The 2018-19 season is in full swing and the Boston Celtics’ start has been somewhat underwhelming. The pre-season favorites to win the East are sitting in seventh place with a 2-2 record after losses to the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors. With only four games played, it seems a little early to be worried about this team, but they have struggled with some pretty weak competition thus far. In the first four games, they have lost to Orlando and barely beat the New York Knicks in a 2-point win. These performances have left fans a little restless and questioning if Gordan Hayward is to blame for the team’s early struggles.
Taking a look at Hayward’s numbers, the answer is no, he is not to blame. The main stat that concerns Celtics fans is the 11.7 points per game (PPG). Outside of the 5 minutes Hayward played last year, he hasn’t averaged less than 14 PPG since the 2011-12 season and in each of the three seasons preceding his ankle injury, he averaged over 19 PPG. The main reason for change in Hayward’s scoring so far is a result of fewer shot attempts.
In Hayward’s last three full seasons (where he averaged 19.3, 19.7, and 21.9 PPG) he attempted between 14 and 16 shots per game. This season, Hayward is averaging 11 shots per game and is making three-pointers at the second highest rate in his career.
Another factor we need to look at is who would be playing if Hayward wasn’t. The two players who have seen the biggest drop in minutes since Hayward entered the starting lineup are Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Smart, though he is a stellar defensive presence, shot only 36.7 percent from the field last year, and averaged 10.2 points per game. Rozier, had a much more meaningful offensive presence, especially in the post season. He had his best NBA season scoring 11.3 points per game shooting 39.5 percent from the floor.
Even when Rozier was seeing regular minutes last year, he averaged numbers rather similar to what Hayward is putting up right now. It makes a lot more sense for the Celtics to bet on Hayward, a former NBA All-Star, returning to his high production levels than to put their faith in a post season standout who averaged double digit scoring for the first time in his young career. The more playing time Hayward gets, the more likely we are to see how effectively he will bounce back from his season off.
One player that I would argue has had a large impact on the Celtics’ early struggles is Kyrie Irving. Last year, the Celtics got used to Irving producing 24.4 points per game shooting at just under a 50 percent from the floor. This year, he has only put up 16.5 points per game with a 39.1 percent field goal percentage. Irving will need to get of his slump soon if the Celtics are going to compete for the top spot in the East this year.
It has been a slow start for Celtics fans but the season isn’t doomed just yet. Hayward and Irving are both former All-Stars with multiple seasons of documented success. Personally, I feel very confident that both players are just in an early season lull and will soon be able to return to producing impressive stat lines at efficient scoring clips. On top of the likely upside Hayward and Irving bring to the team’s offense, Celtics fans can look forward to the development of rising star Jayson Tatum. In the first four games, he has averaged a double-double and twice as many rebounds per game as last year. Tatum is also enjoying increased assist and scoring numbers and should serve as a reliable source of offense until Kyrie and Hayward get back to the level we know they can produce at.