An interesting free agent the Knicks should keep their eye on is Gordon Hayward. With the Knicks unsure about Kevin Knox and no definite answer at the small forward position, it makes sense to sign Hayward, if he declines his player option.
Start of Hayward’s Career
Gordon Hayward was drafted ninth overall by the Utah Jazz in 2010 and spent the first seven years of his career there. Hayward became the spotlight of the Jazz team and blossomed into an All-Star in the 2016-2017 season.
In each of his seven seasons with Utah, Hayward continuously made improvements to his game, reaching higher scoring numbers each year. The slick-haired forward became the focal point of the Jazz offense. More than that, he became their leader and took them to the playoffs in the 2016-2017 NBA season. Hayward carried the Jazz to a fifth-place finish in the Western Conference. More impressively he took down the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. He led the team in scoring that season and in the playoffs. He scored 24.1 points per game in the two playoff series before getting swept by the Warriors.
Hayward Capitalizes On His Contract Year
Hayward proved himself to be one of the more lethal mid-range shooters in the game. He also proved that he is capable of leading a team to the playoffs. For both aspects, he gained tremendous respect around the league. And Hayward couldn’t have peaked at a better time. Hayward entered that offseason as a free agent. He garnered a lot of attention from teams and was considered one of the more valuable free agents on the market.
Gordon Hayward Signs with the Boston Celtics
On July 4th, Hayward sent out an emotional tweet. It described how torn he was with his decision to leave Utah, its fans, and everything the organization gave him. Hayward decided to sign with the Boston Celtics on a four-year/$128 million contract. The rich history and winning culture of the Celtics attracted Hayward. His connection with Brad Stevens, his head coach at Butler, played a big part as well. In this move to Boston, he had to give up being the focal point on the Jazz offense to being the second option behind Kyrie Irving. Hayward’s decision clearly was not as selfish as he was just trying to be a part of a championship team.
It Was Time For Hayward’s Game To Be Tested
Being a high volume shooter, it was going to be interesting to see how the budding star would be able to play behind a superstar. Hayward’s mid-range game was shaping up to be his most lethal part of his game. His time in Boston would be his chance to prove that he doesn’t have to score to contribute to a team. Passing and rebounding were never his strong suits. And while he was a dangerous scorer, he needed to become a more well-rounded player.
Hayward Eperiences Setback With Gruesome Injury
On opening night of the 2017-2018 season, October 17th, the basketball world was horrified. They watched Kyrie Irving throw an alley-oop to Hayward, and Hayward come down awkwardly on his ankle. In his first game as Celtic, he sustained a gruesome injury, fracturing his tibia and dislocating his ankle. There were questions about whether the small forward would be able to return to the court again. For anyone who sustains such an injury, there is a question of whether they will be able to reach the same level of play before their injury. More than that, people question whether they could regain their confidence after going through such trauma.
The Return of Gordon Hayward
Gordon Hayward deserves the utmost respect from the entire league as he fought his way back from the injury. After undergoing two surgeries to his ankle, Hayward returned to the court for opening night on October 16, 2018. His return marked almost a year after he sustained his injury. That season, Hayward spent his time on the court regaining his confidence. Brad Stevens did a phenomenal job of using him off the bench to ease him back into the NBA level of play.
Hayward Struggles In His First Season Back
Hayward was not a focal point of the Celtics offense in 2018. He faltered throughout the season, and people questioned what his future with the organization was. However, these discussions were completely unfair, and people were jumping to conclusions too soon. Hayward had not played basketball for a full year and needed to work his way back into shape. It was actually impressive that he was able to even play 25.9 minutes per game that season.
Gordon Hayward Bounces Back
Given his modest 2018-2019 season, there were not such high expectations for Hayward going into the 2019-2020 season. But he quietly showed that he can be a solid piece of a contending team. He actually had the most efficient season of his career, posting his highest field goal percentage, efficient field goal percentage, and free throw percentage numbers ever.
He showed flashes of his former self, tying a career high scoring game on November 5th when he dropped 39 points on the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was great to see Hayward rebuild his confidence and produce as a scorer once again. What was even more impressive than his improved efficiency was that he took steps forward in other aspects of his game as well. He improved his strength and physicality, posting a career-high rebounding average. He also improved his court vision and became a more talented passer, tying his second-best career assist averages.
Growth To Be Made for Hayward
There are some concerns about Hayward’s ability to re-incorporate the three-point shot into his game. He has looked a bit out of rhythm and erratic at times from long range. However, Hayward is trending in the right direction. Last season, he shot 38.3% from behind the arc, a number not close to his 47.3% career-high, but definitely an improvement on his 33.3% mark he posted in 2018-2019.
Hayward’s confidence shooting the three-ball shot will come back to him. He should instead focus on his biggest weakness: his lack of aggressiveness. Hayward doesn’t like to put his head down and take the ball to the hoop. His lack of a threat to drive is a problem and makes him too predictable with the ball in his hands. Hayward only attempted 2.8 free throws a game last season. He needs to become more aggressive if he wants to take his game to the next level.
Health Questions For Hayward?
Another important concern of Gordon Hayward is his health and his prone to injury. Aside from the left ankle injury in 2017, Hayward has sustained a couple of additional major injuries. On November 9th, in a game against the San Antonio Spurs, Hayward fractured his left hand.
More recently, was in the first round of this past year’s playoffs, in a game versus the Philadelphia 76ers. Hayward sprained his right ankle and even left the arena with a walking boot. Being that Hayward has sustained some serious injuries, his health is a legitimate concern going forward.
Gordon Hayward Just Doesn’t Fit in Boston
With Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown being the clear backbone of the Celtics, Gordon Hayward does not fit into the team’s future so well. All three of those players want the ball in their hands. Hayward, primarily being a scorer, is probably feeling overshadowed. Due to the lack of attention, Hayward could leave for a team this offseason that prioritizes him.
New York Should Be On Hayward’s List
Hayward can pick up his player option of $34.2 million to stay with the Celtics for an additional year. That is a big paycheck, so it’s not so likely that he will be joining a new team this coming season. However, the free-agent market this year is not so strong, and Hayward might not want to wait until next offseason where he will be overlooked by a stacked free-agent class.
If Hayward does decide to leave Boston, New York is a very possible destination. He will get the money he wants, and instantly become the focal point of the Knicks offense. Hayward could help R.J. Barrett improve his mid-range game, and at age 30, serve as a mentor to the Knicks young core.