It has been said before. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve read “He’s back!” articles since Gordon Hayward returned from the tragic ankle injury that ended his 2017-18 season on opening night. He’s shown flashes here and there, good signs, “dominating” in practice; but still, one question has controlled the narrative of Hayward’s career as a Boston Celtic: Can he ever return to the superstar he was when he left the Utah Jazz? Will his body ever be the same? Will his confidence?
During the first 7 games of the NBA season, Gordon Hayward has not looked like his old self.
He’s looked wiser. More efficient. A veteran. With the return of his old confidence and athleticism, Hayward has grown his game. His basketball IQ and decision making ability look sharper than ever; Gordon Hayward looks more capable now of playing correctly, within a coach’s system, than he ever did as a member of the Utah Jazz. In learning to put trust in himself and his body again, it seems that Gordon Hayward has learned to put immense trust in his teammates and his coach, Brad Stevens, which has paid dividends for both Hayward and the Celtics.
The Boston Celtics are leading the Eastern Conference with a 6-1 start, the best start of the Brad Stevens era, which is incredible considering some of the talent that’s played in Boston during Stevens’ tenure. The Celtics have thrived in what was supposed to be a difficult transition year following the departures of stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. While the arrival of Kemba Walker has helped filled the Kyrie-sized hole in the roster, the gap left by Horford is perhaps even more significant. To replace Horford, the Celtics needed a player who could score, space the floor, defend a variety of positions, rebound, and occasionally step up as the teams leading ball-handler and playmaker. The Celtics needed someone within their roster to step up as a player who could do everything.
What’s clear watching Hayward score in the above clip is…
He’s not only gotten over the very understandable fear of contact he’s held–he’s also refined his ball handling and shooting mechanics, giving him plenty of options in scoring.
I’m particularly a fan of the agility and grace that Gordon Hayward is showing moving around the baskets for lay-ups and low posts shots. Hayward knows his own game better than ever, and it’s no wonder he’s shooting 56.4% from the field over seven games–a career high mark if he can maintain it.
Even more impressive perhaps has been the rebounding and playmaking ability Hayward has flashed this season. He grabbed 7 rebounds and dished out 8 assists alongside that 39 point performance, and followed it up with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists against the Hornets the very next night. Hayward is always in the right place for a rebound, leading to some excellent assists in transition. He kind of looks like LeBron at times with his ability to quickly and accurately dish a pass to the perimeter. In the half-court game, Hayward can occupy space in the high post and make passes from there as well, with Stevens employing him as he used Horford for years.
Hayward, alongside Walker and young veterans Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, has righted the ship on what was supposed to be an uncertain, possibly regressive, season for the Boston Celtics. Who knows why Hayward has returned to full strength now. Maybe he needed another year to heal his mind and body. Maybe he’s been inspired by the larger role he’s had to fill this season. Maybe the witches who put a curse on him finally lifted it because maybe he decided to not vote for Trump again. But whatever the reason, Gordon Hayward is back in full stride, and the rest of the Eastern Conference should watch out.
Unless of course, he falls apart again in the next two weeks and I look foolish for writing this article.
All stats taken from Basketball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.
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