When Gordon Hayward suffered a right ankle sprain in game one of the first round of the playoffs, it was a tough blow for Boston. They were able to get by the 76ers with ease but had a more challenging time making it past the defending champs. With Hayward’s return likely to happen in the near future, how should this team bring him back into the rotation?
If you asked me this question just a few weeks ago, I would immediately say Hayward should start right away. He’s had his injuries in the past, but he always fits right back into the starting lineup when he returns.
This instance would be no different. Hayward’s been gone for four weeks now, but you could easily throw him back in with the starters and it wouldn’t hurt the team. Whether Marcus Smart starts or comes off the bench, he’s still going to get a large share of minutes and make an impact regardless.
Now I’m starting to think that Marcus Smart should continue to start even when Hayward returns. Yes, it would sound weird that the Celtics have a player making over $30M a year come off the bench, but it would make the most sense for the team at the moment.
The starting five has been working just fine with Smart instead of Hayward. Hayward adds more scoring and playmaking to the starting lineup when he’s out there, but Smart’s defense right out of the gate has been a huge plus for Boston. Having Smart’s defense from the start of the game on is so essential and will continue to be against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Just like I mentioned earlier with Smart, regardless of whether Hayward starts or comes off the bench, he will make an impact. He wouldn’t have to worry about anybody else taking shots from him or anything like that. Gordon would run the bench, play plenty of minutes, and still play alongside the starters throughout the game.
Having Hayward coming off the bench shouldn’t be looked at as a demotion of any sort. Hayward would start if the Celtics desperately needed him to, but the truth is they don’t. He’ll fit in wherever he plays, whether it’s with the starters or off the bench. He’ll still put up his numbers, if not more, with less offensive talent around him on the bench.
Gordon Hayward returning will be a gigantic plus for Boston. They might not have needed him against Philly or Toronto, but they could sure use him against Miami. Having Hayward back helps a ton by adding depth and matching up with Miami’s wings.
It’ll be interesting to see what Brad Stevens does with Gordon Hayward when he makes his return, but in my opinion, he should come off the bench when he does. If Stevens wants to make some lineup adjustments down the line, then that’s fine, but they should continue to roll with the starting lineup they have for now.
Photo: Patrick McDermott | Credit: Getty Images