In an Opening Night piece for The Players’ Tribune entitled “The Team in Green,” Gordon Hayward shared his enthusiasm for the start of the season and a scouting report for his teammates. He wrote, “...you have Jayson (Tatum), who is such a natural scorer it’s crazy.” He called Jaylen Brown “one of the best athletes in the entire league.” He’s been “blown away” from what he’s seen from Kemba Walker.
And finally, Hayward scouted himself simply: “he’s ready.” He talked about the difference between rehab and practice, how he’s coming into the season healthier physically and mentally, and how his off-season spent in Boston not only built up his body, but chemistry and camaraderie with his teammates.
In a 107-93 loss to the Sixers on Wednesday night, Hayward didn’t just look “flat-out ready,” but back to his old self. Flat-out back. With Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker combining for 12-for-40 shooting, Hayward lead the Celtics in scoring with 25 points, hitting 8 for 15 from the floor and aggressively attacking the paint. Hayward went to the line eleven times, grabbed five rebounds, and dished out two assists.
When we talk about the effectiveness of Hayward’s game, the key is depth. Hayward is not going to overwhelm defenders with his speed or shiftiness. He comes off pin downs and around pick-and-rolls with purpose. As soon as he’s got his defender on his back or on his left shoulder, he’s as deliberate as an elevator operator.
On the first floor, he’s got the mid-range jumper. Hayward was 4 for 8 on pull-ups around the free throw line. It may not be the most efficient shot in basketball, but it’s Old G’s bread and butter. In his All-Star season in Utah, he shot above the league average inside the paint (and outside the restricted area) at 45.6%.
We didn’t see a lot of Level 2 last season. Whether it was a lack of explosiveness off his improving ankle or mental trepidation to attack the rim or both, Hayward rarely took it to the rack.
Where he’s truly dangerous is as a playmaker. Because of his size and body control, Hayward can almost always get his shot off, but if he can engage multiple defenders with a live dribble, he’s a willing passer to big men in the dunker box or kicking it out cross court for an open 3.
After the game, Hayward was optimistic with how he and the team played, saying, “well, we got good looks. We got a lot of good looks. You’ll take that every day of the week and bank on us making more of those.” If he can continue this level of steady production--getting below the break and acting as a hub for the offense--the Celtics will be fine despite this opening loss.