By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With the Celtics struggling their way to a 7-6 start to the season, many have wondered if Brad Stevens would shake things up in his starting five.
The Boston head coach said he’s considering lineup changes, and one of his starters has even offered to come off the bench if it helps the team get out of their funk. That starter is Gordon Hayward.
Hayward has gotten off to a slow start this season, which was to be expected considering he missed all but five minutes of last season as he recovered from that devastating ankle injury on opening night in Cleveland. But this is a much slower start than most anticipated, with Boston’s free agent prize of last summer averaging just 9.9 points per game off 39.6 percent shooting in his 12 games so far this season.
As he works to return to form, Hayward said he’s willing to start games on the bench if that is what’s best for the team.
“For me, I’m happy to be on the court, No. 1, more than anything. And, No. 2, whatever I can do to help us win,” Hayward said ahead of Boston’s practice on Tuesday.
Like most of his Celtics teammates, many of Hayward’s open looks aren’t falling. Boston is averaging a league-high 29 open looks per game, but they’re hitting just 38 percent of them. That isn’t going to win many games in the NBA.
But as an eight-year NBA veteran, Hayward knows that fortune could change in a hurry.
“There’s obviously a little bit of rust and sometimes you just go through those phases. You go through slumps. The shot feels good in practice and looks good and for whatever reason in the game, they’re in and out,” he said. “Sometimes it gets frustrating, but for me, I’ve played in the league long enough to know you just have to put in the work in practice and shoot with confidence, shoot your way out of it.”
Though the shots aren’t falling, Hayward has looked much more comfortable as a playmaker in the Boston offense as of late, dishing out 24 assists in his last six games. Improved ball movement is a big piece to solving Boston’s offensive woes, with the Celtics not displaying the same chemistry that carried them through last year without the services of Hayward and, at the end of the season, Kyrie Irving.
It also doesn’t help that Boston has constantly found themselves behind in games. They consistently fell behind early during their 1-4 road trip last week, finding themselves in a handful of 20-point holes. Hayward believes those slow starts were because the product of Boston’s lack of energy to start games.
“I think we just have to go into games and play with more energy, I guess. Somehow we seem to find it when we’re down big,” he said. “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is.”
Perhaps a change in the starting five will give Boston the jump start they need. But while Hayward is willing to come off the bench, that may not be what Stevens is running through his computerized brain. Hayward started the season on a minutes restriction, limited to 25 minutes per game, but those days appear to be over as he saw 31 minutes of action in Sunday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. It would make sense to send Hayward to the bench if the ankle was acting up, but that hasn’t been the case.
That could mean guard Jaylen Brown, averaging 11.3 points on just 36 percent shooting, is relegated to the bench if Stevens goes with a change. That would allow either big man Aron Baynes or the fiery Marcus Smart to slide into the starting lineup, in hopes of giving the team a little more energy from the get-go.
Then again, Stevens may not tinker with his starting group at all. He alluded to staying put during his weekly chat with 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand ahead of Wednesday night’s tilt with the Chicago Bulls in Boston.
“I think ultimately, I’m going to let us have a chance to play better. I think that’s where we are. Hopefully I’ll coach better and we’ll play better,” said Stevens.
Eventually, those open shots should start to fall rather than clang out, and sending an important piece of the roster to the bench won’t really help in C’s the chemistry department.
If the Celtics continue to struggle offensively over the next few weeks, Stevens will have no choice but to make a change. But while the Celtics have not looked great over their first 13 games, this early in the season is not the time to make any panic moves.