Last summer, Utah’s decision to match Charlotte’s offer sheet of 4 years and $63 million towards Gordon Hayward was highly questionable. It was extremely tough to rationalize why GM Dennis Lindsey would decide to commit a large chunk of cap space towards one player on a rebuilding team, with the playoffs nowhere in sight.
After Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap left Utah by mutual consent in the summer of ’13, Hayward was left to assume the mantle as team leader.
“Gordon is a guy I like playing with on the basketball court. I’m glad he came back. If he would’ve left, that would have been kind of tough to deal with,” – Derrick Favors, Hayward happy to be moving on with Utah
His stats indicate that he keeps growing as a player each season, contributing more and more to the Jazz. There is no drop-off with Hayward’s play year by year.
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Hayward’s 2013/14 season statistics present more reason to not approve of this deal, as he only averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists on 41% shooting.
Why keep Hayward?
For small-market teams much like the Utah Jazz, the ability to attract and retain players is overwhelmingly difficult, as these cities do not support the flashy lifestyle that some may desire. Even though Hayward’s statistical output did not support the large financial outlay, keeping Hayward was a necessary move for the Jazz, even if he merely kept up the same level of play.
Waiting to strike gold again in the draft just isn’t worth it when someone of Hayward’s quality is already in your possession. Think about how overwhelmingly bad Utah would be, if Hayward was playing ball with Kemba and Al in Charlotte.
Utah would essentially have no player that could consistently take opponents off the dribble (hello Indiana), no closer and most of all – they would be desperately missing a leader in the locker room, a role that Hayward has flourished in this season.
It would be a literal train wreck in Utah if there was no Gordon, as Utah’s offensive rating while he’s on the court (107.7) is 13.6 points better than while he’s off the court (94.1.)
Hayward currently ranks 7th amongst NBA small forwards in PER with a score of 19.22. This places him above the likes of Tobias Harris, Nicolas Batum, Chandler Parsons and Draymond Green, guys who aren’t in the elite category of small forward, but are all situated a rung below.
His True Shooting ranks him 14th (57.3%), assist ratio ranks him 12th (17.6%), and his usage rating ranks him 6th (23.9% of possessions.) All other statistics used by John Hollinger to complete his player statistics has Hayward ranked outside the top 20.
Evaluating Hayward’s value
What makes him so special as a player, and why is he so important to the Utah Jazz?
“I think playing with Team USA this summer and working out against those guys, practicing with those guys definitely helped his confidence a lot” – Trey Burke, Hayward proving his worth the max offer sheet
It’s the confidence others have had in him, that has made him better. By being given the opportunity to compete against the best in the Team USA camp, he has become a proven leader and a better player by competing against the best. This has translated perfectly into the state of the Jazz’s current roster, as it cries desperation at times for that one player to stand up.
That player is Hayward.
This season, Hayward is experiencing career highs in points (19.1), rebounding rate (8.2%), win shares per 48 (.132) and value over replacement player (3.0.) Nobody else on the team can do it, so Hayward’s forced to create his own shot (only 29.3% of two-point shots are assisted), while he still creates for his teammates on 20.1% of his opportunities.
Hayward is the 4th highest scorer among his position scoring 19 a game for the Jazz. Hayward is a natural scorer of the basketball, and the main one for the Jazz. Quin Snyder’s offensive scheme has really opened up new possibilities for Hayward as a scorer.
Instead of running around like a headless chook in Tyrone Corbin’s offense last year, Snyder has Hayward playing off-ball, running him off numerous screens, finding the open shot where Hayward is shooting 43.3% in catch and shoot situations.
This play is a terrific example of Snyder’s offense, where the team runs Hayward off multiple screens. Gordon curls around the three-point line, towards a double screen set by Trey Burke and Enes Kanter. This frees up Hayward, who can then take it to the ring for the easy and-1 layup over Jeff Teague.
Gordon is also used on the ball in Snyder’s offense, as he can handle the ball like a guard. Hayward’s 6’8 size and 225lb body make him an imposing player to guard, while his range of dribble moves make him an even more difficult assignment as he can finish at the rim or pull up of the dribble. Hayward hits 54.5% of his close shots on the floor and 35.1% of his shots when coming off the dribble.
This play is indicative of how effective Gordon is at taking opponents on off the dribble, regardless of who’s guarding him. His dummy pass fakes LeBron, sending him to Hayward’s right, while he attacks the rim strongly with his opposite hand on the dribble. Hayward is capable of using either his right or left hand when taking opponents on, making him impossible to defend.
The pure mix of size, athleticism and length make him a formidable opponent. Gordon ranks 11th among small forwards in field goal percentage 44.9% and 18th in three-point percentage knocking down 37.1% of his attempts from beyond the arc. He’s also 8th in his position in free-throw shooting hitting 81.1% of his attempts from the line.
In addition to his scoring prowess, Hayward also ranks 4th among all small forwards in assists with 4.1 per game, and ranks 2nd in assist opportunities, producing 9.5 of these for teammates per outing. Gordon is able to play as a point forward of sorts. With his ability to score off the dribble and create effective assist opportunities for his teammates, Hayward is able to orchestrate the offense when needed.
“The biggest thing for me that we’re trying to impress on Gordon is his communication on the court, He’s an intelligent player. He has a lot to give his teammates, in addition to his ability to make baskets and get rebounds. The more we can hear his voice, it has a positive impact.” – Quin Snyder, Hayward proving his worth a max offer sheet
On the second youngest team in the NBA, with Trevor Booker and Steve Novak as the only two players who’ve played over five NBA seasons, Hayward is going above and beyond in terms of his impact on his young team. He acts as a veteran leader highly beyond his years, with his high basketball IQ further aiding this ability.
While he’s definitely not in the elite category yet, he is definitely in the upper echelon of the group right below. Hayward will soon become the player the Jazz organisation expected him to be, when they decided to commit to him. His natural athleticism, size, smarts and overall skill on both offense and defense are unquestionable now. With every passing day, he makes it more difficult to criticize his 4-year, $63 million deal that the Jazz elected to give him in the off-season.
Give it a a couple of years, and Hayward will be amongst the best in the league.