A $15 Million Man? One Fan’s Doubts About Max-Matching Gordon Hayward

July 7th, 2014 | by Matt Pacenza

gordon haywardThe Utah Jazz face a critical decision as soon as next week: Whether to match a huge contract offer to their young swingman Gordon Hayward.

Virtually every prominent voice and writer1 that cover the Jazz agree on two things: Not only will the Jazz match any offer, but they should. Even if that offer is the four-year, $60 million max deal.

Here’s the problem: It’s near impossible to find evidence to justify that stance in Hayward’s performance. Last year, he was roughly an average NBA starter, albeit a versatile one. While his game has improved — particularly his playmaking — key parts of his game have stagnated or even worsened since his rookie year.

Hayward’s defenders point to his age — he’ll be just 28 at the end of this four-year deal — and the widely-held opinion that the Jazz were not well-coached during his tenure. Take a new coach, add a new system and — presto! — Hayward’s performance will improve significantly so that he justifies the massive salary.

That’s the optimistic scenario. However, perhaps Hayward’s long-distance shooting numbers remain poor — or even worsen, as they have during each of his first four years —  leaving the Jazz with a well-paid wing who doesn’t stretch the floor, an outright liability in today’s NBA.

Let’s turn to looking more closely at Hayward’s performance:

Is his versatility really all that special?

Much is made of Hayward’s 16-5-5 numbers (points, rebounds and assists) as evidence that he’s a uniquely versatile wing. However, that analysis ignores Hayward’s heavy minutes (36.4, 10th in the NBA last year). Let’s look more closely:

Assists: To judge how unique Hayward’s playmaking is, let’s use the “assist ratio” stat, which looks at “the percentage of a player’s possessions that ends in an assist,” rather than per game numbers which are distorted by minutes played.

Assists are Hayward’s best numbers — he showed significant improvement last year as he became the focal point of the Jazz’ offense — but other less-heralded wings do as well or even better. Among shooting guards, Hayward ranked 10th of 65, a very good mark, but behind Lou Williams, Lance Stephenson and Jason Terry, among others. If you count Hayward as a small forward, his 22.1 ratio would rank 6th of 66. He’s a great passer for a small forward — but, to be petty for a second, not quite as good as Gerald Wallace, Nik Batum, John Salmons and Tyreke Evans — and no one’s talking about paying them max money.

Rebounds: Similar to assists, we find a better measure of how well Hayward rebounds in “Rebound Rate,” the percentage of missed shots that a player rebounds. His rebound rate of 8.0 is very good for a SG — he ranks 8th of 65 — an excellent figure that trails a handful of versatile big guards, including Stephenson, Tony Allen, Iman Shumpert, Dwayne Wade and Vince Carter. Among SFs, Hayward’s rebound rate is a closer to average, as he would rank 43rd of 66.

In the modern NBA, the difference between SG and SF isn’t all that important. Glancing at the most frequently used Jazz lineups from 2013-14, Hayward most frequently played with Richard Jefferson, considered a small forward, so most label him a shooting guard. However, with the Jazz adding guard Dante Exum to Trey Burke and Alec Burks, it seems most likely that if Hayward is re-signed, he will spend the a significant majority of at least next season as the SF position, where his excellent assist numbers are even more outstanding, but his rebounds less so.

In short, while Hayward is undoubtedly a versatile player, it’s important to put those numbers in context.

A poor-shooting wing

I seem to be the designated Hayward-skeptic at Salt City Hoops, having in January pointed out the elephant in the young man’s room: His shooting numbers have all declined every single year since his rookie year.

Let’s look at an updated version of a chart I presented then.

Season Age FGA FG% 3PA 3P% 2PA 2P% FTA FT% PTS
2010-11 20 4.1 0.485 1 0.473 3 0.489 1.3 0.711 5.4
2011-12 21 8.9 0.456 2.4 0.346 6.5 0.496 3.5 0.832 11.8
2012-13 22 10.7 0.435 3.4 0.415 7.3 0.444 4.1 0.827 14.1
2013-14 23 13.4 0.413 3.6 0.304 9.8 0.453 4.9 0.816 16.2

We can sum up all that data in a much simpler chart focusing on TS% — true shooting percentage, a shooting metric that accounts for 3-pointers and free throws.

