It might be hard to remember, but there was a time when Gordon Hayward was nasty at basketball.
In his first season back from a devastating leg injury, Hayward has looked like a shell of his former self while serving in mostly a bench role with the Boston Celtics. Never have the 28-year-old’s post-injury struggles been more glaring than they were Saturday night, when he scored just two points and played miserable defense in Boston’s 115-111 loss to the Golden State Warriors. The performance prompted one Warriors player to say that Hayward, in his current state, is a “liability” to the Celtics.
Hayward has had a few decent performances this season, but overall, he has looked slow and non-explosive on offense and over-matched on defense. But that hasn’t stopped Boston head coach Brad Stevens from giving Hayward big minutes — reportedly to the chagrin of some Celtics players.
Of course, much of this should be expected, given the severity of the injury Hayward suffered in his first game with Boston. It would’ve been unfair to expect him to return to his previous All-Star level.
But many Celtics fans didn’t watch Hayward when he was with the Utah Jazz, only reading his stats and hearing how good the Butler product was. All those fans have to go on is what Hayward has shown this season — which isn’t much.
Perhaps no area of Hayward’s game has been slower to come back than his ability to drive to the basket. Before dislocating his ankle, Hayward regularly drove baseline or middle and dunked over people. His ability to finish at the rim caused defenders to sag off, giving him space to knock down jumpers. He was an elite slasher and jump shooter, in addition to being a great passer and defender. These are traits all the NBA’s great wing players possess and are part of what made Hayward such a coveted player in free agency two years ago.
These days, Hayward looks worse than awkward when he drives to the rim. More often than not, he either lumbers to an unsuccessful reverse-layup attempt, or bails out and passes to the perimeter. It has made him drastically easier to guard.
So, with Hayward receiving so much negative press during his first real season in Boston, we thought it would be beneficial to go back and look at his highlights from his last season in Utah.
Again, if this season has served as your introduction to Hayward, then you will not recognize the guy in this video:
Can you imagine how good the Celtics would be if they had that Hayward on a nightly basis?
A day may come when Hayward looks like his old self — Paul George’s return to stardom should serve as reassurance — but he clearly has a long way to go. For now, all the Celtics can do is hope Hayward can be an above-average contributor off the bench in what the team hopes will be a deep playoff run.
However, with Anthony Davis finally on the trade block, one has to wonder exactly what kind of future Hayward has in Boston.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images