The Utah Jazz had a clear objective this season, develop young talent. The “Core Four” of a year ago expanded to the “Young Five” and Jazz fans wanted to see the youth movement take full effect at EnergySolutions Arena. While all of the young guns saw a bump in playing time, the face of the franchise remained Gordon Hayward.
Head coach Tyrone Corbin had plenty of good things to say about Hayward even as the young wing-player struggled to shoot a decent percentage.
“He’s huge for us because we need him to not only score the ball,” Corbin said two weeks before the season ended. “He can make plays by passing to his teammates. Getting the other guys involved either Derrick or Enes kickin it to the weakside to get Marvin and Richard some attacks on the weakside. When we get him and Alec we can attack with one guy and swing it to the other guy and have him attack.”
Not only is he the type of player that demands attention from opponents on defense even on an off shooting night, Corbin was pleased with Hayward on defense. Corbin said his length and athleticism gives Corbin freedom as a coach to have Hayward guard guys of different sizes.
Even with compliments heaped on Hayward from Corbin, one can’t help but notice his shooting suffered in a big way this season. As his field goal attempts have gone up, his percentage has dropped. Hayward shot 48.5% from the field his rookie year, in year two it dropped 2.9%, in year three it dropped another 2.1% and in the season that just ended he dropped all the way to 41.3%.
Hayward’s 41.3% is low, but it’s worth noting he was turning it around down the stretch. In the last 25 games Hayward shot 44.3%. Even as he picked it up a little, his teammates noticed his struggles. Richard Jefferson talked about Hayward a couple weeks ago and explained how so few of his shots are open attempts.
“G’s done a great job, he’s a professional. You’re going to have years like this where you’re not shooting the ball like you’re capable” Jefferson said. “ But, he’s also playing with an extremely young core around him. Ya don’t get open looks, ya don’t get rhythm shots. If ya ask G where he’s going to get his two or three open looks from a night – most teams and most players know that – I think G is still trying to find that.”
Don’t think Hayward didn’t notice how rare he happened across a wide-open look. During postseason interviews he was able to look back on the year and see there was a lot he could take away from a 25-win season.
“Adjusting to the role that I was put in,” Hayward mentioned as a takeaway. “Learning what it takes each and every night when the defense is keying on you and trying to take you out of what you wanna do. That will be huge for me going forward.”
As he tries to cement an ability to overcome that obstacle in coming seasons, he was realistic describing his performance as solid but not great. More than improving his game as a whole, Hayward has mentioned several times this season that he and the Jazz need to be more consistent. He believes that the Jazz and he are close to being really good.
“It’s right around the corner. It’s one of those things where ya can’t teach experience, ya can’t teach chemistry really,” Hayward said. “We showed signs of what we’re capable of and that kind of puts a smile on your face and then there’s the other times where ya just kind of shake your head towards mistakes that were made.”
As the Hayward continues to work towards the future, he seemed to agree with his coach’s assessment of him describing himself as a player that does a little bit of everything. This season’s statline concurs too: 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.4 steals to cap it off. The 24 year-old has developed a well-rounded game and hopes to improve it this offseason.”
“I plan on watching a lot of film and working on a lot of things I need to work on,” Hayward said. “Shooting for one, and that’s probably making contested shots more than anything. Midrange shots, finishing at the rim and ball handling.”
While Hayward gets to work on a plethora of offensive skills this summer, the looming question Jazz fans want to know is if he’ll have the music note on his chest again next season. Hayward is a restricted free agent, and while he’s been happy in Utah he made it clear that there’s more to it than just basketball.
“Utah has been great for me,” Hayward said. “I mean it’s a business and I understand it’s a business so whatever happens, happens.”
The rest of the young core for the Jazz are under contract for at least one more season in Utah. Hayward will be a hot commodity on the market and may be the first to leave the original core four but like he said, whatever happens, will happen.