Fair or not, Gordon Hayward took a decent slice of the Boston Celtics' blame pie in 2018-19.
The Celtics forward never quite found his groove in his first season back from a frightening ankle injury in October 2017. He averaged 11.5 points per game, a far cry from the 21.9 points he averaged for the Utah Jazz in 2016-17 during an All-Star campaign.
Whether Hayward can return to that All-Star form is among the Celtics' most important questions entering the 2019-20 season. Count former Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry among the believers.
"Knowing Gordon, I think it just really drives him," Shrewsberry told The Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach. "When people doubt him, I think he gets better."
Shrewsberry, who coached Hayward on Brad Stevens' coaching staff at Butler and with the C's until taking the Purdue assistant coach job this offseason, believes this upcoming season is when Hayward will turn the corner.
"I don’t want to put any expectations on him, but I think next year will be a year for him to really show who he is and who people were excited about," Shrewsberry added. "People don’t realize how good of a player Gordon is. It gets lost in the shuffle because of what’s happened the last two years. But he’s a really good player. I think he’s just itching to prove that and itching to prove people wrong and itching to put his stamp on the organization."
We saw occasional flashes of the "old Hayward" this season, like when he poured in 35 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves in early January or dropped 30 on the defending champion Golden State Warriors in March.
Those promising outbursts were too few and far between for a maximum-contract player who made $31.2 million last season. But there's a reason the C's shelled out all that money for Hayward. And as the two-year anniversary of his freak injury approaches, they'll need him to earn his keep next season, especially if Kyrie Irving departs in free agency.
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