Charlotte has been building up a lot of good grace with basketball heads and media figures alike over the past season or so. They’ve been able to boast an impressive young core of lottery picks, 2nd rounders and undrafted guys led by James Borrego, who has done one of the leagues more underrated coaching jobs since taking the helm in 2018. The LaMelo Ball pick, though maligned by some, was a calculated shot at a high upside player who many smart analysts believe to be the best player of his class – a skilled initiator with great size who projects very well to the direction the NBA is currently headed.
Ultimately, there was too much good grace being afforded to the team – not to say it wasn’t deserved, it just didn’t feel like the Charlotte we’d grown to know…
In many ways, Gordon Hayward is about as ‘Charlotte Hornets’ as it gets from a free agency signing. A perceived overpay for a player who is in a battle with his own body to reclaim some of his prime years due to a combination of frustrating and catastrophic injuries. Whilst the signing gave everyone a chance to criticize Michael Jordan’s ownership and have another big laugh at Charlotte fans, there’s more than enough reason to have belief that this signing can be a success for the team in the short term at the very least.
Short memories are a problem in most sports, and basketball is not exempt – so it has been easy for many to forget that the health of Gordon Hayward was discussed by many as the X-Factor of the Eastern Conference we watched a mere 3 months ago.
Boston found themselves 0-2 down in the series by the time Hayward was able to return, and though likely still compromised by injury he was able to contribute effectively as a 6th man as the teams split the next 4 games 2-2. Though not enough to stop Miami making it through to the finals, it was clear he made his presence felt.
His performance in Game 3 gave a little bit of everything you’d want to see out of a star wing player, including a particularly relevant quote from former coach and current commentator Jeff Van Gundy.
“Thats why they pay him 30 Million Dollars a year, it’s cos he’s good”
Ultimately, it’s that ‘little bit of everything’ that Hayward will have to provide for this to work out for Charlotte, and he’s more than capable of filling almost every need the team would’ve had down going into last off-season. Perimeter shooting, perimeter defense and a wing player who can initiate but also play efficiently… Hayward fits the bill.
For the 2020-2021 Season, it feels very safe to say that Hayward will be the best player on the team, which begs the question of whether he’ll be able to carry the demands this role will bring. He will have a lot of responsibility handling the ball, will almost definitely take the most shots on the team and will be asked to do a good share of work on the defensive end as well, likely clocking around 35 minutes a night – a return to the role he was assigned in his last season in Utah, the version of him the team is hoping they see this season
Will he be able to get back to that form? If the last 2 seasons are anything to go by, he still has the ability – but it’ll be as much about the durability that will determine whether his season is a success. When he’s out there, I have no doubts you’ll be able to pencil him in for a 25-5-5 with strong defensive contribution, something this young team will be so so dependent on.
And that for me, is as important as any other part of Hayward’s play this season. For as much as we’ll need him to play well for both the benefit of himself and the team, it is the way this will help the younger guys on the roster that will be instrumental for this team getting better going forward.
We’ll need him to take some of the initiating burden off of LaMelo, we’ll need him to provide spacing to see if Malik Monk’s career can be salvageable in Charlotte, we’ll need his defensive ability to see if Miles Bridges can hold up more effectively in big crunch situations.
It may seem like a lot, but Hayward wouldn’t have taken on the challenge if he didn’t feel he was up to it, and I for one won’t be betting against him having an All-Star level season in his 1st year in Charlotte.