Every team has that guy. Every team needs that guy. The guy that is asked to do a little of everything, and, often times, the little things that nobody else wants to do. This guy isn’t usually the best player on the team, but in the case of the Jazz it is.
Gordon Hayward does it all for the Jazz. He handles the ball, hustles, plays defense everywhere on the court, scores, rebounds, takes charges. He even does all the media interviews day in and day out. He’s the equivalent of a basketball “Swiss army knife.”
He’ll be the first to tell you he has a lot to improve on but Hayward is absolutely vital to the Jazz.
Hayward, the 9th pick out of Butler University in 2010, is quickly turning into the go-to player for the Utah Jazz this season. With only three years of experience in the league, and only sporadic opportunities to be a starter (he’s started 118 of 226 games), Hayward is suddenly being asked to do quite a lot for a Utah team that needs a lot of help on both ends of the court.
Hayward is averaging career highs in every statistical category except shooting this season. He’s shooting only 38.8% from the field, as opposed to 43.5% last season. The good thing is his assists numbers, though. Hayward averaged 3.1 assists per game in 2011-12, his highest besides this season. Hayward is putting up 5.1 assists per game, and for a team that’s been plagued with injuries at the point guard spot, his help running the offense has been invaluable.
Hayward has become an interesting player through 18 games this season. For a guy who’s started only slightly more than he’s come off the bench in his career, Hayward is now being asked to play a larger role. So what role is that?
Gordon Hayward is second in the NBA in total distance traveled during games – he’s ran 42.75 miles. He’s 13th in the NBA in minutes per game at 37. Yet Hayward is 33rd in the NBA in scoring, 59th in the league in assist to turnover ratio, and 13th in touches per game (thanks, SportVU). The fact that Hayward is top 15 in touches, yet struggles in quite a few other offensive categories, really highlights the unique player Hayward is transforming into. Instead of being the spark off the bench, or the guy running off screens for a quick free-throw line jumper, Hayward is turning into a bit of a point-forward.
While Trey Burke was injured for the first 12 games of the season, Alec Burks, John Lucas III, and Diante Garrett all saw time at the point guard position. Point guard isn’t Burks’ natural position, Lucas has struggled to score the ball this season (not to mention he’s brand-new to Salt Lake City and coach Ty Corbin’s offense) and Garrett is a D-League call-up with limited experience. Hayward has had to step in and, as the longest tenured Jazzman, become the go-to guy on the offensive end of the court.
Hayward is being asked to do quite a lot this season. He often draws comparisons to Paul George, who was drafted the same year. George plays for the Indiana Pacers and is in serious MVP talk early on this season. While George’s numbers are quite eye-popping for a fourth-year player (23.7 points, 3.3 assists, and 6.3 rebounds per game) and he’s a different player from Hayward, both players mean the same to their team.
While Hayward doesn’t average as many points as George, Hayward is just as important to his team. Oftentimes, in late-game situations, Hayward has been the guy with the ball in his hands, ready to try and create a play in crunch time. That’s been an impressive thing to me so far this season – Hayward isn’t taking every big shot, or trying to create plays for himself, as much as he is trying to create and execute the correct basketball play. Obviously, the Jazz are struggling with their execution offensively, but Hayward makes a valiant effort every night to try and create the correct plays.
Hayward is making a transition this season into the player that I think he’ll be most effective as for the rest of his career. Hayward has a unique ability to shoot, get to the rim, and handle the ball. At 6’8”, he’s hard for opposing guards to defend on the perimeter. His court vision is improving each year, and I think that’s his biggest asset. Hayward’s ability to run an offense and read a defense is what has set him apart from this current group of Jazz players. Hayward knows that when he’s having a poor shooting night, he needs to do more than what he normally does to help set up his teammates and run the offense. The fact that Hayward is willing to give up shots in order to help his fellow Jazzmen says a lot about the player he’s turning into.
When Hayward can get his shot dropping again, his play combined with the return of Burke, should help elevate Utah’s offense. It’ll be interesting to see where Hayward is at the end of this season in terms of development, but I think he’ll be able to step his game up to another level this year.