Gordon Hayward has taken over the legendary role of the Boston Celtics sixth man and it has helped both him and the team.
From Frank Ramsey, to John Havlicek, to Kevin McHale, the Boston Celtics pioneered the sixth man role, starting with coach Red Auerbach who used it as a tactical advantage to keep one of his best players fresh and playing against inferior players.
Since Celtics coach Brad Stevens moved Gordon Hayward to the bench he has thrived in the new sixth man role, averaging 13.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game in six games. In that time, Hayward has shot better than 47 percent from the field and 39 percent from three.
In the reserve role, Hayward is able to take over as the primary ball-handler for the second unit when Kyrie Irving is not in the game, allowing him to be much more involved in the offense than when he was trying to fit in on the first unit.
Prior to moving to the bench, Hayward was attempting a career-low 9.2 field goals per game. In the last six games, Hayward has hit a season-high in field goal attempts twice, including the 16 shots he took to score 30 points in Boston’s win at Minnesota Saturday.
Hayward’s usage rate has increased by two percentage points since joining the second unit and he has made good use of the extra possessions, increasing his assist rate slightly while his true shooting percentage jumped from 50 to 63 percent.
In the first 15 games as a starter, Hayward had a 100.6 offensive rating and the Celtics were 2.3 points better per 100 possession with him on floor. In his six games off the bench, Hayward has a 119.2 offensive rating and Boston’s net rating is plus-16.6 in the minutes he’s been on the floor, best among all Celtics during that period, per NBA.com.
When Hayward was sent to the bench, it seemed like a temporary move from Stevens to change up lineups and rotations and to take the heat off of Hayward as he works his way back into peak playing shape.
In our Boston Celtics Round Table last week, my brothers wrote about another benefit of bringing the former All-Star off the bench: with the ball in his hands more, Hayward is almost forced to be more aggressive off the bounce and to work to create offense for his teammates.
As a starter, Hayward had shown his playmaking abilities, but also an unwillingness to look for his own offense with the drive and a surprising tentativeness to score. After the lineup change and a pep talk from Irving, Hayward’s attack mentality has been on full display.
Prior to the ‘benching’ just 16.4 percent of Hayward’s point came at the free throw line; since, Hayward has scored more than 24 percent of his points from the charity stripe.
Hayward’s recovery is a work in progress, he still has troubles dribbling and absorbing contact in tight quarters, but he looks so much more comfortable and confident finding his rhythm since the change.
When’s the last time you saw Hayward make a strong move like this and finish?
The move to bring Hayward has not only helped him him personally, but the bench has scored almost six more points per game with him in the second unit.
Whether Hayward’s move to the bench is temporary or long-lasting, the change has not only freed up the 6-foot-8 forward to play more confident and instinctive basketball, its also invigorated a lifeless Boston team and reanimated the team after a rude awakening to the season.