With preseason just about one week away, the anticipation of seeing Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving back on the floor together is sky high. The months of August and September are an interesting time in the world of the NBA, where deep film studies, top-100 lists, and hypothetical scenarios reign supreme. Naturally, I, alongside many other NBA writers and fans, have been deeply involved with it all.
Gordon Hayward has been a popular and fascinating topic of discussion this off-season. Anytime a player misses a full season due to injury, much of their game is either a) forgotten or b) misinterpreted. That’s not to say people disregard that player or think they aren’t good anymore, but simply that we need reminders on many portions of their game. In many summer debates about the 2018-19 Boston Celtics, it seemed as though fans were forgetting what Hayward brings to the table. In picking through some film from the All-Star’s 2016-17 season in Utah, I quickly realized that I too had forgotten how versatile Hayward really is. Let’s look through some highlights from his final season with the Jazz.
Hayward’s ability to finish around the rim is something that is often overshadowed by his shooting ability (amongst other strengths). His angles at the hoop aren’t like the ones you see with Russell Westbrook or DeMar DeRozan; they’re more elliptical and not nearly as slash-like. Despite his angles at the rim not being as direct and aggressive as some of his NBA counterparts, Hayward’s strength around the rim is tremendous.
Of note in this clip - he’s beating Kemba Walker, a quick, athletic guard, to the rim by starting with his back to the hoop. Hayward transitions into a quick crossover and finishes at the rim with the bucket and the foul. His ability to take on contact is rather impressive, but his first-step to get by Walker is equally eye-opening. Hayward is bigger than Walker, so as soon as he gets his shoulders passed him, Kemba’s toast.
Here’s another good example of Hayward finishing with contact as he drives on the baseline towards a helping Wilson Chandler. Hayward’s able to adjust in midair and complete the reverse layup.
At 6-8, his versatile skill set moves beyond his ability to get to the rim and finish. Watching Hayward’s made field goals from the 2016-17 season really shows his strengths. Of course, this portion of his game will take some time while he returns from his injury, but the 28-year-old sounded confident that he’ll return to full strength when speaking last week at the Auerbach Center. If that is the case, you’ll be seeing plenty of aggressive dunks like the ones below.
When discussing Hayward’s overall game, it’s important to look at some of the things he does well away from the ball. The Butler product is someone who’s always been praised for his basketball IQ that he developed while playing two years in a Brad Stevens system. If you’re searching for proof, look no further than Hayward’s off-ball movement.
The Celtics forward is rarely stagnant without the ball, using smart cuts and off-ball screens to get easy, open buckets.
Here, Hayward uses a Rodney Hood screen at the foul line to cut into the paint for the easy finish. He quickly splits both defenders and, despite both Metta World Peace and Luol Deng pursing him, Hayward’s quickness to the basket is too much for the Lakers. These types of plays won’t make SportCenter’s Top Ten, but Celtics fans will quickly realize how intelligent he is away from the ball.
The one person who will appreciate this more than the fans? Brad Stevens. With an ample amount of ball handlers on this year’s roster, quick cuts and off-ball movement will be so beneficial for Boston and extremely scary for opponents. Guards like Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier will be able to find Hayward with ease thanks to his basketball IQ.
There is one consistent play that Utah and Boston have used via off-ball movement, and it’s one that Celtics fans remember all too well. When Hayward suffered his season-ending ankle injury on Opening Night last season, the Celtics were running a backdoor cut to create an alley-oop. It’s a play that the Jazz ran countless times for a successful dunk, and I’m sure the Celtics will as well.
It’s unfortunate that attempt number one ended in catastrophe, but I promise you’ll be seeing this exact play numerous times throughout the season. A quick look through his made field goals from 2016-17 shows how often Utah successfully ran this play, and I have no doubt the Celtics will do the same.
Hayward has the ability to create off the dribble, create mismatches thanks to his height and athleticism, and can thrive above the break. This could quickly become a 5,000 word piece on his versatile game, but I’ll save everyone the time. After all, you’ll be able to see him on the floor next weekend. We made it people! Basketball is finally back.