After a sketchy 2-2 start the Celtics have rallied somewhat from the awful shot selection and putrid performances from there stars (bye ‘Fro Kyrie!) and have gone 4-1 in their last two games. In that span, they have been third in 3PA (39.6), fourth in efficiency (38.9%), fourth in assist % (64.9), and tied for fourth in Secondary assists. The ball has been hopping, players are taking good shots, and—since the second half of the Thunder game—Boston is starting to capitalize on the great looks they’ve been generating all season.
There is some room to improve, specifically with roles within the second unit. Bill Simmons publicly critiqued Gordon Hayward’s performance against the Indiana Pacers last Saturday and stoked a miniature fire on Twitter.
The maxed-out star’s results so far have been modest. Hayward is averaging 10.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, and 2.3 apg on a 48.4 TS%. His shooting hasn’t returned, but that hasn’t stopped his ability as a playmaker on the court, where he has flashed the ability to collapse the defense and find shooters, even if he can’t quite finish plays himself.
Even without his full powers, Hayward still knows how to play. One place the Celtics could use his playmaking ability is in the second unit, with Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye and Aron Baynes, who all flourish playing off others. However, some of those lineups that have had Hayward paired with a second unit have struggled to create for each other. That may be due to the wrong person playing the lead ball-handler role.
The latest of example came in the second quarter against the Pacers where both Hayward and Rozier were on the floor, but rather than Hayward running the offense, it was Rozier who got the nod. This has been the case a lot when the two share the floor and the results haven’t been pretty. Rozier who ranks in the 18th percentile for his position in assist percentage (16.8%).
Out of all Celtics lineups that have played eight or more minutes, Rozier-Hayward lineups have the ninth and 10th-best assist % respectively. Despite Rozier’s solid playoff performance replacing Kyrie Irving in the starting lineup, his ability as a playmaker is still rudimentary. He regularly gets caught up in tunnel vision after getting his defender in jail out of PnR’s, routinely misses cutters, and is a notoriously bad lob passer. What makes this decision even more puzzling is that Rozier is a strong off-ball scorer who’s able to run off screens and get into his shot quickly.
We’re still in the infancy of the season and a small tweak the Celtics should consider making is allowing Hayward to get the bulk—if not all of—the playmaking duties when paired with Rozier in the backcourt. For one, it allows Rozier to focus on more of the off-ball scoring that he is good at. It also allows Hayward to showcase some of the skills that have returned quickly, such as his driving ability and passing while also giving him an opportunity to test his offensive game against second-unit players.
There’s still a lot to figure out with this Celtics team, but one way to accelerate growth is to put players in position where they can play to their strengths. This little tweak could be the small thing that helps both players get shake some of their rust quicker.