Meeting for the first time since his free agency, the Gordon Hayward lit up the New York Knicks on Monday night.
Hayward is enjoying his role as the Hornets’ lead scorer. The former Celtic has already enjoyed multiple 20+ point halves on the young season. New York had no answer for Hayward on Monday – some in the Knicks front office may have been left wondering if they made a mistake with Hayward this offseason.
It was easy to judge Hayward’s contract as one of the worst in the NBA. He is overpaid. Sometimes struggling teams have to overpay for talent, though, and that’s just what Charlotte did. The Knicks clearly did not like the length and size of the contract, and rightly so, but Hayward gave an emphatic reminder of what they missed out on.
The Knicks’ strong start has faded. RJ Barrett cannot find his shot. A roster which looked short on shot creation and shot making has been just that.
Knicks playoff chances
Hayward is taking on secondary playmaking responsibilities. He always makes the right decision. His shot is falling. In the short-term, it’s understandable if Knicks fans are frustrated to see Hayward perform like that after the offseason rumors. Maybe the Knicks are a playoff team with Hayward in place of Reggie Bullock or Austin Rivers.
The 34-point outing on Monday came just a couple of games after posting 44. Hayward is shooting over 40% from three, and averaging a career-high in scoring per 36. He’s on an All-Star trajectory, a feat he hasn’t achieved since the 2016/17 campaign.
Hayward’s free agency did not come at the right time for the Knicks. Developing Kevin Knox, Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin is their priority. Taking on a four-year pact of that cost for Hayward would have been reckless, but that doesn’t change the circumstances of Monday’s loss. Fans can be reasonable about their team’s long-term chances while wanting them to win. Hayward was the difference between the two teams – his presence is making the Hornets look like a playoff team.
The Hornets’ gain was the Knicks’ loss in 2021. After such a strong start, the Knicks’ three-game losing streak has been an abrupt return to the reality of rebuilding.
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