Utah Jazz alums: Gordon Hayward is primed to explode

A devastating injury may have complicated Gordon Hayward’s move from the Utah Jazz to the Boston Celtics, but a return to All-Star form could be imminent.

Things are tense at the Wells Fargo Center. With less than two minutes to go in an important game, the hometown Philadelphia 76ers are clinging to a one-point lead and the visiting Boston Celtics have possession. Marcus Morris takes the ball into the paint for Boston, but the defense quickly collapses. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees former Utah Jazz star Gordon Hayward in the corner…

BANG. Hayward takes a pass from Morris and knocks down the triple — his sixth in the game — to put his squad up 105-103, and they never looked back. The 2017 NBA All-Star finishes with 26 points; a throwback to his glory days in Salt Lake City.

And, perhaps, a preview of better days to come.

Hayward’s move to Beantown has definitely not gone as planned. We all know the story — in his first official game in Celtics green, an alley-oop play gone awry resulted in a broken leg; one of the most gruesome injuries you’ll ever see. After a lengthy rehab, the former Jazzman finally returned to action last fall, but only recently has he begun to resemble the guy that earned four-year, $128-million deal with his stellar play.

Sure, there’s been the odd 30-point game here or near triple-double there, but, on the whole, Hayward’s comeback campaign has been a mishmash of underwhelming nights and unfulfilled potential.

Until now, that is. Now, he looks like powder keg that’s primed to explode.

In four of his last five games, Hayward has put up 18 or more points. And for the month of February, he’s averaging a cool 19.2 points per 36 minutes, as well as six rebounds and five assists by the same measure. Those numbers are right in line with his per 36 figures in Utah.

The shooting stroke is back, too. Over that span, he’s hit on 57 percent of his shots from the floor, 52 percent from distance and 91 percent from the charity stripe.

Hayward has also been Boston’s most positive player for the month among rotation regulars. The Celtics have outscored opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions when Hayward has been on the court, which also equates to a positive net swing of more than 20 when compared to lineups sans Hayward.

According to Hayward, nothing mystical has happened to suddenly change his fortunes. It’s just been a matter of finding his feet physically following the injury.

“I think I’m definitely moving way better than I was at the beginning of the season,” he told Basketball Insiders. “I’m getting more and more confident with each month, each week. There’s definitely still games where I just don’t feel like myself, but I think I’m trending in the right direction.”

In case you haven’t been following along, that direction is up.

Hayward likely still has work to do before he’s charging to the hoop and dunking over the trees, but he’s doing more now on the court than he’s done in a year and a half. Once he clears that final hurdle — look out.

The 2018-19 season has undoubtedly been a rocky one for Hayward. But for the fans that have been patient in Boston and the ones still cheering for the former floppy-haired kid from Butler in Utah, things are about to get very, very interesting.

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