The Boston Celtics had an impressive season in which they locked up the East’s No. 1 seed and then won two playoff rounds. This all happened before they crushed by LeBron James and the Cavs during the conference finals.
Two lessons from this setback: Boston needed a second star to ease the responsibility of its undersized leading scorer, Isaiah Thomas; second, even with that player that could not be enough to get past the Cavs in 2018.
With Gordon Hayward, the All-Star forward who was leaving the Utah Jazz as a free agent, confirmed on July 4th’s night that he was joining the Celtics, they took care of the first issue. This makes them a bit more daunting at a time when the Cavs have their own organizational trials coming.
Hayward is one of the more organic scorers in the NBA. He doesn’t need to dominate the ball to make an impact. His 27.6 percent usage rate was one of the lowest among players who achieved 20 points per game last season. Despite being Utah’s primary option, his usage didn’t rise much in clutch situations (28 percent). This is very different from Thomas’ pattern, whose usage went up to 46 percent in the clutch from 34 percent in general.
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Hayward’s offense works different: he excels in transition and figures to have more fast-break opportunities as a Celtic because Boston plays at a much faster pace than Utah (a team that has finished last in tempo the past three seasons). He also gets to the line frequently. Hayward, like many NBA guards, dominates the art of drawing fouls as a jump shooter. He’s gotten far better at finishing through contact, not only shooting 69 percent at the rim, but also finishing the season with more and-1s than shots rejected. To put that in context, only three other wing players showed a similar ability: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron.
This is one reason among many that make Hayward fit so well with Boston. He can comfortably play off the ball and the Celtics assist each other much more than the Jazz did last season. Boston currently designs many of their sets around Thomas’s speed — they use handoffs more than any other team because he excels at them — and there’s nothing about Hayward that suggests that this tactic will change.
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Hayward is best known for his offensive side, but he is also active on defense. He gave much for the Jazz in this regard, and the team had one of league’s best defenses last season. They, like the Celtics, used versatile, wing-heavy lineups that could switch their defensive assignments at will. Precisely that is the strategy Boston must use on the Cavaliers to contain James and to get out to Cleveland’s stable of perimeter shooters.
Either case, the Celtics are starting a new era with this acquisition – will they become the team able to stop the Cavs?
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