Another summer, another marquee free agent has signed with the Boston Celtics. Ever since draft night Danny Ainge has been in hot water for trading away the number one pick and then watching Jimmy Butler and Paul George get traded for pennies on the dollar.
By now almost everyone is aware of the fact that Brad Stevens was Hayward’s college coach at Butler. While that connection is helpful in integrating Hayward into Boston’s offense and easing some of his adjustments he is already well suited for their style of play. There are a few different ways that Hayward fits like a hand in a glove into Boston’s read and react offense.
When looking at some footage from this past season in Utah, Hayward is well rounded on offense but has three pieces of his game that were most critical to his success: pick and roll ability, dribble handoffs, and the ability to score in mid range isolations. Sound familiar? The first two pieces should because they are major parts of the Celtics offense.
Think for a minute how many times this past season we watched Isaiah Thomas cross half court and immediately get down hill and attack off of a high screen from Al Horford. Or, someone else brought the ball up and Thomas got to the corner, waited while the Celtics started their weave motion above the key and then sprinted off a dribble handoff or double screens to either stop on a dime for three or attack the basket downhill.
The issue was Thomas was the only player on the team capable of doing those things and as a result in the playoffs he saw double and triple teams. Hayward, from day one, is going to alleviate offensive responsibilities off of the little guy.
I think we will immediately see Hayward used in a lot of the same sets as Thomas. One play Utah ran a lot that Boston does a variation of was a double high screen with Rudy Gobert and another shooter. Boston could use this plugging in Horford and any of Thomas/Smart/Brown combo where Hayward uses the initial picks and then Horford re screens for the shooter to fade back for a three. The beauty of this set will be the versatility. Hayward is a threat to shoot off the pick or drive, Horford can slip in for a layup or roll back for three and whoever the second screener is that is fading off the re-screen can catch and shoot or attack a closeout.
Another set that can be featured puts Hayward off the ball. He can run off double screens just like Isaiah Thomas does, but there are more options. Last season Hayward would often read the defense jumping the screens and cut back door for lobs, that will still be an option in Boston. Second, when Thomas runs off screens that usually meant Avery Bradley or Marcus Smart was the passer and they were not isolation threats. Hayward off the ball means Thomas is the passer and if defenses worry too much about Hayward navigating screens Thomas is subject to blowing by his man and having no resistance at the rim.
Hayward also excels in the mid post. Anytime the shot clock got under 8 the Celtics were often forced into contested threes when Isaiah was bottled up. Hayward can get his own shot anytime he wishes using a combination of step backs, spin moves, and post fadeaways from anywhere on the floor. Last season, Hayward shot 38% between 16 feet and the three point line and 40% from three. Those are solid percentages from an area of the floor where shots are often heavily contested.
Those are just examples of a few sets. Honestly, the dimensions that Hayward adds to the Celtics offense are tremendous and varied. Hayward, Thomas, and Horford are all super skilled and will be a fun combination to watch. Envision the pick and rolls – Thomas/Horford, Thomas/Hayward, Hayward/Horford.
Each player is skilled enough to the point where the Celtics could get crazy if they wanted. By that I mean Thomas could actually set the screen for Hayward, it would be like a mini version of a Durant/Curry pick and roll where each player is so good offensively defenses do not know how to react. Or, Horford in some cases could dribble and Hayward could screen for him. Al is not overly mobile but opposing bigs do not want to be put in pick and rolls and Al’s passing could pick them apart.
Hayward is the secondary scorer the Celtics badly needed. The skill level of the “new big three” of Horford, Thomas, and Hayward may trail only Golden State and Cleveland. If the three mesh quickly Boston could be a top 5 offensive unit next season.
Hayward will not have to adjust a ton. Boston and Utah run a lot of the same basic actions. One difference is the Celtics play at a much higher pace which should only help an athlete like Hayward. He can be dynamic in the open floor running for lobs or spotting up for threes.
Not only does Hayward fit the offense but he is a major plus on defense too (skip to the 3:45 mark of the video to see what he did to the Celtics). Hayward gets a lot of attention for his chasedown blocks but his perimeter defense is solid too.
At 6-foot-8-inches he is nimble enough to stay in front of most guards but also has the strength to play the 4 position. He is built well to match up against Eastern Conference foe Lebron James. With the Celtics having moved on from their best perimeter defender in Avery Bradley, Hayward can help stabilize the defense a bit.
Even without Bradley a lineup of Smart, Jaylen Brown, Hayward, Crowder and Horford has potential to be really good defensively. They are long and athletic and would be able to switch everything which is perfect for the modern style of play in the NBA. Hayward is not elite or even comparable to AB as a defender but he can hold his own and hopefully soften the loss of Bradley a little bit.
Since Marcus Morris is headed into town in exchange for Bradley the potential starting lineup could be IT, Hayward, Crowder, Morris and Horford. Arguments can be made for Jaylen Brown or Marcus Smart to start as well but right now the other 5 looks more likely. Jaylen is not ready to start (yet) and Smart is best suited in the energizer role, jack of all trades player off the bench.
That starting 5 has serious potential offensively. Each player has legitimate three point range which means Isaiah Thomas would have loads of space to work with. Between that, Horford’s passing, and Hayward’s set of multiple offensive skills Boston would put up points in a hurry. Crowder and Morris are better as fourth and fifth options and that is exactly what this new lineup allows them to be.
Bradley’s departure hurts, not only for what he provided on the court, defense especially, but also his attitude and demeanor. However, Hayward can slide in nicely now to ease some of the issues that arise upon Bradley’s departure.
Brad Stevens often talks about “positionless basketball” what he means is 5 guys on the court who are versatile. They can all shoot, dribble, defend, and shoulder multiple responsibilities. Since his arrival Boston never really had the pieces to play that way. Now, Hayward opens that door and Stevens knows better than anyone else how to position him to succeed.
Anyway the signing is viewed there is no denying that it is mutually beneficial. Hayward takes the Celtics a level above where they were last year, while Boston has a better, more versatile supporting cast and easier path to success than the Jazz in the West. Do not expect Hayward to have to change much of his game, he is going to fit in just fine. If all goes well the Celtics may have two 20 point per game scorers next season.
The Celtics front office has long talked about “fireworks” and making assets into players. This Fourth Of July we got what we have been waiting for, oh and Danny Ainge still held onto all of those assets for the future. Now it is time for Hayward to put his impression on the Celtic faithful.