The Boston Celtics’ newest addition puts them in rarefied air in today’s NBA.
Adding Hayward might not make the C’s favorites in the East just yet, but it could make them the biggest threat to the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, depending on how Boston reshapes its roster over the remainder of the summer.
Hayward is a dynamic scorer who can fill it up from all three levels of the floor. The 27-year-old is coming off a career year in which he averaged career highs in points (21.9) and field goal percentage (47.1 percent), while shooting a touch under 40 percent from the 3-point line.
Hayward’s ability to take the scoring load off All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas should pay huge dividends. But his addition, along with that of No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum and the further development of Jaylen Brown, also gives the C’s lineup versatility that only can be matched by the Warriors.
Boston has been a thorn in the Warriors’ side during the past two regular seasons in large part because they play a similar style of basketball.
The Celtics like to space the floor with shooters, letting ball movement and Thomas’ driving ability create open looks. Stevens also enjoys deploying lineups with the defensive versatility to combat a number of looks, much like Steve Kerr does with Golden State. That approach has led Boston to two wins in their last four meetings with the mighty Warriors.
Even if the Celtics lose Jae Crowder and either Marcus Smart or Avery Bradley, they still should be able to throw out lineups that can both score efficiently and be able to switch at will on defense.
The combination of Hayward, Tatum, Brown and Bradley/Smart, along with Thomas and Al Horford, gives Boston a core group of players who are perfect for today’s positionless NBA. They will be able to spread the floor with multiple shooters, which will give Hayward and Thomas space to operate and create looks for the supporting cast.
Hayward isn’t an All-NBA-caliber defender, but he is severely underrated on that end of the floor. He ranked 42nd in the NBA in defensive rating last season (106.3 points allowed per 100 possessions), just eight points behind league leader Draymond Green. Hayward is a fierce competitor who can disrupt offenses with his length by getting into passing lanes and altering shots.
The C’s still lack a lockdown wing defender to bother the likes of Kevin Durant or LeBron James, but Brown has shown flashes of defensive brilliance, and if Boston somehow can keep Bradley, it could be one of the better defensive teams in the league next season.
The Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers still will be considered the class of NBA next season, and rightfully so. But Hayward’s arrival puts the Celtics in the same conversation as these two juggernauts, while creating a team that neither Golden State nor Cleveland will want to see come next June.
Thumbnail photo via Erik Williams/USA TODAY Sports Images
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