When the news came across the timeline that the Charlotte Hornets had swooped in and signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $120 million deal in free agency, the immediate reaction around the NBA world was shock. Then came the jokes, and then came the criticism.
And sure, the Hornets may have overpaid to get him, but through the first few weeks of the season, Hayward is showing exactly why they were willing to do so. After dropping a career-high 44 points last week, Hayward followed that up with 34 points, three rebounds and three assists on Monday night to lead the Hornets to their fourth straight win, a 109-88 triumph over the New York Knicks. With the win, the Hornets moved to 6-5 on the season, which is the first time they’ve been over .500 since 2019.
This was the fifth game already this season that Hayward has scored 25 points or more, something he only did 13 times in his entire stint with the Celtics. When Hayward left Boston this offseason, it was in large part because he wanted a bigger offensive role, which he just wasn’t going to get with the emergence of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
But while it might not have been a possibility with the Celtics, Hayward is proving through his first 11 games with the Hornets, that it’s certainly something he can handle. Following his big night on Monday, Hayward is putting up 22.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and four assists per game, on shooting splits of 50.3/40.4/93.2.
If it wasn’t before, it’s clear now that Hayward’s issues in Boston were primarily injury and role-related, rather than some major decline in ability. With a chance to be a primary option once again, Hayward is reminding everyone that he’s a talented, three-level scorer who is efficient all over the floor. Breaking things down by distance on the league’s stats site really gives a clear look at how he can score from anywhere. (These numbers don’t include Monday’s game.)
Less than 8 feet
Hayward is more than a scorer, though. He’ll crash the glass here and there, and is a really solid facilitator. He’s not going to throw highlight reel passes all the time like his rookie teammate LaMelo Ball, but he keeps the ball moving and gets everyone involved. It’s no surprise that the Hornets jumped from ranking 19th last season in assists per game, to first this season with Hayward’s arrival.
And on top of everything, there’s the veteran presence Hayward brings to a young Hornets team. One of the biggest challenges with rebuilding is that when all the key players are learning on the job, it’s easy for guys to get lost and things to spin out of control. Hayward makes sure that doesn’t happen.
“He gives us calm and poise out there,” Hornets coach James Borrego said earlier this season. “He settles us when we need a good, solid possession. An efficient possession, he’s able to create that.”
It’s still too early to know if the Hornets are going to be able to end their playoff drought, which stretches back to 2016, but right now they’re sitting in a tie for fifth place in this bizarre season, and it seems that at the very least they’re going to be in the mix. If Hayward can indeed lead them back to the postseason, that $120 million really will be money well spent.