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Scapegoating Gordon Hayward is getting old

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Despite a myriad of nagging injuries, Gordon Hayward is having a great season and is performing in one of the best stretches of basketball he’s played with the Celtics. Emphasizing his mistakes over everybody else’s is getting old.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Minnesota Timberwolves Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Gordon Hayward’s costly mistakes against the Lakers shouldn’t negate his positive contributions. The Celtics came out mostly flat to start the game, but Hayward was there to generate some offense when nothing else was working.

Taking LeBron James off the dribble and dishing to Daniel Theis after drawing a second defender seems pretty good to me when the Celtics hadn’t scored a field goal for the first two and a half minutes of the first quarter.

Again, Hayward draws two defenders and makes the right basketball play and gets rid of the ball immediately. Hayward is the only player other than Marcus Smart who can make these types of plays for the Celtics and he came up with nine assists to three turnovers in a game where the Celtics struggled to make simple perimeter passes.

Frankly, scapegoating Hayward when he struggles is getting pretty old; doing it when he plays well is just exhausting.

Let me own up to something: I defended Kyrie Irving last year. I insisted his off-court shenanigans wouldn’t impede on-court progress. It is abundantly clear that I was wrong about this. I was put off by the idea of speaking a Kyrie/Celtics rift into existence by ignoring the good in order to highlight the bad.

And now, I feel like I’m doing it again with Hayward. There are no ulterior motives in my defense of him. Here’s the thing: I don’t care if Hayward opts in to the final year of his max contract this summer or not. I would be fine if he did, but I’m not worried that his decision is what makes or breaks what the Celtics are building. I feel no pressure to convince myself that the Hayward situation has to be a certain way for the Celtics to be successful in the near or distance future.

Since the new year (and before the Lakers game), Hayward averaged 18/7/4 on 49/41/88 shooting splits over 23 games. In games prior, when the “Hayward is back” narrative was at its peak, he averaged 16.5/6/4.5 on 53/36/83 splits over 15 games.

Using counting stats like this is admittedly a shallow examination of his season, but I think we’d agree that he’s been significantly better in the latter 23 games. However, the stink of his post-injury season, for whatever reason, still seems to follow him whenever he has a sub-par game.

Sure, this is is a costly possession where Hayward probably could have kill some clock with a two-point lead, but I want to point out three details:

1) Hayward’s significant size advantage over Avery Bradley

2) The classic Daniel Theis seal down low

3) He got all the way to the basket!

At what point was he supposed to pull the plug on this play? When LeBron didn’t slide over to stop him? When Kyle Kuzma offered the most futile and poorly timed jump to dissuade him? Seriously, wherever Kuzma is, go there and bring the ball with you.

After the game, Hayward admitted that he “smoked some bunnies” and the Celtics would have probably won the game if he hadn’t uncharacteristically missed a couple around the rim, but big picture, he’s been good if not great. Here’s an updated snapshot of Gordon’s offensive breakdown from Synergy:

His best offense comes in transition. And off cuts. And spot ups. And isolation. So, basically almost everything.

Like our favorite athletes, I love talking trash. But I have standards. Trash talk must be researched and accurate. The Hayward slander I’ve been seeing doesn’t that standards. Talk about how bad his acting is in his commercials if you want. Do a detailed breakdown of his game mechanics on his Fortnite streams. By all means, show me some real data to suggest he’s holding the Celtics back. Seriously, I’ll read it.

Otherwise, I don’t want to hear about it anymore.