Gordon Hayward is not having the impact the Boston Celtics hoped he would upon his return from a devastating leg injury. The franchise was hoping that with Hayward back and LeBron James in Los Angeles, winning the Eastern Conference would be a cakewalk. That hasn’t happened and Hayward’s play has been more problem than solution.
So far this season, Hayward has played 44 games, starting 16. He’s averaging 10.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 26.0 minutes per game. He’s also shooting just 42.0 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from 3-point range. This is clearly Hayward’s worst season since his rookie year in 2010-11.
Hayward signed with the Celtics during the summer of 2017, during which he was coming off the best campaign of his career. During the 2016-17 season with the Utah Jazz, Hayward averaged 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 34.5 minutes per game. So this is a rapid decline and it’s clearly related to his injury.
When you go deeper inside the numbers, things get even worse.
Hayward currently ranks 149th in PER (14.48), 219th in real plus-minus (-0.93), 103rd in value over replacement player (0.7), 144th in box plus-minus (0.3), 102nd in win shares (2.7) and 155th in win shares per 48 minutes (.112). Given that Hayward is in the second season of a four-year, $128 million contract, he’s clearly not living up to that deal.
An investigation into the way the Celtics play with Hayward on and off the floor reveals a disturbing trend.
According to the NBA.com stats site, the Celtics have a net rating of +1.4 when Hayward is on the floor. When he’s off the floor though this has increased to a +11.4. That’s a full 10 points per 100 possessions better when Hayward is on the bench. Hayward was moved from the starting unit to the bench on November 19. For Hayward himself, it has made no difference. The Celtics still have a net rating of +1.4 when he’s on the floor. The rest of the team though has been even better since he was moved to the bench. When Hayward sits, since November 19, the Celtics have a net rating of 13.9.
Boston is clearly far better when Hayward hits the bench than when he’s on the floor. Given that he’s making $31.2 million this season and is set to make $32.7 million in 2019-20, with a $34.18 million player option for 2020-21, that’s not good.
The Celtics have a roster that is overloaded on the wing. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Hayward all need minutes to thrive. It’s clear right now that Hayward has the lowest ceiling of the three. The franchise has to hope this is just a lost season and that he improves as more time passes since his injury.
Boston is currently 30-19 and sits in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics are 5.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucksand trail the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers. Other than the Pacers — who just lost Victor Oladipo for the season — it’s hard to see how they could move past any of those teams right now.
At this point it’s clear if Boston needs to make a run at an NBA title, Hayward will need to see fewer and fewer minutes on the floor.