What Losing Kyrie Irving Means For The Celtics Going Forward
The Boston Celtics 2017-18 season has been defined by injuries. Just over five minutes into the season Gordon Hayward, the Celtics’ $30 million man, went down with a gruesome leg injury. At that point, many thought the Celtics’ hopes for contention this season were done but the team answered with a 16-game win streak. With the latest news that Kyrie Irving is done for the season, the Celtics are now down their two best players and their championship hopes for this year are most likely dashed but they could very well be better for it in the long run. Here’s a look at how Irving’s injury can both help and hurt the Celtics going forward.
The Development of Jayson and Jaylen
Before the season started Jayson Tatum, the Celtics’ latest number 3 overall pick, was expected to play a significant role for the team off the bench, likely one less demanding than that usually expected of a top-5 pick. Hayward’s injury changed that, as the 19-year-old Tatum was quickly thrust into Boston’s starting lineup and has flourished as a result of the increased minutes and workload.
Jayson Tatum🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/SiaE0tdAWb
— NBA Inside Stuff (@NBAInside_Stuff) April 9, 2018
At one point Tatum was leading the league in 3-point percentage and even though his percentages fell back to earth as he hit the rookie wall in January in February, he’s been great for the Celtics since Irving went down. Tatum has upped his scoring and assist numbers in March (16.8 ppg, 2.4 apg) and April (14.8 ppg, 2.3 apg).
Jayson Tatum with the oop 👀 pic.twitter.com/ZbdxKEu9Z7
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 11, 2018
Brad Stevens himself said that Tatum has even surpassed his expectations. The increased minutes and playmaking opportunities spawned from Hayward’s and now Irving’s injury have accelerated Tatum’s development and the Celtics will be better for it going forward.
Jaylen Brown is another player who has benefitted from the increased opportunity since Kyrie left the lineup.
Jaylen Brown scored 21 points in the first quarter.
The Wizards scored 22… pic.twitter.com/qFkidPLsVA
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 11, 2018
He’s thrived as Boston’s leading scorer, averaging 17.2 ppg since his return to the lineup from a concussion on March 25th and 20.8 ppg in April. Jaylen’s progression on the offensive end can’t be understated because he’s already a high level, versatile defender who can make plays like this:
Jaylen Brown may have a future in volleyball if this basketball thing doesn't work out. pic.twitter.com/H4a4zW5kP6
— Celtics Network™ (@celticsnetwork) April 8, 2018
After showing flashes of just how special he can be in the playoffs last year, Jaylen will get to show how much he’s grown as a player since then.
Starting this week against the Bucks, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will get their chance to lead a playoff team. That experience alone will be pivotal for their future in the league. There’s nothing like playoff basketball and regardless of how far they can carry the Celtics, this playoff run will make them both even more prepared for the Celtics to make deep playoff runs in the future.
Scary Terry and his future in Boston
Another player who’s thrived this season, both with and without Irving on the floor, is Terry Rozier. Rozier averaged career highs across the board this season with 11.3 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game, and 2.9 assists per game, while shooting 38% from 3.
Terry Rozier, HOLY HANDLES. pic.twitter.com/v9gi8Gy9E0
— NBA Buzz (@OfficialNBABuzz) March 29, 2018
Hes been a true spark plug for the Celtics and stepped up whenever the team has needed it, particularly with Marcus Smart missing a couple long stretches this season. As shown by Kyrie Irving and Isiah Thomas, the point guard is often a focal point in Brad Stevens’ offense and Rozier has filled that role admirably.
Ironically, the emergence of Rozier might actually be bad for the Celtics in the long run. He’s set to hit restricted free agency in 2019 but the Celtics will soon have to pay Marcus Smart, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and Kyrie Irving, who hits free agency in 2020. Rozier has played well enough that teams could view him as a starting point guard in the league.
Rather than watching him walk for nothing in free agency, the Celtics might be compelled to trade him this offseason, especially if he continues to raise his stock with inspiring play in the postseason.
The Celtics have some interesting decisions ahead regarding their guards but ultimately their future is bright. While it may not seem like it now, their injuries have set them up for future success. Opportunities have opened up for the younger players on the roster that otherwise wouldn’t have been there and as a result, Boston will be an even greater threat to raise banner 18 when they’re fully healthy next season.