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The metronome: Gordon Hayward’s steadying presence in these uncertain times

A musical reminder of just how good Gordon Hayward has been this season

2020 NBA Restart - All Access Practice Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The oft-maligned rapper Logic retired this week at age 30 to care for his child — with the sweetener of his seven-figure Twitch deal. Throughout his six-year string of studio releases, he recorded two gold and one platinum albums, with last week’s No Pressure marking a well-received finale. Whether it was his appearance or positive tone in a field of aggressive and repetitive themes, he received puzzling vitriol from some during his run, especially for someone who didn’t jab with contemporaries nor stir much controversy himself.

His moniker: peace, love and positivity.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon - Season 2 Photo by: Douglas Gorenstein/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Logic rapped in a technically proficient manner that improved each year starting from age 15. He included his first ever recording near the end of his final album, a raw cut of him clearly emulating the announcer-style flow of rap’s golden era. Over time, he amassed one of the faster, savvier cadences, with a knack for wordplay few artists in this era have boasted.

The formerly scrawny figure also became — well — jacked. His obsession with the deeper reaches of hip-hop greats he emulated in his sound made him both an inspiring and unlikely superstar, selling out stadium tours as a headliner.

Logic In Concert - Michigan Photo by Scott Legato/Getty Images

Gordon Hayward’s career follows a similar trajectory from scrawny wunderkind to best in the game. Hayward has a deceptively steadfast demeanor. He started as a wire-framed, unheralded freshman at Butler University who only years prior excelled more in tennis rather than basketball, flew under the radar in Utah until his All-Star season, and been quietly efficient as Boston’s 4th option this season.

Utah Jazz Draft Press Conference Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Time will tell if Logic’s absence draws more attraction and favorability to his music, especially given his successful farewell. He left to focus on his newborn son, who sports the great name Bobby like his father. Hayward will similarly leave the NBA bubble in September for the birth of his firstborn son, forcing his detractors to waver between minimizing his importance and ripping the Celtics forward for potentially missing playoff games.

Hayward shot 50% from the field, 39% from three, and 85% at the free throw line this season. After signing a max contract three years ago and spending a season coming back from a gruesome injury, he’s slotted himself behind Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown without incident.

In the Orlando bubble, he returned to play finishing 9-for-17 with 24 points between two scrimmages — with a trio of triples, six rebounds, three assists and a block on Sunday against the Suns after getting his feet under him in the Thunder loss.

“It’s definitely nothing like I’ve ever been a part of,” he said of the restart’s empty stage environment. Hayward is a voracious gamer and like Logic, could excel in these less traditional venues.

“I think it’s one of those things we have to get used to ... that was actually the first time we’d been in there to do anything. We were given 15 minutes before to shoot a little bit. I was actually slipping a lot ... some of this is trying to work out getting used to playing in this gym.”

Once Hayward achieved that comfort level, he led the Celtics’ offense with Kemba Walker limited to nine minutes against the Suns. Brad Stevens preached variety on the ball all season, emphasizing that anyone can lead the offense and it shows when Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Hayward span the floor as adept set runners with shooters abound.

He sees the floor better than any Celtics wing, on the tall side at 6’7 with prolific dribbling skills and an ability to hit the cross court, weak side pass in motion. His lost 2017-18 season and the struggles he gutted through in 2018-19 cast an image of him as a lost or diminished talent making $30 million, much like Logic still receiving chart-topping attention despite his poor albums in 2019. However, both have displayed their focused ability in 2020 — Hayward shot better on catch-and-shoot threes and pull-up twos this year than as an All-Star in 2017. Logic channeled his boom-bap, personal life focus on No Pressure.

This season, Hayward has deferred to Walker and Tatum and fashioned his game as more of a deadly off-ball threat. As a percentage of his possessions, he shoots against very tight coverage on 8% fewer possessions than in 2017, opening up 4% more against tight coverage, over 1% more open looks and 3.4% more wide open looks. Hayward shoots greater than 46% in all these situations. It’s a testament to his unselfishness, a talent with the ability to be Lennon or McCartney, but comfortably settling as Harrison.

That consistency spreads across all locations on the floor. Hayward shoots 59% at the rim, worse than his 64% in his final season in Utah. His improvements on pull-up twos (53.6% on 3.4 per game) and kick-out threes (42.5% on 3.0 per game) make him an all-around threat given how teams defend him now. Coupled with his passing, ESPN’s Vincent Goodwill dubbed him the player that makes the Celtics most dangerous.

Hayward may not present the threat of scoring 30-40 points on a given night in the playoffs, but he’s become a reliable known commodity in his complementary role and consistency in the post season is everything. If Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and/or Walker are scorching and need extra attention, Hayward will be there like he has all season.

That does not preclude Hayward from all judgement. His lingering foot pain in the wake of his broken ankle remains a long-term concern. He does not provide interchangeable rim protection with Tatum when he falls on the weak side.

He’ll have a 5-for-15 performance like in the Lakers loss after three straight 20-point performances, as Logic is prone to interpolate Outkast’s Elevators (Me & You) by simply switching “your mama and your cousin, too” with the eye-rolling “together in this perfect harmony.” They’re also both levels above most of their contemporaries when you put their role in context. It’s unclear how Logic’s latest venture will pan out or if Hayward will pick up his player option in October, but if they’re both gone this fall, we’ll miss them both immensely.

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