Hayward Does More than Just Score for Celtics
By Steve Bulpett
BOSTON -- Gordon Hayward scored 35 points Wednesday night. Therefore, in the transitory world of social media sports opinion, he is not the useless waste of basketball humanity he was the day before.
Sweet comeback, eh?
To be certain, the Boston Celtics wing often has performed this season like an expensive ride with fuel injector trouble trying to merge onto the Mass. Pike -- and much of that may indeed be traced to his continued rehab from last season’s lower leg and ankle injury.
But when it comes to his stats, the greater issue in play here is probably the general instrument of measure. Gordon Hayward clearly is capable of big breakout games, but expecting him to be what he was numerically in Utah on a consistent basis is not realistic. And that’s simply because that’s not what’s being asked of him here.
Even with Wednesday’s 18 shots (14 makes), Hayward is averaging 9.2 attempts per game this season. That’s more than six and a half fewer than his last year with the Jazz. When balanced for the minutes drop by using the per-36 scale, Hayward still is down four shots a game. If that were the case in 2016-17, the good citizens of Greater Salt Lake City would have stormed the court and demanded the other guys pass the ball to their Gordon.
It’s fully expected that this year’s number will increase as the Celtics offense finds a better rhythm (assuming it does, right?) and Hayward feels more able to push off hard on drives to the hoop. But he never will be the offensive focal point of Utah vintage now that he’s on a team with Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum and others who are capable. Whereas the Jazz had to send the ball through Hayward to succeed, the Celts have more options and can play more to the soft spots in the defense.
This brings me to one of my longest-held theories, and it is that one of the hardest transitions to make is going from a saturation scorer in college -- someone who can shoot at will is guaranteed quantity on the road to cool numbers -- to having to wait maybe four, five or more possessions for your opportunity to arise. Shooting becomes less instinctive, and therein lies some of the difficulties for Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier as they get fewer chances than last season.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a little similar to that,” Hayward acknowledged to the Herald. “It’s transitioning from a different offense and a different role in Utah, as well as coming back from injury and stuff. I think it’s a little bit of both of those things.”
And the numbers? Hayward knows he probably is not going to average 22.9 points for a season as he did in his last Jazz go-round. Nor will he try to go for that amount every night. He has more weapons to work with here.
“Yeah, no doubt the numbers won’t be the same,” he said. “I’m just trying to focus on what I can do to help us win, not focus on getting stats or anything. I think it’s just the nature of the team and, like you’re saying, circumstances.”
Hayward’s desire to play the more team-oriented game -- even if his teammates would like to see him be more personally assertive at times -- is why the other Celts are so happy for him when he does go off. They know it can’t be easy to back away from the lead singer’s spotlight to blend in with the band.
“Yeah, it’s going to be tough,” Al Horford said. “It’s definitely going to be difficult. But I do think there’s another level to his game, and I think it’ll happen more regularly. And I think when it does, we’re going to be that much better. I think that the more comfortable he gets with himself and with the team, things will get better.
“People have to understand this is his first year technically (with the Celtics), and there’s an adjustment period. I think once he gets comfortable enough, he has the ability to have an even bigger impact on the game -- score more and assist more on a regular basis -- because he can do it all. I just think that for him it’s a matter of getting to feel good and comfortable with everything.”
And even then there might be a bit of the Horford Syndrome entering the picture, with some of Hayward’s value -- the floor spacing, making the first pass that opens the play but doesn’t earn the assist, etc. -- not translating to his own stat line.
“No question,” Horford said. “And he’s very unselfish. I think it’s one of those things where we want him to be more aggressive, but that’s going to come.”
Through it all, though the competitive fires that took him from a skinny high school kid of modest renown to an NBA All-Star still burn, Hayward has faced this season with a surface equanimity.
“It’s definitely been an up-and-down year,” he said. “You know, I didn’t know what to expect coming back from an injury like that. But I think it’s been new for everybody, not just me. It’s new as far as them trying to adjust to me and me trying to adjust to the system and teammates and the coaches and everything. So it’s just a work in progress, and you’ve got to take it in stride.”
With the full understanding that some of those strides may land in a pothole such as Monday’s scoreless 0-for-6 in San Antonio, when he was the worst free agent signing in Celtics history. Fortunately, the winds of sporting judgment always are subject to change at a jump shot’s notice.
At this moment, Gordon Hayward is again a star, but, hey, there’s another tipoff tonight.