Season TS%
2010-11 .578
2011-12 .568
2012-13 .564
2013-14 .520

Those are alarming trends. In 2010-11, Hayward shot like Chris Paul did last year. In 2013-14, he shot like Jeff Green. Yes, young players go through growing pains. And, yes, Hayward may have not been helped by Coach Tyrone Corbin’s system. But, as I pointed out back in January, it’s extremely difficult to find NBA players who ended up with good careers who not only didn’t improve in their early years, but got worse.

I’ve continued to try and find “comps” for Hayward, trying to see if perhaps other players have struggled when young, but once they settled into a role and system, flourished. One query I did on the fabulous Basketball Reference site looked for big guards who were great passers but poor long-distance shooters. It returned names like Jamal Crawford, Alvin Williams and Larry Hughes — each of whom has had some big moments, but they’ve never remotely played near the $15 million a year level.

Another search, which includes slightly better shooters, returned a few other names: Rodney Stuckey, Jalen Rose and Grevis Vasquez. Valuable players, no doubt, but again none which ever justified near-max salaries.

It’s fair to say that 2013-14 Gordon Hayward shot the ball very poorly, continuing a disturbing slide. Those trends will have to reverse — significantly — if he is to play close to a $15 million per year level.

A mixed record on defense.

When you look for players like Hayward, a few names pop up who have had pretty darn good NBA careers, such as Andre Iguodala, a similarly versatile guard/forward who isn’t a great outside shooter. However, a big chunk of Iggy’s value comes from his defense. He’s widely considered one of the top shutdown wing defenders in the entire NBA, along with Tony Allen and Paul George and LeBron James.

How about Hayward? Of course, unlike offense, it’s much harder to quantify defense. There are crude stats — like DRtg and Opponent Production and Defensive Win Shares — which tend to show Hayward as a good but not great defender. The “eyeball test” would suggest that Hayward’s length and effort are assets, as he often forces the man he’s guarding to give up the ball, but he can struggle to stay in front of quick wings and to quickly rotate from the lane to the 3-point-line.

It seems relevant that Hayward played the most minutes on the NBA’s worst defensive team last year, but of course it’s very hard to tease out the role that his teammates and system played in that dismal mark.

Max Money?

If we’d sum up what we know about Gordon Hayward after his four season, it would go something like this: An excellent passer and a good rebounder and defender, but a poor shooter. Add it all up, and you get somewhere near an average NBA starter.

The Jazz have to think long and hard about matching any offer that compensates Hayward well above the pay that an average NBA starter deserves. They should consider, rather, whether they might be better off to continue to stockpile assets — young talent on reasonable deals, veterans signed to short contracts and draft picks.

As this current roster under new coach Quin Snyder matures, it will become clearer which players should form the core over the next half-decade, and which can be traded for talent to fill holes. Signing a decent player to great player money could easily end up being a move that hinders, not helps, the rebuilding Jazz.

Matt Pacenza

Matt Pacenza

When he isn't writing about the Jazz, Matt Pacenza is an environmental activist, Arsenal fan and world-class blowhard about many matters. A native of upstate New York, with a background in journalism and nonprofits, Matt lives near Liberty Park with his wife and two sons.
Matt Pacenza

25 Comments

  1. Jt McKenna says:

    Totally agree with the idea that Hayward isn’t worth near-max money. 12 a year is the extreme high end of what he’s worth, and that’s supposedly what we offered him and he rejected. I think his actual value is closer to 8-10 per year.

    We have to remember that if we don’t overpay to Hayward, we still have the asset of salary cap space that we can use to replace him. Ariza, Parsons, and others are still out there to be had.

