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.”
- Kyrie Irving says details of relationship with LeBron is 'not anybody’s business'
- CELTICS TALK PODCAST: A Mike & Tommy takeover
- Irving became fan of Stevens at last year's All-Star Game
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.”
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.”