Gordon Hayward has consistently been at the center of most debates surrounding the biggest question marks for the Boston Celtics.
Thus far the Boston Celtics’ season has not exactly gone according to plan, and many point fingers at the 28-year-old swingman. But is it a fair criticism? To some degree, sure. But the numbers reveal there’s more to the story.
Gordon Hayward’s tenure with the Celtics began in tragic disaster. After signing a four-year fully guaranteed $127 million dollar contract in the summer of 2017 the former All-Star saw the hardwood for a grand total of five minutes before suffering a catastrophic ankle injury that sidelined him the rest of the season.
So, Celtics fans were forced to wait one more year to see the reunion between Coach Brad Stevens and his beloved Gordon Hayward. In his absence, the Celtics fell just one win shy of reaching the NBA Finals. Naturally, there were massive expectations for Boston heading into 2018 with Hayward returning to game action.
It’s been well documented by now that the 2018-19 season has not been kind to the Boston Celtics. The most commonly given reasoning behind the team’s struggles is a lack of identity. The return of both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward has changed the way the group operates. Stars from last season have been pushed into back up roles. Hayward and Irving have been given the keys to the franchise, and it just hasn’t panned out thus far.
Who’s to blame? Kyrie Irving has been stellar this year with career highs in several statistical categories such as assists (6.9), rebounds (4.9), steals (1.6), and field goal percentage (49.8%). It’s hard to blame a guy who many consider to be a top 10 player in the league, top two point guard, and just started for team LeBron in the All-Star game.
The only other outlier is Gordon Hayward, who has not shared the same success as his superstar teammate. The former All-Star has struggled out of the gate with averages of 11.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 25.5 minutes per contest. He is shooting 40% from the floor and 33% from downtown. Nowhere close to par with the numbers Hayward is used to producing, and to many fans, certainly not worth the max contract the eight-year veteran holds.
People say it all the time, but patience is a virtue and in Gordon’s situation it may take more than a full season until the C’s can reap the full platter of benefits that the former Jazz star can provide. Yes, it’s been nearly a year and a half since the injury. But the recovery time of a particularly gruesome injury like the one Hayward suffered is often times longer than normal.
Take Paul George, for example. He suffered a similar injury while in a scrimmage for the 2013-14 USA team and was forced to miss the majority of the following season. He returned to game action in April of that season and was a complete shell of himself with averages of 8.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1 assist per game. He also shot an abysmal 36% from the floor during that stretch.
It wasn’t until November of the ensuing season that George returned to the All-Star form he was prior to the injury. That’s about sixteen months of time from the occurrence of the injury to competing at a level that closely resembles the player he once was.
Every athlete recovers differently from these types of injuries. Gordon has taken a while longer than many expected to shake off the mental blocks holding him back, but he is improving. The numbers speak for themselves.
The most notable statistic in the chart above is that of Gordon’s scoring figures. Hayward has managed to improve his overall point production in every month of the season. His assist numbers are up from 1.7 in October to 4 in February. He is demanding the ball more often and making plays off of the dribble versus sitting in the corner and watching the offense from the comfort of the perimeter.
This newfound aggressive mentality has paid dividends at the free throw line, as well. Hayward is attempting three free throws per contest in February. That may not seem like much to call home about, but after averaging just 1.7 at the start of the season that is a significant improvement.
After searching all season Gordon has finally found his shot. December was the ultimate low point for Hayward’s jump shot, where he averaged just 37% from the floor and 34% from downtown. Since then his numbers have gone from solid to absolutely stellar. In February he is up to 57% from the floor and a ridiculous 52% from deep.
The improvement in Gordon Hayward’s game is subtle but apparent. No, he isn’t the player he once was but he’s also not the player he will be. The important thing is that he is healthy and hasn’t had any setbacks, which is a major plus considering the nature of his injury.
The 2019 NBA All-Star game has come and gone, but for playoff contenders, the season has really just begun. This makes it or break it time for the top teams in each conference. Celtics fans have become accustomed to this time of year. This is the time teams reinforce their weak spots and works out the kinks leading up to the postseason.
Only this season it will require a significantly larger effort from the Celtics in order to realistically have a shot at banner 18. In the case of Gordon Hayward, some consider him to be this team’s x-factor. If he can provide a level of consistency either off of the bench or with the starting unit, Boston will have a legitimate shot at another long playoff run.