During Boston’s two-game visit in New York, we’ve heard rumblings of Gordon Hayward’s impending return to the lineup. On Friday, Hayward even suggested being “ahead of schedule.” Three weeks ago, he left a November 9th game in San Antonio with a broken hand and after successful surgery, the team announced a six-week recovery timetable. He’s traveled with the team on this mini-road trip and Stevens said, “they just did a bunch of up-and-down where basically (they ran) 5-on-0 stuff, so that’s good.” On Monday, he’ll talk to doctors assessing his next steps.
In his absence, the Celtics have sputtered of late and have salvaged a 6-4 record, with three players stepping up in particular: Brad Wanamaker, Semi Ojeleye, and Enes Kanter.
Over the last ten games, Wanamaker boasts the highest assist ratio at 27.5. Basically, that means that in 27.5% of Brad’s possessions end in an assist. He’s dished out 36 of them; that’s third only to Marcus Smart (53) and Kemba Walker (44). The 6’3 Wanamaker is not the probing playmaker that the 6’7 Hayward is nor is he a breathtaking passer, but like Hayward, makes the right basketball play more times than not.
Hayward and Wanamaker are both disciplined scorers, too. They’re judicious with their shot attempts, only taking looks that are in their wheelhouse. Wanamaker won’t overwhelm with his speed or size, but Philly Bull knows how to use his body in and around the paint. In considerably less playing time, he’s racked up the third most free throw attempts on the team, more than point guards Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart. He’s a 90% free throw shooter this season. All things considered, Wanamaker has been the best proxy for Hayward. However, other teammates have also filled in admirably.
Coming into the season, Semi Ojeleye approached his third season in the league as a breakout year. Before Hayward’s injury, most of his playing time were match up specific, only seeing the floor against Giannis Antetokounmpo or the New York Knicks front court. However, since November 9th in San Antonio, Ojeleye has been gaining confidence.
There are the little things. Before Hayward got hurt, Ojeleye had not hit a three-pointer this season. He was a 3&D guy without the 3. Since, he’s gone 8-for-18 and looked more comfortable from behind the arc. However, Ojeleye’s calling card will always be his defense and while the Celtics haven’t exactly faced bigger wing players that would warrant his services, Semi has held his own. In two games against the Kings including one he started in place of Kemba Walker, he held Sacramento’s trio of wing players Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nemanja Bjelica, and Harrison Barnes to a combined two points in over ten minutes of head-to-head match ups.
There’s also Hayward’s former teammate in Utah: Enes Kanter. Kanter doesn’t exactly play Hayward’s position or fill his role on either end of the floor, but he’s had as positive an effect on the team’s success as Hayward did before his injury. Over the last ten games, he leads the Celtics in total plus/minus at +63 in just 163 minutes.
On Friday afternoon, Brad Stevens pulled Daniel Theis less than a minute into the second half in favor of Kanter in order to shake things up and see different combinations in the rotation. Since returning from his knee injury, Kanter’s started to round into form. He’s been terrific on the offensive glass, but he’s also shown a knack of creating above the break. What Kanter lacks on the defensive end guarding pick-and-rolls, he makes up for on offense as a screen setter and roll man. CelticsBlog’s Greg Brueck-Cassoli has embraced the Enes Kanter Experience:
Living with Kanter’s defensive warts can be anxiety inducing, and at times, damning from a competitive context, but somewhat lost in the endless cycle of breakdowns are a set of discrete, positive skills. He’s a massive body and a tireless worker who applies all sorts of pressure on opposing defenses, both from a tactical perspective and in a literal physical sense.
As good as Wanamaker, Ojeleye, and Kanter have been, they’ve only accentuated just how good Hayward was at the beginning of the season and how important he’ll be moving forward. The player patchwork have no doubt kept the Celtics afloat and their blossoming developments will give Stevens more options in January, February, and March. Boston now has a reliable third PG off the bench, a utility defender that’s found his offensive groove, and a wild card big man who can give them 15 and 10 on any given night. But when Old G comes back, the Celtics will have that all in one player.