The Thunder reportedly is adding veteran Gordon Hayward via trade. What does the forward add to the roster?
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Thunder got a little bigger and a lot more experienced with a move on NBA trade deadline day.
The question is whether Gordon Hayward makes OKC better.
The answer is almost certainly — but with some caveats.
The Thunder is set to acquire Hayward in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets, according to multiple reports, for guards Vasilije Micic and Tre Mann, forward Davis Bertans and draft capital.
The 6-foot-7 Hayward is a former All-Star — he made the team in 2017, his final year with the Utah Jazz — and a career 15.5 points-per-game scorer. He’s easily the most accomplished player in the trade, and at 33 years old and in his 14th NBA season, he becomes the most experienced player on the Thunder roster.
But to help the Thunder when it matters most, Hayward has to stay on the court. And that’s been a struggle. Hayward has missed 25 games this season, mostly due to hamstring and calf injuries, and according to data at Sportac.com, he’s missed 114 games since the start of the 2020-21 season.
But when he can play, Hayward is a skilled offensive player who gives the Thunder a big, skilled shooter.
At 6-7 and 225 pounds, Hayward — who has mostly played small forward and shooting guard for the Hornets but has logged minutes at power forward in his career — provides OKC a big shooter on the perimeter.
He’s a career 36.9% 3-point shooter who’s making 36.1% this season on 4.7 attempts per game.
Hayward doesn’t make many 3-point shots he creates for himself — in his career, 85.9% of his long-range makes have been assisted — but he should be comfortable playing off Thunder creators Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey.
That could be a boon to the Thunder’s already elite halfcourt offense.
Hayward is shooting 40.8% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season, but on only two attempts per game.
He could have the opportunity to shoot more from long range with the Thunder, which generates 27.1 catch-and-shoot 3s per game, seventh-most in the league and about four more per game than the Hornets.
Brian Geisinger, who covers the Hornets for Sports Channel 8 and co-hosts the Buzz Beat podcast, said he could see Hayward operating as a pick-and-roll partner for Gilgeous-Alexander as he’s been for LaMelo Ball the past few years in Charlotte.
The Thunder rarely posts up to score — its 1.9 post-up attempts per game are fourth-fewest in the league, and its 0.6 points per game off post-ups tied for last — and Hayward posts less than once per game. But it’s a tool in his kit if OKC opts to use it.
And Hayward can create for others. He’s averaging 4.6 assists this season, second-best in his career. The defensive attention that Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams demand, Geisinger said, could mean more favorable one-on-one matchups for Hayward, who “could use his size, strength and midrange touch to initiate offense and be a playmaker in the mid-post.”
Hayward also can sometimes make plays off the dribble.
As a defender, Geisinger said, “quicker players can beat” Hayward, and “he’s not amazing at navigating screens.” But he’s a capable, competitive on-ball defender who Geiginger said “can use his size to reduce his most glaring deficiencies.”
“In a pinch, Hayward can hang up or down a position because he’s strong, big and fluid enough,” Geisinger said.
Hayward could offer intangible benefits, too.
He’s appeared in 29 career playoff games, one fewer than the Thunder’s Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort and Isaiah Joe — the only OKC players with postseason experience — have combined to play in their careers.
And Hayward’s 956 playoff minutes are 300 more than Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort and Joe have played combined.
He could help OKC down the stretch and into the playoffs — if he’s on the floor.
“He’s a scalable player who can help out the offense in a few different areas, potentially work as a partner with Shai in some actions, help stabilize and organize things in the half court, connect actions as a screener or passer and due to his size and experience he’s playable on defense,” Geisinger said. “Just gotta be healthy, though.”