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BOSTON -- For followers of the Boston Celtics, the question has been one that has lingered for the past couple of years now.
Is Gordon Hayward back?
The ankle injury that robbed him of all but five minutes of the 2017-2018 season has since healed, but the place where his game was pre-injury … that has been a work in progress.
Boston has been optimistic about Hayward’s game getting back to where it was prior to his arrival in Boston.
While the sample size of four games is a relatively small one, the more Hayward plays the more he looks like the 6-foot-8 dynamic wing player that Boston thought it was getting two years ago.
Hayward is coming off his first double-double of the season, a 16-point, 10-rebound performance in Boston’s 116-105 win over Milwaukee.
We have seen Hayward knock down 3-pointers and drain mid-range jumpers.
But the part of his game that gives Celtics fans a reason to be optimistic that he’s very close to getting back to being All-Star Gordon Hayward, is the ease and consistency in which he’s getting into the paint.
In four games, Hayward is averaging 17.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 58.3 percent on 3’s.
And maybe just as impressive has been Hayward’s team-best 12.8 drives per game which says a lot about his increased level of aggressive play off the dribble.
To put that in perspective, in Hayward’s all-star year in Utah (2017) when his ability to attack and finish at the rim was viewed as a strength, Hayward averaged 9.2 drives per game.
Indeed, the 29-year-old is in a good place both physically and mentally to start this season.
“Credit to my teammates,” said Hayward who added, “Picking me up, picking up the energy for me, telling me to keep attacking, being in my corner basically, having my back.”
Other notes and observations from around the league:
CAN A ROZIER-GRAHAM TANDEM WORK?
When the Charlotte Hornets acquired Terry Rozier, the thinking at the time was that he would be the team’s unquestioned playmaker.
And then, Devonte’ Graham happened.
The second-year guard has been among the biggest surprises in this still-young NBA season as he comes off the bench to average a team-best 16.4 points and 7.6 assists per game for the Hornets. After a so-so start by Rozier to this season, Rozier has improved his play of late and is now averaging 15.6 points, 5.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds along with 1.2 steals.
The emergence of Graham has led Hornets head coach James Borrego to look to play the two more together rather than have Graham come off the bench as a substitute for Rozier.
ARON BAYNES EFFECT
The former Celtic has drawn attention lately after an attempt to draw an offensive foul against Stephen Curry led to the two-time league MVP suffering a broken left-hand injury.
But Baynes’ impact on the Phoenix Suns goes much deeper than just one play. For years, the Suns have been among the NBA’s worst teams defensively.
Acquiring Baynes during the offseason provided them with a defensive-minded big whose presence has been critical to the team getting off to a solid 2-2 start.
Last season, the Suns were among the worst teams in the NBA defensively with a defensive rating of 114.2 which ranked 29th in the league.
But this season, they have been surprisingly one of the better teams at that end of the floor, posting a defensive rating through four games of 100.2 which ranks eighth in the NBA.
Like his time in Boston, Baynes tries to keep things pretty simple.
“Just go out and lead by example," Baynes told the Arizona Republic. "Every single play counts and you see that. It comes down to one possession at the end of the game. It's a matter of focusing throughout the game. Not having those lulls. Trying to make the most of every opportunity. That's what we're working towards. We didn't put a complete game out there tonight, but if we keep improving and working towards that, it's going to be a good thing."
WARRIORS SEASON OVER ALREADY?
Few envisioned the Golden State Warriors competing for an NBA title this season. But the fall from grace for the Warriors will be a long and painful one right now. Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn this past summer. Klay Thompson’s ACL injury will keep him sidelined until the spring at the earliest. And now you can add Stephen Curry’s broken left-hand injury - expected to be out two months - to the list of challenges awaiting Golden State this season.
“Obviously it's been a tough start for us on many levels," Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters after the Warriors’ loss to the Suns.. "So we're just trying to find our footing. And obviously this puts us in a tough spot. So we'll assess it, and we'll go from there."
KAT FIGHT IN PHILLY
The skirmish between Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns on Wednesday got both players ejected and afterward, each a two-game suspension from the league.
It is unclear how much of a factor was the war of words by both players afterward the league’s ruling Usually players involved in scuffles try and lay low soon afterward. But both players took to social media afterward.
Embiid fired the first social media salvo by going on Twitter and writing that, “he (Embiid) was raised by lions and a cat pulled on me tonight.”
Towns clapped back with images of Embiid crying after the Sixers’ playoff loss last season to Toronto.
The two went back and forth to the delight of NBA Twitter which absolutely lives for the sometimes-petty social media trash talk that NBA players - especially Embiid - deliver consistently.
If you don't know much about Kendrick Nunn before this season, no worries. You weren’t alone. He has emerged in the first few days of the NBA season as one of the most unexpected Rookie of the Year candidates in the pool right now. Undrafted out of Oakland (Mich.) University, Nunn led the nation as a college senior in 3-pointers made but was not selected in the 2018 NBA draft He spent last season with the G-League’s Santa Cruz Warriors, but signed with the Heat last spring. This season he’s averaging 21.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 44.0 percent from 3-point range.
Nunn’s playmaking more than anything else, is what eventually catapulted him beyond the G-League and into the NBA.
And didn’t hurt that he hails from Chicago which is where Heat legend Dwyane Wade is from.
“He’s a talent, and he has a great work ethic,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told Heat.com. “There’s not many Chicago players, for whatever reason, that have come through here that I didn’t like … a lot of them are some of my favorites.”
New York Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr., is not with the team following the unexpected death of his stepmother. There’s no indication when he’ll re-join the club. … Ex-Celtic Isaiah Thomas is off to a solid start with the Washington Wizards. In two games, Thomas has averaged 16.5 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 48 percent from the field and 42.9 percent on 3’s while playing 22 minutes per game. … Houston’s Clint Capella will be a player in high demand come trade deadline time, with several teams looking to fortify their frontcourt (that includes the Celtics) for the playoffs and beyond. … the first coach to win a challenge this year in the NBA, was Celtics Brad Stevens. … Some of the early MVP front-runners this season include reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee; Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis; Houston’s James Harden; Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Dallas’ Kristaps Porzingis.
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