    I really think that the “Jazz will match any offer” news was just put out there to dissuade other teams from offering him. Dennis Lindsey comes from San Antonio, where Parker gets 12.5 a year, Duncan 10, and Ginobli 7.5. They don’t overpay players down there, and so I doubt that we’ll do it here.

    • Mewko says:

      Agree with Jt McKenna here. The Jazz wouldn’t overpay Hayward. He can become a borderline allstar in Quin Snyder’s system, but that isn’t worth 14,15,16 million a year. And besides, Alec Burks will benefit from Quin Snyder’s system too. Burks can be the 2nd leading scorer, and it would be better FG% if Burks took that role, rather than Hayward. Burks seems like he’ll even accept a cheaper extension, 4 yrs/35 million. If Hayward signs something that promises him 14 mil/yr or more, than Alec Burks isn’t a terrible backup plan.
      The Jazz front office is leaning toward Hayward more just because he’s earned his stripe, he’s had more opportunity, he’s not as mysterious as Alec Burks.
      A series of unfortunate events could convince Alec Burks to leave. If Burks doesn’t extend this fall, we keep Hayward, and if Hayward flourishes in the regular season more than Burks, than Alec might walk away and ask the Jazz not to match his offer sheet. It would make sense, Alec could maximize his career in LA if Kobe retires, or if Jamal Crawford gets turned down by the Clippers.

  2. Matt Pacenza says:

    Agreed! However, once we get past the LeBron-Melo-Bosh circus, there will be a few teams with money to burn who might talk themselves into max or near-max. It might come down to crazy-but-probably-better Stephenson vs. not-at-all-crazy Gordon. His youth and the Ty factor will convince some teams to leap.

    My other big question is: What if he doesn’t get at all better? If he shoots 30 percent from 3 again, is he even worth 8-10?

  3. GH’s “defense” consists of letting his man by and then blaming the defender for “not rotating.” His next move is usually to defensively sulk (quite possibly the only kind of defense he is good at) for the rest of the game.

  4. GoJazz12 says:

    OK. This is is a fantastic article. If you look at Hayward’s history, including going back to college, and the position he was in last season, I really do believe with the support of 2 new ball handlers his shooting numbers will improve. I’d guarantee his TS% goes up. Granted his spot up jump shot stats we’re pretty terrible, but he has very solid mechanics, and a history of good shooting. He shot 47% from 3 his rookie season. And in college if I recall he put up similar numbers. I’m still not sure if he is worth the max if he improves as a shooter, but that is the question I’m imposing. If is TS% was 57% would that dramatically change how much he should be offered? 15 million for a good shooter, an excellent passer, a decent defender, and a good rebounder. I think its probably worth it, and I think it is too early to classify him as a poor shooter. This was an very good article though. I’m so glad jazz fans take a divide on this. Just helps me understand the bigger picture. Thank you Matt Pacenza.

    • Matt Pacenza says:

      Thank you! I certainly hope he becomes a better shooter, but after doing a fair bit of research, it’s difficult to find NBA players who got worse at that skill for their first four years and then reversed the trend.

  5. LKA says:

    With Corbin Howard was started in Heywards spot, with Foye starting. Then it was RJ and Marvin doing the same thing and pushing Hayward to the guard spot. Start Burks and Heyward at the two and three. With Corbin gone you will see quite a difference. And if all these writers are so knowledgeable why are not they the coach, analalist, scout, or GM??? I thrust the Jazz brass to know what they are doing.

    • Matt Pacenza says:

      I broadly thrust them too! I think the current regime has largely made very good moves. With that said, I’m sure you’d agree that part of the fun of being a fan is to question, to be skeptical and to urge a different perspective. I certainly hope that Gordon improves significantly — and does so in a Jazz uniform — but it’s hard to find evidence for that stance beyond wishful optimism.

