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Hayward’s absence will test wing depth

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The strength of the Celtics has been their depth. The youth in the second unit will now get tested.

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

After Gordon Hayward went down with a fractured left hand in Boston’s 135-115 win in San Antonio, Jaylen Brown said:

“I think we’ve got a lot of good guys in this locker room that have the right mentality and put in the work,” Brown said. “So, I think we’ll be fine. I think guys will be ready to go. Of course, not having ‘G’ out there is going to hurt us a little bit, but we’ve got to be ready to step up and make plays.”

What makes the Celtics starting lineup so unique are its three wing players. Per NBAwowy.com, Hayward, Brown, and Jayson Tatum have shared the floor together for 60 minutes this season to exceptional results. The trio is averaging an offensive rating of 119.5 and are stingy on defense at 94.3 points per 100 possessions. Take one of them away and the Celtics are nearly just as good. Because he missed so many games, Brown’s numbers paired with either Hayward or Tatum are small samples and somewhat inconclusive, but Hayward and Tatum have impressively played together without Brown for 94 minutes to a 120.6 OffRtg and 100.5 DefRtg.

What makes those three players unique is their versatility on the offensive end and ability to defend multiple positions. All three have comfortably cycled through traditional roles of “shooting guard,” “small forward,” and “power forward” and played more as a lethal trident rather than wing logjam. With Hayward out for multiple weeks, Brad Stevens could try and replicate the team’s attack on both ends of the floor by digging deep into Boston’s bench.

Orlando Magic Vs Boston Celtics At TD Garden Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

There’s promising potential to soak up Hayward’s 32 minutes a game. Semi Ojeleye has already been called upon in situational match ups. With size issues against the Knicks, he played 15+ minutes in each game against New York. He played a season-high 20 minutes vs. the Bucks in what has become an expected head-to-head with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Last year and this summer, Stevens has praised Ojeleye’s work ethic and development, but it just hasn’t translated on the floor yet. The 3-and-D specialist hasn’t made a three this season--he’s a career 32.1% from behind the arc--and he’s shown little improvement in getting to the rim.

What could excite fans is the prospect of a pair of rookies cracking the rotation: Romeo Langford and Javonte Green. Both have shown that they can be effective on both ends of the floor and have the requisite athleticism to hang tough in the new perimeter-oriented NBA. Langford has battle injuries since being drafted #14 back in June, whether it was the thumb injury he suffered at Indiana or the groin tweak and knee sprain that hampered him in training camp. However, in first game for the Maine Red Claws, the 20-year-old rookie looked advanced in his G-League debut.

Langford scored an effortless 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting and blocked six shots (three more than Tacko Fall). Langford was recently recalled from Maine.

The leader in the clubhouse right now might be Javonte Green. Green came to the Celtics as a Summer League invite. His performance in Vegas earned him a training camp slot that he parlayed into a 15th man roster spot. The 26-year-old has played four seasons abroad before getting a chance in the NBA and when he’s got a chance, he’s made the best of his playing time. In Boston’s last two blowout wins in Charlotte and San Antonio, he’s looked aggressive attacking the paint and making things happen.