Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward missed all of last season with a broken ankle and is working his way back into shape. We assess his recovery through the first 8 games of the NBA season.
A little over a year ago the sports world witnessed one of the most gruesome injuries in NBA history. An ill-advised alley-oop attempt, bodies colliding in mid-air followed by a cracking sound that could turn the strongest of stomachs.
A season of such high hope was gone in less than a quarter of play, but here we are one year later and the Boston Celtics are even better than they were last year (at least on paper).
Hayward was not shy about discussing his injury despite its severity and the almost certain psychological trauma that came along with it. On November 1, 2017, Hayward debuted his new blog with an article titled “In An Instant“.
He talked about the play, experiencing the injury and everything that came after, in great detail and is worth reading if you haven’t already done so. He was very good at keeping the fans in the loop through his whole journey from the injury to getting back on the court.
Videos of him shooting from a chair surfaced a few months after the injury as if to tell everyone that the work doesn’t stop just because he can’t put weight on one of his legs. Boston fans were optimistic about the future of Gordon Hayward but seemingly no one was more optimistic than Gordon himself.
Now here we are, two surgeries and a little over a year later and Hayward is back on the court participating fully.
In the Celtics win over the Bucks Thursday night, Hayward looked as good as he has all season, scoring a season-high 18 points in 26 minutes while dishing out five assists and nailing 3-of-5 three-pointers.
Hayward has been put on a 25 minute restriction to start this season and has only gone over that twice (26 minutes on Oct. 30 also).
For the most part, there is a definite look of discomfort to Hayward’s game. Not in terms of his leg or ankle bothering him, but in terms of just playing basketball in the NBA. Of course, anyone who misses a whole season is going to be rusty, especially coming off an injury of such severity.
His speed and explosiveness are not all there yet. His lateral quickness also leaves something to be desired on defense as teams have continued to force him left with much success. These are things that will improve the more he plays and continues to strengthen his legs and should be a non-issue going forward.
In terms of numbers, what we have seen for Hayward so far is encouraging. Nothing crazy that would drop your jaw, but the numbers are solid. Through seven games Hayward is averaging 11.3 points on 42.9 percent shooting (40.7 3pt.%), 5.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 24.8 minutes.
To put this into perspective, in his last season as a member of the Utah Jazz (2016-17), he averaged 21.9 points on 47.1 percent shooting (39.8 3pt%), 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 34.5 minutes.
The statistical disparity that is most glaring is, of course, the shooting percentage, but it is worth noting that one year prior to the 2016-17 season he only shot 43.3 percent from the field. Overall, what we have seen from Hayward isn’t that far off from what he has done in the past.
His scoring is obviously down because of his minutes restriction and partly rust, shown in the form of a down shooting percentage, but most notably it should be expected that his scoring production takes somewhat of a dip when you look at the difference between the Jazz teams he was playing for and this current Celtics roster.
Towards the end of his tenure with the Jazz, Hayward was THE guy, he was their best player and a large part of their offense.
With the Celtics, he is one of three all-star caliber players, with a few young guys that play the same position as him at a very high level these days. It only makes sense that his offensive production would dip.
Additionally, if you follow the Celtics you are aware of their defensive acumen. This season, they are the best defensive team in the league going by defensive rating. By offensive rating, they rank 28th. The Utah Jazz in 2016-17, when Hayward had his best season, ranked 12th in offensive rating.
With all of that information, Hayward’s down statistics should not be of any concern to Celtics fans and frankly they are not down all that much. His numbers will climb as he gets more comfortable and as he gets his leg back to where it used to be, but do not count on him putting up 2016-17 type numbers because there is just too much talent and not enough shots to go around on this Celtics team.
What I would like to see out of Hayward is, first and foremost, an improvement in his shooting and secondarily, I want to see him distribute the ball more. His assist numbers are the second lowest of his career just above his rookie season. He should have plenty of opportunities to find teammates for open looks with the amount of talent on the roster and the number should rise as the team gains more chemistry.
You can’t look into statistics too much with such a small sample size but it is encouraging that Hayward is showing small signs of progress with every game. Eventually he will look fully comfortable and in shape again and those stats should trend upwards.
With a situation like he is in, rust is inevitable, but Celtics fans should realize that there could have been a lot more and be glad that he looks the way he does only one year removed from injury.