The 2019-20 NBA campaign is Gordon Hayward’s unofficial comeback season.
Two years removed from a gruesome foot injury that ended his first year in Boston five minutes into his Celtics debut, Hayward entered the 2019-20 regular season determined to make an impact and is only two games away from ending the year shooting at a career-best clip (51%) while averaging an additional six points per game (17.5) compared to last season.
It’s an improvement attributed to the fact that Hayward is also averaging an additional five more field goal attempts per game. The initiative of finding ways to impact the game with the ball in his hands has pushed Hayward to be more assertive; to force the issue by constantly pushing the ball towards the rim in attempts to keep opposing defenders on the heels of their feet.
“I just tried to go out there and attack, tonight, maybe a little more,” Hayward said after Sunday’s win. “Honestly, there were so many opportunities that were just there that weren’t as there the other games. But I feel good, felt good.”
Hayward’s offensive approach this season helps create scoring opportunities for not only himself but for his teammates as well.
“I think that our team is at our best when I’m aggressive and attacking,” Hayward said. “It opens the court for everyone else and a lot of time with me attacking it doesn’t necessarily end up in me scoring. But it can be a pass or an extra or something else but I think just getting in the paint for our team is good and just trying to attack.”
Hayward scored a game-high 31 points to go with his 9 rebounds, 5 assists as the Celtics topped the Magic, 122-119 in overtime.
“He’s been really good here, for the most part, in these games,” Stevens said following Sunday’s win. “He’s been really good so he’s been in attack mode the whole time. When he’s attacking we’re better because he just makes a lot of great reads with the ball.”
For a franchise with a rich history, a roster filled with promising talent, and on its third All-Star point guard in three years, it’s almost a miracle this Celtics team didn’t implode before Ainge’s eyes. In the past, we’ve seen what the pressure of fans and the media can do to an NBA locker room, for a fitting example of that, we don’t have to look much further than the 2018-19 season.
The 2018-19 Celtics
High off of the 2018 playoffs, where an Irving & Hayward-less Celtics team pushed LeBron and the Cavs to the brink of elimination, egos flared in Boston’s locker room throughout the 2019 season. Meanwhile, Celtics fans grew impatient with Hayward’s progress.
For them, they had over 127 million reasons – the total value of Hayward’s four-year deal with the Celtics – to be frustrated with Hayward, who took months to find his stamina and over a year to turn-in consistent production. He worked his way through all of it.
Hayward pushed amidst all of the drama, youth, and uncertainty. Between two young stars in Tatum and Brown blossoming into 20-point scorers and an All-Star point guard, at times, berating you on and off the court (fittingly, this also happened in Orlando), it’s difficult to stay positive and carve out a role all while staying competitive at the top of the Eastern Conference.
But Hayward kept at it. Averaging 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists, he’s turned into the Swiss Army knife, of sorts, for Stevens and leads a critical role for the 2020 Celtics – one where teammates lean on him for scoring, defense, assists, and leadership, overall.
READ NEXT: 5 Reasons Gordon Hayward, Kemba Walker Will Dictate Celtics Offseason