  6. caseygreer2 says:

    Nice article. What I’m skeptical about next season is how Hayward’s increased usage last year inflated his stats. Everyone will point to the fact that him being a first option made his shooting numbers decrease (and I agree with this) but having the ball in his hands less and have a more viable power forward playing next to him will also make his Ast/Reb numbers go down closer to career averages. I think it’s a mistake to assume he’ll maintain his career highs in some areas, but not his career lows in others. I imagine that next year he averages 15/4/4 on better shooting percentages. I have no idea what will happen to his 3% shooting, it’s been all over the place his career.

    • caseygreer2 says:

      Question is, what hurts your franchise more: Overpaying Hayward, or losing him for nothing? I tend to think the latter.

      • cw says:

        Sign and trade him for one of Charlotte’s young players and draft picks.

      • Jt McKenna says:

        Overpaying him hurts more. You don’t lose him for nothing, you lose him for 12-15 million in cap space over the course of 5 years.

      • Matt Pacenza says:

        It’s an excellent question — and not an easy one to answer. However, I do think there are other answers, namely to use that cap space to trade for or sign other assets. Vets on one or two year deals. Young guys who haven’t quite panned out. We all know the Jazz aren’t a playoff team this year. How good is Dante? Will Burke improve? Will Burks shoot better? Will Kanter improve? So many unanswered questions. Given all that uncertainty, I just can’t see locking up such a significant amount of money for a guy who is good, but not great. And just might continue to get worse.

  7. Frank says:

    Sign and trade is the best option. No question to leave like Millsap and Big Al for nothing this time.

  8. Todd says:

    Hayward is not worth max money. Lets get that out of the way right now. That, however, is irrelevant. The Jazz have to match – they have to spend to the apron (the minimum salary amount) and with a young team with a boatload of rookie contracts (coupled with the current free-agent market), you have to overpay somebody. Hayward is better than either Ariza or Parsons. This is the only option. That is why the Jazz say they will match any offer – because they mean it.

  9. Ben Dowsett says:

    Good piece Matt, with a lot of context that some with rosy-colored glasses prefer to ignore. The shooting is likely the largest concern – a colleague of mine at Hickory-High, Seth Partnow, pointed out to me a small flaw in his mechanics that seems to have developed last season (mostly related to too much action with his left hand) – it’s tough to say if this was the result of more of his shots being rushed and less desirable or some other reason, but in either case one has to assume the Jazz have seen it as well and will look to correct it – he never had such a hitch in his first three seasons or in college, so it shouldn’t be a huge issue I hope.

    I do have to take issue, not with anything in the piece (your details are are correct and relevant), but actually with what’s NOT in the piece – Hayward’s overall value as it relates to the market, both for all players but more specifically at his position (really two positions, which is part of his value). I honestly think that if you asked Dan or Andy or myself or any number of smart folks arguing the Jazz should match a max deal (though of course try their darndest to get him for less) to identify a single solid reason why, that would be it, though obviously that’s not a smart way to view these things and that’s not how any of us are doing it. Hayward may not appear to be worth that much in a vacuum, and likely isn’t, but the Jazz don’t operate in a vacuum – they operate in a small market devoid of any free agency appeal where there’s a well-known tax required to keep their best players. Part of a player’s value is the scarcity of his skill set, and while certain elements have indeed been lacking, the fact remains that very few players in the league possess his combination of assets. Combine this with a salary cap that is sure to be closer to $80 million by the third year of his deal, and the fact that it’s highly unlikely the Jazz will approach the cap or be a major contender in the two years until then, and I think the Jazz have to begrudgingly pony up if he does indeed accept a max sheet somewhere else. Of course my preference is for less, but the alternative cost of losing a real asset for nothing far outweighs the potential risk of paying him a couple million extra for a couple years. And to any suggesting that Gordon is somehow not a real NBA asset…heh, do a little more reading I guess.

    • Matt Pacenza says:

      Of course I think he’s a real asset. He’s so young and has ballhandling and rebounding and playmaking skills superior to an average NBA wing. However, in a league in which shooting is so important, I do wonder one big thing: What if the downward trends continue? What if he almost never shoots over 30 pct from 3? What if gets hurt, loses a step, and suddenly is a liability on D? Then we just signed Luke Walton to a four year $60 million deal. I’m not saying that WILL happen, but it COULD. It may be more likely than the fact that he turns into Paul George.

