Remember Gordon Hayward? You know, the biggest free agent signing in Boston Celtics history? The All-Star small forward that the Celtics signed to a max contract offer this offseason to reunite him with his former college coach Brad Stevens? That Gordon Hayward? It might be easy to have forgotten him with all that’s happened since he signed as a free agent back in July.
Then, Kyrie Irving came.
Irving started to be the one dominating the headlines. Dominating the news cycle. Irving was the one being talked about all around Boston and Hayward was quickly brushed to the side. Kyrie Irving stole the spotlight from Hayward and rightfully so. Kyrie Irving is an NBA champion, a multiple time All-Star, a #1 pick, and one of the NBA’s most polarizing superstars. Irving is a bigger name, so it’s understandable that fans and media alike would be so enthused to talk about him as well as what they had to give up to get him. However, Gordon Hayward deserves more love than he’s getting.
Hayward is going to be far from a sidekick on this Celtics team. He can drop 25-30 on any given night and will be a primary ball handler and playmaker for the Celtics for long stretches on the game. Need I remind you, Hayward scored 21.9 points per game on a Jazz team that ranked dead last in the NBA in both pace and field goal attempts. Don’t expect Hayward to have a Kevin Love like roll on this team. The Celtics brought in Hayward because they needed a second scorer to take the pressure of Thomas and the same will be true with Kyrie Irving as the team's point guard. Bringing in Kyrie changes Gordon Hayward’s role very little if at all.
On a team with so many changes and so much roster turnover, Hayward has a better understanding of Brad Stevens offense than the majority of the team, including Kyrie Irving. At least to start the season, it shouldn’t be a surprise if more of the offense is run through Hayward than Irving. The Celtics will rely on Hayward to be the one helping players figure out the system as the season goes on and his ability to be unselfish AND assertive at times is what can help the Celtics be one of the best offenses in the league.
The Celtics have a very unique set of superstars that are all great at moving off the ball, unselfish, and great scorers at the same time. Once the team gets in a rhythm in the motion offense, it will be a thing of beauty to watch. We saw how well it worked with guys like Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder on the wing, but imagine the Celtics running the classic Al Horford dribble handoff for an Avery Bradley mid range jumper at the top of the key, but using Hayward in the Bradley role?
Unlike last season, the Celtics won’t have to go long stretches of the game without a scorer who can carry the offense on the floor. When Isaiah Thomas was off the floor last season, the Celtics offensive rating dropped from 116.7 (which over the course of a whole season would’ve ranked #1 in the NBA) to 102.3 (which over the course of a full season would’ve ranked dead last in the NBA), per Basketball Reference.
Now that the Celtics have 2 players that can carry the offense, they won’t have to suffer such a dramatic drop in offensive production when either Irving or Hayward are on the bench. When Irving has to sit, it will be Hayward who is playing the Isaiah Thomas role and running the show for the C’s. The Celtics could have one of the best offenses in the NBA next season, if not the very best. They ranked 8th in offensive rating last season and that is despite how bad the offense was at times without Thomas on the floor.
Whether or not the Celtics rise as high as #1 in those rankings this season will depend on how quickly the players adapt to playing with each other. The season starting so much earlier than normal certainly doesn’t benefit the Celtics in that regard. Luckily, they will have more practice time in between games to address their issues, but it will take a few weeks until we see the offense at full power.
Remember Boston, the Celtics acquired TWO franchise players this offseason, not just one. Even if you have forgotten how good Hayward is, he’ll remind you soon enough.
Photo: (Hoops Habit)