SLAM Top 50: Gordon Hayward, No. 24

If you’re new to Boston like, say, Gordon Hayward, a good way to see the city is with Boston Duck Tours. The company’s two-hour jaunt takes you past Boston Common, by Paul Revere’s gravesite, across the Charles River and other famous spots around the Hub.

Along the sightseeing trek, you’ll hit Boylston Street, too. History books say the road is famous for being the site of the original M.I.T. campus. But it also holds a special place in the city’s more contemporary lore for being one of the routes used for teams’ championship parades. Not sure if you’ve been keeping tabs but Boston has had a lot of processions over the past 20 years.

The Celtics haven’t led a parade since 2008. That’s not terribly long. But when you have guys named Tom Brady and David Ortiz seemingly raising banners every other year across town, that nine-year stretch can feel like an eternity.

The signing of Gordon Hayward is an important step to fixing things. The most sought-after free agent during the summer shopping season, Hayward is that 21/5/3 guy who’ll pull up from 21 feet with five seconds left with three hands in his face. And because of his expanding game, he’s also a player who doesn’t need a tour guide to tell him where the paint is. (Hayward’s drive-field-goal percentage was 47.9 percent, just a tick down from Russell Westbrook’s 48 percent last year.)

That last stat is the one that should have the League shaking in its Hyperdunks. Coming into the NBA from Butler in 2010, Hayward was regarded as a smart player with great body control and a catch-and-shoot prowess. But few talked about his aggressiveness. Even his first few years with the Jazz foreshadowed a player that scouts thought was heading down a Mike Miller-like career path to being a complementary shooter.

But Hayward never got that “complementary shooter” e-mail. Every year, in fact, the young man’s offensive output has increased, until it absolutely exploded last season with a career-high 21.9 ppg. He earned his first all-star nod in February. By March, he was on the receiving end of so many “Damn, I didn’t know the homie could ball like that” tweets that we lost count.

Some want to credit maturity and confidence with his overall growth. Other insist that Gordon’s physical transformation from a somewhat-scrawny Indiana kid to the chiseled specimen he is today is the reason. Hell, a few people even say that props should go to his barber for the Macklemore-approved haircut. Whatever the case, Boston is bound to benefit.

Kyrie Irving says he’ll be a “complete point guard” with the Cs. Repeat that sentence a hundred times and Gordon Hayward’s smile will widen each time. No shade to the ever-efficient George Hill, Hayward’s PG last year with the Jazz, but a playmaker like Irving is exactly what the dude needs to bring out even more of the animal in his game. And if we’re talking about the overall team, the spacing that a solid-shooting Hayward brings to the floor all of a sudden frees things up that much more for bigs Al Horford and Marcus Morris. Kids, but you don’t need a Harvard social science degree to see that this move makes sense.

Oh, and did we mention how Hayward’s new coach, Brad Stevens, is actually his old coach from college? The two have a history that goes way back to high school recruiting visits in 2007. That kind of bond can’t be overstated. Hell, even in his Players’ Tribune goodbye letter, Hayward wrote that he partially made the decision to go to Boston instead of re-signing with Utah or taking his talents to Miami because of “that unfinished business we had together, back in 2010, when I left Butler for the NBA … as far as I’m concerned, all of these years later, we still have it: And that’s to win a championship.”

Speaking of titles, the aforementioned duck tour happens to pass TD Garden, the Celtics’ home. Inside the arena you’ll see six banners from the NHL-playing Bruins and 17 from the Celts hanging from the rafters. The 18th probably won’t come in 2018. But because Hayward and Irving are the proud franchise’s new cornerstones, we won’t be shocked if we see confetti tossed about Boylston Street in another two or three years.

Previous Rankings:
2016: No. 33
2015: No. 35
2014: Not Ranked
2013: Not Ranked

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

No. 50 – Dion Waiters
No. 49 – Ben Simmons 
No. 48 – Brook Lopez
No. 47 — Harrison Barnes
No. 46 — Jrue Holiday
No. 45 — Lonzo Ball
No. 44 — Myles Turner
No. 43 — Goran Dragic
No. 42 — Andre Drummond
No. 41 — Al Horford
No. 40 — LaMarcus Aldridge
No. 39 — Kevin Love
No. 38 — Paul Millsap
No. 37 — Hassan Whiteside
No. 36 — Andrew Wiggins
No. 35 — Marc Gasol
No. 34 –  DeAndre Jordan
No. 33 — Bradley Beal
No. 32 — Kemba Walker
No. 31 — CJ McCollum
No. 30 — Devin Booker
No. 29 — Nikola Jokic
No. 28 — Joel Embiid
No. 27 — Mike Conley 
No. 26 — Kyle Lowry
No. 25 — Rudy Gobert