Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward was ranked the 25th best player in the NBA heading into the 2018-19 season by Sports Illustrated. Hayward is ranked just ahead of Ben Simmons and just behind John Wall, despite missing nearly all of last season, due to a horrifying leg injury he suffered in the first five minutes of his Celtics debut.
Initially, some were optimistic that he could make a late season return to help his team make their playoff run, but this was not the case. When the NBA Playoffs came around Hayward was able to run some, but he was nowhere near being able to compete with the speed and physicality needed for postseason play.
No. 25 is a good spot for Hayward. The Celtics camp says he is participating in full speed 5-on-5 work and will be ready for the season. In his last full season, he averaged 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting just under 40 percent from 3-point range for the Utah Jazz. If he returns to his old form, he will easily be an All-Star in the Eastern Conference.
His ability to guard three positions effectively makes him one of the most versatile weapons in the NBA. At 6-foot-8, the Celtics can use him as a power forward in small ball lineups. He will be able to guard plenty of power forwards in the post while abusing them on the offensive end. With Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford on his team, he won't have to be their go to scorer. The Celtics are loaded with swingmen that can score from all three levels.
Hayward's absence allowed the young core of his team to accelerate their development. If the Celtics could claim the second spot in the East without him, they should be a lock to have the best record in the conference with him healthy. Having a team than can ease him back into the flow of the NBA game will be very beneficial to his progress.
With his former college coach Brad Stevens at the helm of the Celtics' future, Hayward can be a chameleon that adjusts himself to fill any role his team needs.