It's Time for Gordon Hayward to Start Again


For the first time since the years of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Boston Celtics entered this season as a favorite to win the Eastern Conference.  Given the talent this team has, and its performance last year sans Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, those expectations were legitimate.  However, through 60+ games, the team has struggled to live up those expectations and has been plagued by inconsistency.

Photo courtesy of  Yahoo Sports

Given all of the hype leading into this year, it has undoubtedly been one of the more disappointing and frustrating seasons of recent memory.  Yet, with exactly 20 games remaining, there is still ample time for this team to turn things around and enter the playoffs playing like the team everybody thought it would be.

Early season struggles led to a starting lineup change from Brad Stevens; inserting Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris for Jaylen Brown and Hayward.  That seemed to jolt the team a bit.  That has since worn off.  After a disappointing stretch of basketball these last few weeks - a stretch in which each loss seems like it has one upped the previous one in terms of ugliness - the team finds itself in the midst of a four-game losing streak.  It appears they may be in need of another jolt.

The time has now come for Hayward to return to the starting lineup.  How Hayward would recover and progress from his gruesome ankle injury last year was one of the top storylines for this team entering the season.  He understandably got off to a slow start, struggling to find consistency.  Up until the All-Star Break, February had far and away been Hayward's best month this season.  He was shooting better than 50% from the field and from three-point range, and had posted his highest, monthly PPG average.  Now, his three games since the break have been tough, but overall, it's been a great month.

Shop for official Boston Celtics team gear and authentic collectibles at NBAStore.comThe obvious candidates to replace would be Smart or Morris.  Though you could make a case for either, I think the former would be the best option.  That’s not an indictment on Smart, and how he’s been playing;  Morris has actually been the one who has struggled as of late.  Smart is enjoying the best shooting season of his career and continues to impact the game on both ends of the floor.  Anybody who watches the Celtics understands his value to this team.

Statistically speaking, the numbers favor a lineup of Hayward-Morris-Irving-Tatum-Horford.  Though this combination has only played a little over 50 minutes together in 23 games, it has proven to be one of Boston's most effective lineups.

Of Boston's 5-man combinations that have appeared in at least 10 games, and played over 50 minutes, this lineup has the second highest net rating; outscoring their opponents by 14.  They allow 7 fewer points in their time on the floor, when compared to the current starting five.  They are also the best rebounding and offensive rebounding lineup Boston has.

Offensively, they attack the basket way more than any other Celtic lineup.  On average, this lineup attempts 8 more free throws, and 7 fewer threes than their opponents.  They don't settle for long jumpers.  They also play a lot faster; far and away the leaders in PACE with a mark of 121.16; the next highest mark is 108.09.  Simply put, they have a lot more possessions on offense.

Moving Smart back to the bench would also help inject some energy into a second unit that can be lethargic at times.  One of Boston’s biggest issues this year has been its performance in the second quarter.  Many times, the team will get off to a good start, only to fail to sustain it and cough up the lead they had built.  It's not just that they cough up the lead, they will turn 6-7 point leads in to 10-12 point deficits.

Smart's presence on the second unit, and Hayward's absence, may also help Terry Rozier.  It’s no secret that Rozier has been struggling this season.  It’s been a big adjustment for him retreating to the bench with Kyrie Irving healthy.  At times he tries to do too much, knowing that his minutes and opportunities are limited.  At other times it feels like he’s not aggressive enough, trying too hard to involve others.  Swapping Hayward and Smart could provide a solution. 

One, it puts one less scorer on the second unit.  With less scoring options, maybe Rozier gets a little more aggressive, knowing that he has to be.  It also puts a playmaker in Smart, with the second unit.  Rozier is a scorer, he’s not the best at running and facilitating the offense.  Smart on the other hand is a great playmaker and can help facilitate ball movement, allow Rozier to play off the ball, and find himself with some more scoring opportunities. 

Hayward has played 30+ minutes in 10 games this season.  The Celtics are 6-4 in those games, but the last 4 of these occasions have all been Celtic victories.  Three of those four losses came in the first month of the season. 

Something has to change with this team, and fast. 

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Boston Sports Syndicate: It's Time for Gordon Hayward to Start Again
It's Time for Gordon Hayward to Start Again
Boston Sports Syndicate
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