It was at once shocking and completely unsurprising when Brad Stevens decided to move veteran forward Gordon Hayward to the bench as this year’s Celtics team struggled through the early season. After returning from last year’s gruesome ankle injury, Hayward has had a hard time finding his groove with his still-new team. Though he’s been with the Celtics for about a season and a half now, he’s only played in a handful of games after suffering that injury in the opening minutes of the 2017-2018 season.
In his final season with the Utah Jazz–the year he got the All-Star nod–he averaged 21.9 points per game as his length and composure made him a force to be reckoned with.
So far this season though, he hasn’t been that guy. He’s averaging just 10.2 points per game with the Celtics and has often seemed lost on the court as he adjusts to a team that he has yet to play substantial minutes with. He’s playing tentatively, and the Celtics need more from him pronto.
In Cavs Blowout, Kyrie saw Flashes of the old Gordon
Though Hayward has graciously accepted a spot on the bench for now, he’s still receiving substantial minutes–minutes that prove the organization hasn’t given up on him despite the lingering rust. The Celtics will face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight (who are on the up-and-up since letting go of Jimmy Butler for Dario Saric and Robert Covington), and though the Timberwolves likely won’t focus too much energy on the still-timid Hayward, Kyrie Irving says that his 14-point performance last night was a huge factor in the win.
“Look how much we won by,” Irving said. “I think that right there is a happy moment because it was all in the flow of our offense, it was all Gordon being Gordon.”
The Celtics need Gordon to be Gordon a little more often. The team is finally a promising 12-10 after clawing its way up from the near-bottom of the conference, and they’re 3-3 since moving Hayward to the bench. That’s far from ideal for what was supposed to be a huge Eastern Conference contender (second only to the Raptors, maybe. Or so we thought.) but it’s a start as both the team and Hayward adjust to the new role.
In spite of that patience and praise of Hayward, Irving isn’t shy about telling him what the team needs from him. During a sideline report last night it was revealed that Irving pulled Hayward aside during a recent practice to tell him to up his aggression.
“‘You’re a true talent in this league, and I want to make sure you don’t forget that,'” the Celtics reporter said of Kyrie’s talk with Gordon. “Irving also mentioned that Gordon does a great job of coming off the pick-and-roll and making the right passes. He just needs him to be aggressive and score more, because this C’s team needs his scoring down the stretch.”
They certainly do, and it’ll be up to every member of the Celtics to help him make it happen. For now, though, it seems like he’s working his way up.