Gordon Hayward’s preseason, on paper, wasn’t anything to write home about, and that was expected for a player who hasn’t played on an NBA court in nearly 12 months.
The 28-year-old suited up for three matchups over the past couple of weeks before sitting out the exhibition finale last Saturday night with a sore back. That ailment isn’t expected to prevent him from being ready for the regular-season opener next week against the Sixers.
Anyone who missed these preseason games (you didn't miss much) and just looked at the numbers would understandably be a bit concerned Hayward is a ways away from being close to his previous All-Star form. He shot 25 percent from the field and 10 percent from 3-point range (1-of-10) in his exhibition season, averaging just 7.7 points in 19.7 minutes per game. His struggles offensively lined up with the rest of his teammates on the perimeter from a shooting standpoint (C's shoot 24 percent from 3 as a team), as the new starting group appeared to have very limited chemistry (for now) when they were on the floor together.
Defensively with Hayward, things didn’t look great either at first glimpse. Speedy guards on the perimeter blew by him on multiple occasions and he nearly fouled out in the first half of one matchup against the Hornets, piling up five fouls in just 12 minutes. With the C’s team defense struggling mightily during the past few weeks, a lot of observers pointed to Hayward’s presence on the floor as the biggest change from an otherwise intact unit that was the No. 1 team in defensive rating last year. Would Hayward’s defense as he rounds back into form over the next month or two, be a potential liability for this group?
That question is fair, but it’s important to go beyond the numbers and raw data, especially when you are dealing with the preseason. For that reason, I went back and zeroed in on Hayward's play on video for all of his 58 minutes during the exhibition season to get a better sense of where he was at. Sure, the shots didn’t go down (anyone can see that), but how did the rest of his game look? Was he doing his job on defense? How’s his role in the flow of the offense? Passing? Using video and various conversations with Celtics personnel, a very encouraging conclusion was reached: Hayward’s preseason wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked on paper.
Here's a closer look why:
Positive signs beneath the surface