Gordon Hayward can still contribute to the Thunder’s playoff run

During a recent practice, Gordon Hayward had a roughly five-minute session where he swished in all of his 3-point attempts with ease. It was mesmerizing to see unfold. The 34-year-old has one of the best shooting forms on the squad.

Which makes his Round 1 performance even more puzzling.

Hayward totaled one shot in 31 minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans. His playing time dwindled with each game. By Game 4, he only logged four minutes.

The four-game sample size perfectly encapsulated Hayward’s awkward marriage with the Thunder. Averaging 14.5 points on 47% shooting in Charlotte, his stats were cut to 5.3 points on 45% shooting in 26 games in OKC.

The stats were expected to decrease as he went from one of the Charlotte Hornets’ top-scoring options to a bench piece for the Thunder — but not to the extent they did.

As the regular season progressed, Hayward regressed as a viable rotation player. He looked a step slow and missed a chunk of time dealing with a nagging calf strain.

But that was expected. After all, Hayward is in the twilight years of his career, so of course he’s not going to be the athletic wing he used to be. There’s a reason why the Thunder were able to acquire him without giving up anything of notable cost.

What is unexpected is the lack of shot attempts.

In Charlotte, Hayward averaged 11.9 shot attempts. In OKC, that number was slashed to 4.1 shot attempts. To add to the perplexity — he shot an impressive 51.7% from 3 but on just 1.1 attempts with the Thunder.

The 3-point shot is still clearly there for Hayward. He’s shown that in practice and pregame warmups. He suddenly didn’t forget how to shoot the ball. The problem is the volume.

Averaging one 3-point attempt simply isn’t going to cut it. The Thunder can survive Hayward’s weaknesses if he provides them with outside shooting and spacing.

Considering how drive-heavy the Thunder are, Hayward is a perfect dump-off option as a catch-and-shoot shooter once defenses collapse to defend a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Jalen Williams drives to the basket.

Instead, Hayward has looked hesitant when the ball has reached his way. It looked the worst it has all year in Round 1. He quickly passed the ball out when he received it, not even looking to shoot for almost the entire series.

It wasn’t detrimental as the Thunder swept the Pelicans. It likely won’t be against the Dallas Mavericks in Round 2 either.

If he continues to play with the same conservative approach, he simply won’t see time on the court to hurt OKC. Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault will seek other backup wing options on his roster or boost his starter’s minutes to nearly 40 a night.

But if Hayward can flip his mindset to a more aggressive approach and simply park around the perimeter and shoot the ball, the Thunder suddenly have another weapon they can use.

Theoretically, the veteran wing can boost OKC’s odds of advancing to the Western Conference Finals. All he needs to do is translate his practice shots over to the games.

It’s been a lackluster tenure for Hayward since he joined the Thunder but a hot series against the Mavericks would more than make up for it. The week-long break between series gives him a chance to reset his mindset and snap out of his funk.

Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire