A Detailed Look at Hayward's Explosive Entry into 2019
BOSTON – If Gordon Hayward’s New Year’s resolution was to enhance his explosiveness, then he’s off to a great start.
The Boston Celtics opened the 2019 portion of their season Wednesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Hayward pulled all of his scoring tricks out of the bag during a season-high 35-point performance that helped pave the way to a 115-102 win at TD Garden.
As you can see from his shot chart on the right, Hayward was scoring from all over the court against the Wolves. After missing his first two shots of the game, he went on to make 14 of his final 16 attempts, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range.
What we are mostly going to focus on is that cluster of green dots below the basket. That’s where Hayward showed his greatest signs of improvement.
The most notable struggle for Hayward, post-ankle surgery, has been his ability to burst to the basket. He’s made gradual progress with that as time has gone on, scattering a handful of explosive rim runs throughout the campaign, but nothing like he showed Wednesday night.
Hayward continuously blasted from the top of the arc to the cup with ease, which opened the door for him to create numerous opportunities for himself and for his teammates. His aggressiveness led to a season-high three dunks, after tallying just four during his previous 32 games combined.
The first play that we’ll take a look at wasn’t one of those dunks, but it still effectively displays Hayward’s improved lateral and downhill quickness.
Late in the second quarter, Hayward finds himself matched up against Wolves forward James Nunnally at the top of the arc. Al Horford comes over to set a pick on Nunnally, of which Hayward curls around before lowering his shoulder and driving toward the cup. Nunnally is able to dodge the screen and actually does a great job of sticking with his man, but Hayward is able to adjust to the strong defense by pulling up and creating separation with his legs. He hangs in the air before banking an easy bucket off the glass.
Thirty seconds later, Hayward delivered one of his most promising baskets of the season.
Here he finds himself in the same exact scenario against Nunnally. Once again, Horford sets a screen, only this time Nunnally runs right into it. This creates an open lane for Hayward, who curls around the pick and takes off toward the basket, before throwing down the rock with both hands.
Here’s a look at the same play from a different angle. Watch the explosion after his second dribble.
Hayward also displayed his ability to find space and make intelligent off-ball cuts Wednesday night.
Early in the third quarter, Al Horford is fed the ball at the top of the arc while the C’s are orchestrating transition offense. It appears he’s about to rise up for a 3-point shot, but then he recognizes that both Josh Okogie and Karl-Anthony Towns are closing out on him at the same time. Hayward sees the same thing, which creates a better option. That option is Hayward cutting to the rim from the backcourt. He catches Horford’s eye, Horford delivers the ball just as Hayward kicks into a higher gear, and then Horford watches as his teammate soars through the air for another two-handed slam.
Scoring wasn’t the only method that enabled Hayward to show off his improved burst against the Wolves. He also used it to help create opportunities for his teammates, as he dished out five assists on the night.
Here, during the first quarter, Hayward curls around staggered screens set by Marcus Morris and Guerschon Yabusele, receives a hand-off from Yabusele, and turns the corner toward the hoop. His aggressiveness draws the attention of four Minnesota defenders. As soon as the defense collapses upon him, Hayward hooks a pass over to a wide-open Morris, who splashes home a triple.
Later on, we see Hayward use his burst in a similar manner to set up an alley-oop pass to Horford.
After the game, Hayward acknowledged that he’s noticed a great difference in his lateral quickness from the start of the season to now.
“It’s so much better than it was (at the beginning of the season),” Hayward told ESPN sideline reporter Doris Burke as he was doused by his teammates in a post-game Gatorade shower. “I think it’s pretty close to where it was (before the injury).”
So, keep your eyes peeled for a more explosive and a more aggressive Hayward in 2019.