And just like that, Gordon Hayward is putting together an early-season résumé resembling NBA All-Star production.
The Charlotte Hornets wing, who spent the last three campaigns in Boston, is averaging a career-high 24.1 points per game through 15 contests. In those 15 games, Hayward averaged just shy of 35 minutes, which would his most since the 2015-16 season when he was a member of the Utah Jazz.
The 30-year-old Hayward already has scored 28-plus points in six games. He scored 44 points on 60% shooting against the Atlanta Hawks, 39 points on 60% shooting against the Orlando Magic on Sunday and 34 points on 65% against the New York Knicks. Hayward scored the game-winning basket to propel the Hornets over the Magic on Sunday as Charlotte moved to 7-8 on the season. He’s shooting 51 percent from the field, 43% from behind the arc and 87% at the charity stripe.
Hayward is back to consistently looking like the player the Celtics wanted him to be upon signing him as a free agent before the 2018-19 season. But we all know the backstory, so let’s not get into it.
Let’s just say that Hayward clearly is happy about it. He should be.
But that doesn’t mean Celtics fans need to frustrated, either. Hayward’s departure this offseason has opened the door for something else — something more important.
And that’s Jaylen Brown.
Brown likely doesn’t make this big of a jump (and this quickly) if Hayward still is in Boston as another facilitator and shot maker. And the 24-year-old has been stellar, looking not only like a NBA All-Star himself, but someone who could garner NBA MVP votes if his production continues. Brown has been able to do so recently with Jayson Tatum out of the Celtics’ lineup due to COVID-19 protocols, but that won’t be the case any longer.
Tatum is expected to play Monday as Boston travels to play the Chicago Bulls. Brown, though, already was exceeding expectations early on with Tatum in the lineup. They work extremely well together and play off each other arguably better than any two young stars. We don’t think Tatum’s return will cause Brown to change.
That’s a good thing.
After all, Brown, similarly to Hayward, is averaging a career-best 27.1 points per game in 15 contests. He’s shooting 53% from the floor and 43% from behind the arc, both of which are career highs. He’s also added a career mark of 3.5 assists per game while playing under 33 minutes per game.
In addition to Brown’s emergence, the Celtics also possess $28.5 million as a trade exception after Hayward landed in Charlotte as part of a sign-and-trade. It could help add a piece ahead of the NBA trade deadline, as long as Boston continues to keep pace as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Win-win trades don’t take place very often in the NBA, but it seems both Hayward and the team he left behind have benefitted early on.