Just as a precursor before I dive into this: I do not think Gordon Hayward is currently close to 100% and I don’t think he will round into that form before/during the playoffs.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive into some good news regarding the former All-Star. Slowly but surely, as frustrating as it has been, Gordon Hayward is rounding into form. He’s certainly had his moments this season like his two 30+ point games against the Timberwolves, his big performance in Philly with Kyrie out, and most recently, his outburst in Golden State. Even though we’ve seen flashes from him it hasn’t all come together and it’s seemed like whenever he takes a step forward he takes two steps back. For a city who prides themselves on being tough on their players and demanding excellence, Hayward’s first full season in Boston hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. Due to spending the previous 7 years of his career in Utah most casual fans have no idea what Gordon Hayward at 100% even looks like. The reaction this season from many fans has been to first check out his contract, look at his numbers, yell about how he’s not worth it, and lastly preach to the heavens that he’s deadweight (pretty short leash huh?).
If you’d like a reminder of how good Gordon Hayward is at 100%…I got you.
To help visualize what that player looks like in a Celtics jersey, check out these preseason highlights from last season. While they are preseason highlights they give a nice sneak preview into what Gordon Hayward would look like at full strength with this team.
Has he been that player this season? No, he has not. Has he improved every single month in terms of both his performance and how comfortable he looks on the court? Yes. Yes a billion times over. Just look at his splits month to month and while the counting numbers don’t jump off the page, the shooting percentages and his ratings are the real treat here.
While stats like this aren’t the end all be all, the fact that they’re trending up for the most part is welcome news for this team now, and in the future. It’s also evident that when Hayward doesn’t suit up the Celtics look lost when the second unit comes in. Terry Rozier is a chucker by nature and with Hayward out there it gives the Celtics a point-forward who can effectively run the offense and make a difference without even putting the ball in the basket. His on/off splits aren’t too outrageous but the assist rate is what catches my eye.
The ball moves more when he is on the court, and for a team who thrives off of their assists and ball movement, he makes a huge difference. His unselfishness and versatility on that end has helped make up for his lack of scoring. Other than his progress this season, the fact that he’s able to do everything else close to the level he was pre-injury gives me confidence in him long-term. It isn’t easy to get your game back on the fly while playing meaningful regular season games and I laud how Hayward has handled all of this.
The man started to play 5 on 5 again a year after his leg basically exploded in SEPTEMBER. Was our expectation really for him to play 5 on 5 for a month in practice and be completely ready for the regular season? The first 3 months of the season were to ease him back in and for all intents and purposes, this whole season has been one big rehab stint.
Another interesting piece to all of this is Gordon Hayward the person and how he’s handling it mentally. In a piece written by Jackie MacMullan Hayward admitted “I was thinking, ‘Wow, am I really that slow out there?’…I think it’s hard in general to watch yourself on film, but obviously, this was on another level.” Gordon as of late also has been on record saying that his confidence is returning and that he’s far more comfortable now than at any other time this season.
It’s a funny quote to look at because it shows how surprised even Gordon was to see how much of a step he lost in just a year. The thing about that step though is that it isn’t lost, it’s just waiting (and starting) to make it’s return. If you don’t believe me, check out his recent highlights compared to highlights from earlier in the year as his play as of late has looked so much more fluid/confident. He’s hesitating less and you can see a difference in how he’s attacking the basket. His overall feel for the game looks so much better than it did earlier in the season and this coupled with his statistical improvement is means for optimism.
While highlights are highlights and they always show the good, it’s notable how much faster he looks in the recent game footage compared to the early season stuff. It’s also about the way he’s attacking the basket nowadays. Early on in the season he’d look to avoid contact and went in soft. Recently, he’s taken it hard to the bucket and has been playing through contact rather than shying away from it.
Rome wasn’t built in one day and neither are ankles. It takes time for these things to get back to normal (just ask Paul George). While his chapter this season still has more to go, I’m excited for the player we’re going to see at the start of next season. So to quote our friends down in Philadelphia…Trust the Process, Gordon is going to be just fine.