Celtics

Hayward gives Celtics a boost on defense, too

celtics_gordon_hayward_092617.jpg

Hayward gives Celtics a boost on defense, too

NEWPORT, R.I. – The praise doled out on Gordon Hayward by Al Horford earlier this week was predictable.

“Gordon is a guy that really does it all,” Horford said. “He really shoots the ball extremely well.”

Horford would go on to show some love to Hayward’s passing ability and then he begins to praise … Hayward’s defense?

“Probably the biggest thing that always impressed me about Gordon is his defense,” said Horford who added, “I don’t think people talk about that enough.”

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He’s right.

Because even though he played for a Utah Jazz team that ranked among the league’s best defensively last season, much of that credit was given to Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who was runner-up for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award which went to Golden State’s Draymond Green.

But when you start to look at the numbers, the Celtics appear to be getting more than a 20-point scorer in Hayward, whose play last season earned him his first All-Star appearance.

When it comes to Hayward, his 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds – both career highs – are often the first stats cited when talking about his breakout play last season.

But he also set personal bests in offensive (109.5) and defensive rating (102.4) which led to a career-best net rating of +7.1.

Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry worked with Hayward as an assistant coach at Butler when the 6-foot-8 Hayward helped lead the school to a pair of national runner-up finishes.

In those two seasons, the Bulldogs were one of the top defensive teams in the NCAA.

In 2009, Butler opponents averaged 58.7 points per game which put the Bulldogs sixth in the NCAA in scoring defense.

They followed that up by allowing 59.4 points in 2010 which ranked eighth in the nation.

“The one thing about him, being with Brad (Stevens) in college, we played a defensive-minded system,” Shrewsberry told CSNNE.com. “And Gordon played for a really great high school coach. That stuff was really built into him, kind of naturally. And he’s got some gifts kind of naturally. He has long arms, he’s smart, he can anticipate really well.”

There are a number of NBA players who have experienced Hayward’s defense, including LeBron James back in 2014 and more recently, Houston’s James Harden.

And while those are the kind of plays that certainly find a home on the highlight reel for that night, Hayward has shown himself to be a more consistent defender than he’s given credit for.

According to NBA.com/stats, players defended by Hayward shot 3.8 percent less from the field with him defending them on 2-pointers, and 2.2 percent less when he was defending them on 3-point attempts.

Hayward is thankful for the praise, but doesn’t give it too much thought.

“I don’t really focus too much on what other people say about my game. If they overlook (my defense), they overlook it,” Hayward said. “I know I have to be a better defender. A lot of that is just a focus and mindset-type of thing. I know that defensively we’re going to need to be really good to be successful.”

And Hayward will be part of that process; a bigger part of it than most anticipated.

“People don’t see his defensive strengths,” Horford said. “I feel like he’s going to make us better in that regard.”

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Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

BOSTON – When Brad Stevens took the Boston Celtics job in 2013, he knew what he was getting into.
 
Yes, the Celtics at that time were rebuilding which usually means years and years of slow but steady progress – if you’re lucky.
 
And then after maybe a few years of struggling to win games, a breakout season occurs and just like that – you’re back in the playoffs.

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 But here’s the thing with the Celtics.
 
While most rebuilding teams spend years working their way towards being competitive, Stevens hit the ground running and in just four years, he led the Celtics from being a 25-win team to one that was just three wins away from getting to the NBA Finals.
 
He has the kind of basketball resume that’s impressive on many levels.
 
But Stevens knows good isn’t good enough in this town.
 
“We’re here in Boston,” he said. “Winning is good, but hanging one of those (banners) up is what it’s all about. That’s what makes this such a special franchise.”
 
And for Stevens, a franchise where the expectations for success under his watch have never been greater than they are now.
 
Boston only returns one starter (Al Horford) from last year’s squad which advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after having won an East-best 53 games.
 
However, they added a pair of All-Stars in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to join Horford. In addition, they drafted Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
 
Boston also has a slimmed-down Marcus Smart (he lost 20 pounds from a year ago) as well Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier who will both benefit from having another NBA season under their belts.
 
And while it’s a small sample size and consists of just two teams (Philadelphia and Charlotte), the Celtics breezed their way through the preseason with a flawless 4-0 record which included at least one game in which they did not play their usual starters which shows how impactful their depth may be this season.
 
That success can only help, especially with a challenging schedule that includes seven of their first 11 games being on the road. 
 
Still, the potential of this Celtics team has never been greater than it is right now since Stevens took over in 2013.
 
And just like the increased expectations of the team, the same can be said for Stevens who is considered one of the better coaches in the NBA.
 
Marcus Morris will begin his first season with the Celtics, but had a lot of respect for Stevens well before he was traded to Boston from Detroit this summer.
 
“You hear a lot of good things about him from other players,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “And once you get in here and start working with him and seeing what he does every day, you see what they’re talking about. He’s a good coach, man.”
 
This team’s success will hinge on how the players perform, but there’s an added element of pressure on Stevens to find the right combinations that will position the Celtics for success.
 
“We have a lot more guys who can do a lot more things on the court, so it will be a little more challenging for us to figure out how to best play with each other, and for Brad to figure out which combinations are the best ones,” Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “But we’ll figure it out. Brad’s a really good coach, a really smart coach. And on our team, we have a lot of players who are smart, high basketball I.Q. guys. We’ll be OK.”
 
Basketball smarts aside, the Celtics’ success will hinge heavily on how quickly they can bring a roster with 10 new players up to speed quickly.
 
It’s still early, but players like what they’ve seen from the collective body in terms of team chemistry.
 
“I think that’s the beauty of a lot of guys on the team,” said Gordon Hayward. “It’ll be different each night with some of the different roles we play.”
 
Which is why the Celtics, while lacking experience as a team because of so many new faces, are still seen as capable of winning because they have a number of players who can impact the game in many ways.
 
But as good as they are, it still comes back to Stevens doing a good job of putting them in the best positions to find success individually as well as for the Celtics team.
 
When you look at how time with Stevens jumpstarted Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder’s careers, or how it helped revitalize the career of Evan Turner, it’s obvious that he has the Midas touch when it comes to getting the most out of players.
 
For Boston to have the kind of success they believe they are due for, it’s going to take the contributions of many.
 
And even that might not be enough.
 
But having the path being bumpier than expected is something Stevens embraces.
 
“Here in this league,” he said, “you have to love challenges.”

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