It’s becoming increasingly unfair. The amount of blame being placed at Gordon Hayward’s feet this season is incredible. Basketball is a team game. There are fifteen players committed to the roster and a team’s issues should rarely be placed at just one player’s feet.
While it’s understandably frustrating to watch a former All-Star struggle one night and excel the next, one must keep in mind that there are other factors at play. Hayward does not pick and choose who he shares the floor with, nor would you guess that he has a say in the offensive scheme going into games. Rather, he is provided a specific game plan and is expected to execute it to the best of his ability and it’s that ability which sets him apart from a vast majority of his colleagues across the league.
He has never been the sort of player to dominate games in the way James Harden does, or control the ball as Kyrie Irving does. That’s not his game. Instead he affects how defenses react with intelligent movement and clever passing. He plays the long game, setting teams up throughout the early quarters in order to provide himself scoring opportunities down the stretch. It isn’t flashy, but it’s effective.
Jaylen Brown has shown a similar type of game this year. He gets his buckets in the flow of the offense - much like Hayward. The difference is, Brown is praised for this, for playing an intellectual brand of basketball that will serve him well, long after his athleticism starts to fade. This is the same brand of basketball Hayward plays, yet more is expected from him due to the salary he commands, which is somewhat fair. However, he has committed his life to playing this sport, putting in the hard miles since long before any of us knew who he was. Any of us would have signed that contract. We all strive to maximize our earning potential in our personal careers, so how is this any different?
No one knew that that injury was going to take place, or that the road to recovery was going to be this long. That road has been filled with obstacles that Hayward has had to overcome. It began with starting last season out of shape due to the surgery he had during that off season. Then after a full summer under his belt this year he came out of the gates hot, looking like an All-Star candidate and a true difference maker for this team then - boom - broken hand. Shortly after returning to basketball activities his foot began to show signs of what can be assumed as lasting damage, since then he hasn’t been able to string together good performances on consecutive nights.
The perception of him having a poor year is questionable, too. Statistically, he is among the league leaders in multiple play types. Synergy has Hayward ranking above the 80th percentile in the following play types:
- Transition (98th percentile)
- Half-Court clutch shots (less than 4 seconds left, 92nd percentile)
- Spot-up shots (83rd percentile)
- ISO scoring (97th percentile)
- Points off of cuts (88th percentile)
- Defending the big man in the pick-and-roll (97th percentile)
- Defending dribble hand-off’s (82nd percentile)
Hayward is currently ranked in the 98th percentile for transition-based offense. Shooting 68.5% and drawing a shooting foul 10% of the time. pic.twitter.com/U03l2JJcPv— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) January 19, 2020
Hayward ranks among the top 20 percent of players in the league in seven different play types, with the majority of those on offense. It is unfathomable that he can be both having a bad season and producing at such a high level all at once, further proving the criticism has become a bit of a witch hunt.
The narrative that he has lost some of his aggression is also disproved when taking a look at his career stats around the rim. This year is his best so far within four feet of the basket, ranking in the 97th percentile and boasting a 74 percent clip per Cleaning the Glass. In fact, offensively, there is no major drop off compared to his days in Utah. If anything, his percentages are either similar or improved, with only a few outliers.
A quick glance at his shot frequency will also show you that he has never been a high volume three point shooter, which is something he has been working on this year having only taken more threes in a season twice before. Those years were both during his peak Utah days when he was taking 5.1 attempts per game compared to the 4 per game he is currently taking as per basketball-reference.
Hayward plays the game in such a way that it looks like he is operating at half-speed, when in truth, he is playing with intelligence and not physical attributes. It is that intelligence that Brad Stevens has spoken of on many occasions, Hayward just understands the game, especially the way Brad wants it to be played. He may never get the bounce he once had back, but that does not decrease the value he brings to the team. A quick look at the analytics will show you that.
If you’re not an analytics person, then take a look at his display against the Lakers last night. A steadying hand on both ends of the floor, driving into lanes and forcing reactions to open up his teammates or himself. His early aggression helped settle his team, keeping them from another slow start and instilling the style of play the Celtics needed in order to march on to victory.
According to Stats Muse this was Hayward’s eighth game with 10+ points and 5+ assists of the season, considering he has only played 26 games so far (and some of those were coming back from injuries), that’s a respectable stat line from a true veteran presence on the roster.
Veteran leadership coupled with high level production is hard to come by in the NBA, further increasing Hayward’s value to the team. As such, all talk or packaging him in a trade is ill-advised. There is no available player on the market who could elevate the Celtics further than a healthy, confident Hayward, Boston’s best chance of success includes Hayward on the roster.
While there is no doubt he is still figuring out how to best attack games within the flow of this offense whilst keeping his teammates involved on a nightly basis, he isn’t the bust that so many people are making him out to be. He is a Boston Celtic, so as Celtics fans, we should encourage and support him, not tear him down multiple times a week. He would be missed if he opted out at the end of the year, and if he did, we would only have ourselves to blame at this point.