Gordon Hayward with a "thumbs up" as he heads into new season. (AP Photo)
Gordon Hayward has had an underwhelming two years in a Boston Celtics uniform. He never popped with consistency in his year back from injury. He has not been in the spotlight like some of his other teammates this summer so he may have slipped your mind. But Hayward might be the most important player for the Celtics this year.
Hayward’s impact can really move the needle for the Celtics. His production could mean the difference between an early playoff exit or result in playoff success.
Kemba Walker is going to do Kemba Walker things. He’s going to thrive in Brad Stevens’ system and get buckets. Marcus Smart has shown his potential and is going to lock down the defensive end. And the Jay’s are going to take a step forward in their development. One or both will happen: Jaylen Brown becomes a legit two-way player. Jayson Tatum becomes a 20 point per game player and potential All Star. But what can we predict from Hayward?
Hayward earned his max contract with the Celtics by increasing his points per game every year in his first seven NBA seasons. He came to Boston averaging a tick under 22 points per game the year prior. Rather than saying his broken ankle derailed his career, it’s more positive to say that his injury was just a bump in the road.
He came back off the injury and never really found his game, though. He was getting less minutes than he was accustomed to due to a crowded rotation. He started every game of his career since the 2011-12 season, but now he needed to learn a new role as a bench player. Couple all that with a more timid player that never really figured out how to play with a new group. He never found his stroke. Hayward shot 33.3% from three last season after shooting 39.8% from three in his season prior to joining the Celtics.
Now that you’ve gotten through the history lesson that you’ve probably heard before, what does it mean for the 2019-20 season? Well, If rookie Grant Williams is any indication, Hayward has his aggressiveness back.
Grant Williams on Gordon Hayward: “Honestly the aggressiveness is back.”
All that is fun, but Hayward also made it a point to stick around the practice facility this summer. A veteran presence can certainly set the tone for the other guys, especially since a lot of the Celtics’ star power is playing in an international tournament.
Because we’ve seen more of the Walker, Smart, Brown and Tatum playing for Team USA, it is easy to just slot them into the starting rotation next to a big man. Hayward also has the skill set to compliment different lineups off the bench, but what if he forces himself into the starting lineup and big minutes? It wasn’t too long ago that he and Kyrie Irving were going to form a championship contender with Al Horford.
Walker is going to demand shots because he is a shot maker. You want your best scorer to take the most shots. And Tatum is on the cusp of All-Stardom as an elite offensive player so he should see a bunch of shot opportunities as well. After that, you’re looking at Brown and Hayward to get the third most shots on the team.
It’s not as big of an issue when you are part of a ball-sharing offense like Brad employs, but Hayward is a gifted player. He has good size for a small forward. His high-flying at the rim will come in spurts at this point in his career, but his in-between game is upper echelon. He can be an elite shooter as well. Not to mention Hayward being a very smart passer and adequate rebounder.
If Grant Williams is correct and we are going to get the aggressive Hayward Celtics fans have yearned for, then there still may be All Star potential there. He’s in the prime of his life. He’s not far removed from being an All Star. And he seems to be gaining his confidence back after a gruesome injury two years ago.
It can take awhile for a player to feel comfortable after a major surgery; both physically and mentally. It feels like we’re past that hurdle now and it’s all-systems-go. So stop sleeping on the man!
I’ll be taking re-submissions for the Gordon Hayward fan club on Twitter @Mike_Auc when you’re ready to come around.