Gordon Hayward’s tenure with the Celtics has not gone according to plan thus far. After signing a mega deal in the summer of 2017, Hayward suffered his catastrophic ankle injury. The injury has been a major setback in what hoped to be a serious booster to the Celtics title contending hopes.
It’s hard to criticize a player that suffers an injury as gruesome as Hayward’s. However, his 2018-2019 campaign left much to be desired. He showed flashes of brilliance at times, and completely disappeared in others. His inconsistencies also contributed to the dysfunction of 2018-2019 Celtics. Now, two full seasons removed from the injury, Celtics fans are anxious to see Hayward prove he is worth his contract. Thus bodes the question, will Gordon Hayward return to his All-Star form in the upcoming season?
Paul George Comparison
From the moment of Hayward’s injury, comparisons began to Paul George. George suffered a similar ankle injury during a scrimmage for Team USA before the 2014-2015 season. George returned to play six games at the end of that season; as many assumed Hayward may come back at the end of the 2017-2018 season. To the disdain of Celtics fans, Hayward did not return in similar fashion. Additionally, in George’s first full season back, he played 81 of 82 games and averaged 23.1 points per game (ppg). Unfortunately, Hayward’s production was significantly less than prior to his injury: he played 73 games averaging 21.9 ppg for Utah, and played 72 games averaging 11.5 ppg for the Celtics.
Direct comparisons between player injuries can be misleading. Paul George came back to an Indiana team that had chemistry and immediately allowed him to play a style he was comfortable in. Hayward came back and was forced into an unfamiliar role. He had only played 5 total minutes in the 2017-2018 season with his new teammates. He also suffered setbacks from his injury during the summer of 2018 that hindered his ability to rehab properly for a full off-season. Ultimately, Paul George had a better campaign in his full season coming off of the injury. However, this bodes well for Hayward; it proves that players can return from this type of injury back to their previous form.
Hayward faced immense pressure upon his return at the beginning of the season. He was thrown into the starting lineup on a team with immeasurable talent and was expected to produce immediately. After failing to meet that production, he was moved to the bench in attempts to alleviate some of the pressure. Unfortunately, it only created more pressure to be a major scoring threat off of the bench. All of this was placed on his shoulders without even considering the lasting effects of his injury.
For the upcoming season, some of the pressure still exists. Hayward will be under the public eye to produce at a level to match his massive contract. However, diminished expectations for the team and another year removed from injury may allow for Hayward to recreate himself as a Celtic.
Flashes of Brilliance
During the 2018-2019 season, Hayward had instances where he performed like a former All-Star. He had multiple games where his scoring surpassed 20 points; including three games with 30 or more. As the season progressed, his aggressiveness returned and he began attacking the basket more frequently. All of this pointed toward a culmination where he would give the Celtics a consistent scoring option off of the bench. Unfortunately, he never quite reached that consistency.
These flashes of brilliance are the most important aspect of the possibility of Hayward’s return. Celtics fans can look to these performances as proof that he still has the ability to produce at a high level. His burst and aggressiveness are still there, it is a matter of harnessing those more consistently.
Gordon Hayward is due to have a major comeback season in 2019-2020. Celtics fans will be counting on it.