The Celtics are performing below expectations this season, and Gordon Hayward says he’s willing to come off the bench to help his team find its rhythm.
“For me, I’m happy to be on the court, No. 1 more than anything and, No. 2, whatever I can do to help us win,’’ Hayward told The Boston Globe. “I said it before the season, it’s whatever to me.
Boston went 1-4 on its recent five-game road trip, only beating the lowly Suns. The Celtics became the default favorites to win the Eastern Conference once LeBron James departed for Los Angeles, but just haven’t looked up to snuff. They have promising players Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, but many are speculating that they might have trouble jelling.
Hayward’s gruesome leg injury kept him out for all but five minutes of last season, and he hasn’t been able to return to his All-Star form. Through 12 games, Hayward is averaging 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 rebounds. He hasn’t averaged fewer than 10 points a game since his rookie season.
His field-goal percentage is lower than it has ever been, and his mark of 31.9 percent from behind the arc isn’t desirable either. The Celtics’ 7-6 record ranks them fifth in the East going into Wednesday’s play.
“There’s obviously a little bit of rust and sometimes you just go through those phases,” Gordon said. “You go through slumps. The shot feels good in practice and looks good, and for whatever reason in the game, they’re in and out.”
Boston clearly is still a playoff team, but the Celtics have a lot to fix if they want to join the elite. Their personnel has a variety of useful skills on offense, but there is no established hierarchy. The Celtics want Kyrie Irving to be the superstar that holds the team together, but he hasn’t been at his best. The emergence of Tatum and Rozier has created a power struggle when it comes to offensive production.
Defensively, the Celtics have been among the worst in the NBA. Their defensive rating (102.7) is last in the league, per NBA.com. This is something coach Brad Stevens has said since the preseason needs to be corrected.
Hayward may need to take a backseat for the Celtics to find a new identity this season. It may be a while before he gets back to being his old self, so a bench role might actually be the best move for the team right now.