2018-2019 Off the Glass Breakout Players Series: Gordon Hayward
When Gordon Hayward left the Utah Jazz to rejoin his college coach Brad Stevens in Boston during the 2017 offseason, it seemed like a match made in heaven.
The number nine pick in the 2010 draft had emerged as a borderline All-NBA caliber wing during his tenure in Utah, averaging nearly 22 points a night of efficient scoring in 2017 while playing good defense and chipping in with playmaking and rebounding. After being named an All-Star in 2017, moving to a more balanced roster and an up-tempo offense in Boston figured to bring out the best in Hayward, right as he entered his prime age-27 season.
Of course, Hayward never got a chance to show what he could do as under Stevens last year, suffering a gruesome injury in the first quarter of opening night that I’m sure as hell not going to link to. So, instead of getting to spread his wings under Stevens, Hayward spent his inaugural Celtics season rehabbing and thinly veiling his disappointment at expecting yet another daughter.
Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum broke out for Boston and have seemingly become the future of the franchise, leaving Hayward as somewhat of an afterthought in Boston.
The 6’8” forward is more than the most impeccable haircut in the NBA, though — he’s also an All-Star caliber wing still in the prime of his career. Paul George showed little ill effects from his gruesome leg injury, and if Hayward can return with the same clean bill of health there’s no reason he can’t return to the same player he was pre-injury.
Brown and Tatum both broke out last year after Hayward’s catastrophic opening night fall, and while both still have plenty of room for improvement, it’s the established, yet now almost underrated Hayward who will break out in Boston this season by assuming his spot as Kyrie Irving’s second in-command.
Hayward will be able to slide across three different positions when the Celtics employ lineups with him, Tatum, and Brown, which will showcase the former Butler products versatility in a way Utah was never able to.
Stevens will allow Hayward to make plays both for himself and others in his ball-movement-heavy offense. Hayward has averaged about three and a half assists a game in his career, with a high of just over five assists a game in 2013 for Utah; it seems reasonable to expect him to near or exceed that peak this year for the Celtics.
The Boston offense should also provide more open opportunities for Hayward than he had in Utah, and if all his time shooting in the gym during his rehab pays off he should be able to at least replicate his 39 percent three-point stroke from his last campaign in Utah.
In all likelihood, the stacked nature of the Celtics will end up working for Hayward by allowing him to ease back into playing by consistently putting him in easier positions to score than he ever found himself in with the Jazz, as he will move away from being the focal point of opposing defensive game plans. That alone should lead to an overall increase in Hayward’s already stellar scoring efficiency and could put him on the doorstep of a 50/40/90 shooting split season.
Along with maximizing his efficiency, the Celtic offense should also lead to a peak in three-point volume for Hayward. Last year Boston shot 2,492 three-pointers as a team, compared to 2,128 by the Jazz as a team in his last season while playing at a significantly faster pace. Irving and Brown each hoisted over seven attempts from deep a game, and even Terry Rozier put up five a game while averaging under 26 minutes a contest.
After averaging five attempts from deep per game in his last Utah season, there’s no reason Hayward shouldn’t come near the volume put up by Brown and Irving from deep. Doing so will help keep Hayward’s scoring averages near Utah levels even in the stacked Boston offense.
If he returns fully healthy, Hayward should slide right into the Boston lineup and perform at the same All-Star level he was at during his last season in Utah. His ability to score from anywhere on the floor and to create for both himself and teammates will allow Gordon Hayward to shock people by improving upon his last Jazz season and regaining his status as the clear cut second option behind Irving. Because although his talented Boston teammates will help ease his transition back from his year off, Hayward has too much talent not to thrive in his delayed reunion with Stevens.