The 6-foot-8 small forward was the No. 1 scoring option for the Utah Jazz, leading the team in points, assists, field goal attempts, three-point attempts and usage in 2016-17 with career highs of 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Hayward also played 30 percent and 68 percent of his minutes at power forward during the regular season and playoffs, respectively, last season, and gives Stevens the option of using a five-man lineup consisting of Hayward, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. That four-man unit without Hayward outscored opponents by 7.1 net points per 100 possessions during the 2016-17 regular season but was outscored by 2.2 net points per 100 possessions in the playoffs overall. It was even worse against the Cavaliers — minus-55 net points per 100 possessions over 34 minutes. That figures to change with the addition of Hayward. With Hayward on the court, the Jazz outscored its opponents by 7.1 net points per 100 possessions but barely broke even (plus-0.4) with its superstar on the bench.
In contributing to wins, Hayward was worth 10.8 wins above a replacement player during the regular season, making him one of 22 players to exceed double-digit wins above replacement in 2016-17. It’s also more than the contribution the Celtics got from Kelly Olynyk (2.7 wins above replacement in 2016-17), whom Boston renounced on Tuesday to make room for Hayward’s contract, and Marcus Smart (2.7), who is reportedly on the trading block for the same reason. Hayward also was more valuable than Bradley and Crowder, two of the Celtics’ starting forwards.
Hayward should mesh well with Thomas, the Celtics’ floor general — forcing opponents to make tough choices on defense.
Hayward was stellar at handling the ball on the pick and roll (0.97 of a point per possession last season, top 20 percent of the league) with a pullup jump shot that is successful 41.3 percent of the time from behind the three-point line. His overall effective field goal percentage on pullup jumpers (47 percent) ranked 13th in the NBA last season among players making at least five attempts per game. Thomas ranked second (53.7 percent).
That gives the Celtics two of the best pick-and-roll scorers in the NBA to play alongside Horford, a 6-foot-10 big man who can roll to the basket (1.44 points per possession, top 10 percent of the NBA) or pick and pop (54.6 effective field goal percentage). Cleveland, meanwhile, struggled to stop the pick and roll during the playoffs, allowing 0.98 of a point per possession, the fifth-most among playoff teams last season.
Hayward doesn’t need the ball in his hands to succeed. He was very accurate coming off screens (54.7 effective field goal percentage, second only to Steph Curry among players with at least 150 possessions), one of the best cutters in the league (1.43 points per possession, fourth highest during the 2016-17 regular season) and a reliable spot-up shooter averaging 1.19 points per attempt, good enough to be in the top 10 percent of the NBA last season.
But that doesn’t mean Hayward can’t create opportunities for himself. Just less than half his successful shot attempts last season were unassisted, significantly higher than Bradley (32.6 percent) or Crowder (15.6 percent), meaning Thomas won’t have to shoulder such a heavy load during the playoffs — he scored 1.07 points per possession during the regular season when teams trapped him in the pick and roll but was just 1 for 6 in these situations during the playoffs. His production in isolation also dipped, from 1.12 to 0.82 points per possession.
Hayward is a capable wing defender. He contested 5.6 three-point shots per game — a necessity to beat sharpshooting teams like the Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets — and held the Cavaliers to 51.9 effective field goal percentage with their big three of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the court during the regular season, a trio that had a 56.2 effective field goal percentage against everyone else. In 16 minutes against the Warriors’ dynamic duo of Curry and Kevin Durant, Golden State was limited to a 38.3 effective field goal percentage against the Jazz, which soared to 62.8 percent with Hayward on the bench.
That two-way ability could be a major difference for Boston, which secured the top seed in the East last season with the second-best net rating in the conference (plus-3.1) only to see it all fall apart in the playoffs (minus-2.8). With Hayward, the Celtics are clearly the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, improving their title hopes from odds of 15-to-1 to 12-to-1 according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, while addressing the shortcomings that surfaced during last year’s playoff run. And if Cleveland fails to improve on last year’s performance, we could see a changing of the guard in the East as soon as next season.