it will give their development a serious boost. Before diving into analysis, here’s why a playoff run is absolutely necessary.

By trading more than half the team, the Celtics committed to a new direction led by Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, with Brown and Tatum as the up-and-coming stars. By doing this, they are clearly making a push for a deeper playoff run while establishing themselves as a team of the future. If one player getting hurt jeopardizes your whole season…that’s just not good.

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Hayward going down makes the job more difficult, but the team’s mindset cannot sway from the vision of a Cavaliers-Celtics Eastern Conference Finals matchup.

The Celtics put up a terrific fight against a team no one thought they would beat after losing Hayward. The only problem is the bar the Celtics may have set for themselves in the eyes of fans. Jaylen Brown scoring 25 points came as a shock, but after shooting 23 times, it makes sense.

The Celtics will be distributing the ball, looking for a streaky shooter who just happens to be on that night. More times than not, that player will be Irving, Brown, Tatum or Smart. This might be worrisome from fans and yes, the bricks will pile up, but there is a bright side. Scientifically, these players taking a high-volume number a shot on a nightly basis will slowly turn them into better shooters.

So yes, the Celtics lost Gordon Hayward, but it also opened the door for a multitude of players to show exactly what they can do given the spotlight. The Celtics will hopefully have Hayward back in the future, but if someone can fill his shoes before his return, it will only make the team that much more threatening come postseason.

Developing the young guys

The Celtics decided to run a very small lineup for most the game and nearly stole an opening night victory. While I hate to keep pounding the fact that Hayward helps the development of this team, it is the lone silver lining that will help Boston in the long-run. The young stars showed plenty of promise last night and Celtics fans should not be worried about the Hayward injury ruining the season. It will clearly affect it, but Boston can potentially fill that gap in the meantime if he’s able to return at a later date.

Terry Rozier, Brown and Tatum all proved to be effective in their roles, and the Celtics looked comfortable adhering to that. Especially late in the game, they still managed to look composed. This is where development is the most important. The quicker Brown, Tatum and Rozier are exposed to intense late-game situations, the sooner they will start to flourish in those situations. Last night the ball fell into Kyrie’s hands and he came up less than a foot short.

Boston Celtics
Boston Celtics /

Boston Celtics

The Celtics will not be nearly as threatening without Hayward and the scoring is going to depend on trends. Whoever is shooting well that night, expect them to be shooting around 15-20 times that game.

Jaylen Brown scored 25 points on 23 shots, but was relatively efficient in making 11 of them, mostly delivering on layups and a mass of uncontested jump shots. He’ll need to improve that 3-point stroke, as he went 2-for-9 from downtown in the season opener.

As for Tatum, he looked composed on the court with 14 points and 10 rebounds, but like Brown, is still working on finding that consistent outside shot (1-for-2 against Cleveland). His length will help him generate offense, but the quicker he can create space for himself and teammates, the more impact he will have on the court.

The Celtics’ offense will now be wholly dependent on Kyrie Irving doing most of the scoring, but defensively is where the Hayward injury hurts the most.  Hayward added consistency on that end and now both Brown and Tatum will be thrust into very difficult situations.

Both are prone to being out-muscled by bigger players and tend to fall for ball fakes and drawing fouls. They will learn as the season goes on and they faced one of their toughest matchups last night, but it doesn’t change their importance to the Celtics’ success.

Next: 2017-18 NBA season previews, predictions and power rankings

If the Celtics want to develop their youth, they need to start on defense. Brown has owned up to the challenge on multiple occasions and Tatum is next in line. Teams will target young players due to their inexperience, but smart, team defense is going to minimize that weakness. The focus now will be on who will do the scoring, but the focus should be on how the Celtics can create offense with their defense.