The Boston Celtics moved Gordon Hayward out of the starting lineup last night for the first time in his NBA career since March 13, 2013.
Despite the name recognition of the players, a change made sense. Boston had been outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions when Hayward had been on the floor with Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford. They were producing 90.8 points per 100, which ranked behind all five-man lineups except just one (minimum: 100 minutes) this year.
The change from Hayward to Aron Baynes might not make all the difference and it might not be permanent – but it could help. He has averaged just 10.5 points per 36 minutes during the 137.5 minutes that he has been on the court with this group. He has averaged 15.9 points per 36 during the 154.1 minutes he has appeared without Irving.
Boston has maintained a positive point differential when Hayward has been featured next to Marcus Smart and next to Terry Rozier. In fact, the Celtics have outscored opponents by 15.9 points per 100 when those three have been used at the same time.
As he returns to form following his devastating injury last season, Hayward has seemed like a better fit with the second unit. His usage rate with Smart and Rozier (25.1 percent) is significantly higher than when he’s played with the starters (19.4 percent) thus far.
Against slightly inferior competition and with more opportunities to have the ball in his hands, Hayward has looked sharper. When replaced by Baynes in the starting lineup, it opens up more chances for Irving, Tatum, Brown and Horford to have the ball.
Hayward has had a minuscule role within the starting five, often yielding as a distributor and not looking confident from three-point range. This change may give him a more defined responsibility rather than one where he has taken so much of a backseat to his teammates.