There is only about a week left until the season opener. The preseason is winding down, and teams are trying to make the final decisions about their lineups before heading into the regular season. The questions that surrounded each team before the season are finally close to being answered.
The Boston Celtics come in this season with major expectations. Their roster is fully healthy, and the East is there for the taking. With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back healthy, the sky is the limit for this team. Compared to many teams in the league, Boston did not shake up their roster much at all over the off season. However, the lineup will look tremendously different than in Game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
There is one question that sticks out for the Celtics, and that is how Brad Stevens will handle the new distribution of minutes now that Gordon Hayward is healthy again this season? It is important to first compare the individual minutes of last season with how many minutes Gordon Hayward averaged in his last few seasons in Utah. In his last three seasons with the Jazz, Hayward averaged 35.0 minutes per game. Using simple one-to-one logic, that means there will be around 30-35 minutes per game that he will take up from last year’s roster. Obviously, it may not be that simple, but this overall premise is the basis for the question.
The first player that will be giving up minutes in Hayward’s return is Aron Baynes. He is the most obvious answer given that his starting spot in the lineup will be taken by Hayward. Stevens will most likely start games with his same versatile lineup from last year’s season opener with Al Horford at center. That means Baynes will have to give up his starting role.
Last season, Baynes started in 67 games averaging 18.3 minutes per game. This number should drop significantly to around 8-10 minutes per game. In a traditional lineup, Baynes should see the floor filling the traditional center role, however, if the team stays healthy, Stevens will look to have the most versatile lineups on the court at all times
It hopefully will not be a difficult transition for Baynes. He had been a reserve for most of his career, and the numbers for him as a starter are not drastically different compared to him coming off the bench. Baynes understands his role on this team, and he will be ready to duplicate last year’s usage whenever the team needs some extra size on the floor.
The second player that could see their minutes go down is Marcus Morris. He is another one of the Celtics last season whose minutes increased due to injuries across the roster. Morris has played the starting role for multiple teams throughout his career, so he got the nod in the starting lineup 21 times out of the 54 games he played in. He averaged 26.8 minutes in those games.
As for this year, again barring health, Morris will find himself having a smaller role on the team coming off the bench consistently once again. However, this does not concern him in the least. His gritty style of play is the perfect shot in the arm the team may need. He brings the energy that gets the crowd going. Marcus Morris will do whatever the team needs to get the win. As he said himself in a tweet to CelticsBlog, “Always mins for a versatile bully!” And he is exactly right, Stevens will give Morris the minutes he needs to contribute to this team. Even as the number may go down from last year, the intensity will still be at the same level no matter what.
The third player who needs to be mentioned is Jaylen Brown. As discussed briefly before, depending on the game Stevens may have to go with his traditional five having Aron Baynes at center. This creates a situation where Brown will be the odd man out. Luckily for the Celtics, he is the type of player that can gel with any lineup as was seen in the playoffs last year. He can be the best player on the floor no matter who is around him.
Brown averaged 30.7 minutes in the 70 games he started in last season. A small dip in minutes should be expected for Brown since he will not be expected to carry the load as much this season. Healthy bodies will be returning which means his role will be decreased slightly. This should not affect his development as a player after he took a huge step forward last year. With Brown, it is important to remember that he will still be in the starting lineups and will still be getting a large work load, but when trying to find players whose minutes may decrease from last year, Jaylen Brown is certainly a candidate.
The main thing to remember is that Brad Stevens is in control. He has had a whole offseason to think about what to do in every situation. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of each player on that roster, and he knows the situations they strive in. It will certainly depend on what point of the game the Celtics are in combined with what lineup the other team throws out. From the small ball five to the traditional five, with Brad Stevens in charge, there should not be too much worry regarding how the minutes will be distributed to please everyone.
All in all, no matter if it is Baynes, Morris, Brown, or someone else not mentioned who loses out minutes to Gordon Hayward’s return, the players understand the situation they are in. When injuries happen, it is the next man up mentality. This happened last year for the roster, and, now with everyone healthy, they will fall back into the role for them. All of this is only something to watch as the season progress in the early months. Even as there could be cause for concern over the minute distribution, this is, in all reality, a great problem to have. It just means the team is deep and loaded with talent that can play big minutes if called upon. Brad Stevens knows this and will use this to take the Celtics far this year. The sky is the limit.