The Celtics wanted Gordon Hayward back this past offseason, offering over $100 million for his services for the next four seasons. We are seeing why through the first three weeks of the regular season.
The veteran wing has the Hornets looking like a frisky team in the Eastern Conference so far, leading Charlotte back from a sluggish 2-5 start to begin the year to the team’s current four-game winning streak, tied with the Celtics for the longest active streak in the league.
Flanked by some strong play by former Celtic teammate Terry Rozier and No. 3 overall pick LaMelo Ball, Hayward has gotten his wish in Charlotte as being the featured option in the offense and is making the most of it early. He’s taking a career-high 17.2 shots per game and has been incredibly efficient so far, posting a rare 50/40/90 split (FG%/3PT%/FT%) during his opening 11 games so far. Those numbers include a career-high 44 point performance against the Hawks last week for Hayward in a win.
While Hayward is certainly putting himself up for All-Star consideration with the fast start (22.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.0 apg), he’s honestly not doing much different than he did last season in Boston. In fact, Hayward’s numbers in multiple areas (20.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.6 apg) were actually better in the first seven games of last season before a crushing LaMarcus Aldridge screen broke his hand in San Antonio and sidelined him for several weeks.
Durability is the biggest question mark in terms of whether Hayward can sustain these numbers of course but the Hornets are certainly getting full value (or close to it) so far with the $120 million deal they gave Hayward this offseason. The bigger question with the swingman of course is whether he will be able to sustain good health and good performance for an extended stretch for the first time in the last four seasons. Just what Hayward’s production will look like when he’s a 33-year-old earning $30 million is clearly worth wondering as well.
Meanwhile, while the Celtics surely wanted the efficient swingman back, they can’t help but feel happy about how things have turned out on their end so far from an on-court standpoint. Jaylen Brown has upped his game with the additional opportunities that opened up in Hayward’s absence, making him and Jayson Tatum looking like one of the most formidable one-two combos in the entire league this year.
The Celtics certainly miss Hayward from a depth and a playmaking standpoint but they will have some help arriving on that front in the coming weeks with Kemba Walker’s return looming and Romeo Langford expected to be back in February as well. Those two and the smart use of the team’s $27.5 million trade exception created by Hayward’s exit may end up