      • Ben Dowsett says:

        Sure, it may be more likely than him turning into PG (a top-3 two-way player in the NBA), but is it more likely than him remaining an effective and well above average NBA player? Definitely not, not even remotely close. And these are “what-if”s that could apply to any player in the league if we wanted – any player could get hurt, any player could lose a step, it happens all the time and at varying ages. But declining just a couple million extra a year (which is all a max deal would be – Hayward is absolutely worth $11-$12 million in a vacuum, if not slightly more), as a team that won’t approach the cap in either of the next two years even IF they match the max, and with the aforementioned ~$80 million cap projected after that, just on the standard-to-every-player risk that he gets hurt or declines? There is no organization in the NBA that would base it’s decision-making on such an unlikely set of outcomes (Hayward never shooting above 30% or even 35% from 3 again in his career is ridiculously unlikely, basically impossible barring a career-altering injury, which again is possible for anyone), especially based on a single year of lowered efficiency in an extremely strange circumstance that no good coach will ever place him in again during his entire career.

        Honestly I haven’t actually written any of this out until now, have mostly just spun it around in my head, and the more I actually flesh it out the more convinced I become. Apologies for being the contrarian in the comments of your well-done piece, but given every factor involved (Utah market, Jazz cap plans for the next two years, inflated salary cap in 2016, portion of his struggles last year being on Corbin, new staff that’ll be far friendlier to his skill set, etc.), I see basically no way the Jazz can consciously let an asset like this walk, not even for the max. I mean shoot, if they let him go they’d basically HAVE to either overpay someone like Lance or take at least one Lin/Nash style salary dump on their books just to reach the cap FLOOR next year. I just don’t see any way. I have my concerns, like everyone, but there’s just no way.

        • Matt Pacenza says:

          Raising the injury thing was dumb. You’re right. He’s young and has been healthy, so there’s no reason to really worry about that.

          Clint below (and me a bit in my reply) do sketch out some other paths that the Jazz are hopefully at least considering, whether it’s offering a bunch of money to another FA (Bledsoe, Deng, Parsons) or decent money to a couple. I am surprised that there’s been such uniform agreement that the Jazz must match GH, because there’s nothing else they can do. Of course there’s other possibilities (even as each of those comes with their own issues, of course.)

          I won’t particularly mind if (when) they match. And as a season ticket holder and fan, I hope he thrives! Shoots like he did as a sophomore. Turns the ball over less. Improves on D in a better system. I can definitely see all those things happening.

          But, it makes me nervous when even a Zach Lowe today writes that his “3-point shooting will perk back up” and he “should develop into a solid defender.” The main goal of my column was the say: What if that doesn’t happen? Then what? Why do we assume improvement?

          There’s optimism, realism and pessimism. I’m probably a tad too pessimistic, but I feel like nearly everyone else is mistaking their optimism for realism.

          Good dialogue!

  10. matt bybee says:

    Heyward is a good player, so was milsap, i wish we could have em both, nobody wants to play in utah… what ya gonna do… go jazz !

  11. Pingback: Report: Gordon Hayward signs Offer Sheet with Charlotte Hornets | Salt City Hoops

  12. Jared says:

    I agree with Ben on this one. I think whether you agree with Hayward getting the max or not, both sides want him to shoot better from the field next year which I think he will do. But, like Ben said, the chances of Hayward never shooting above 30% from three is ridiculous. I know you were just saying that it could happen. Also, my opinion is that if you have something that other teams want, why not match and keep that asset. Maybe if Cleveland or Charlotte put together something that Dennis couldn’t refuse later down the road we trade Hayward. Maybe after all these teams air ball on Lebron James, they will give us a call to try and make a deal. I think in any scenario, matching the offer is the right thing to do. You can’t lose Hayward for nothing, like has already been stated.

    I think everyone is just so freaked out from the Andrei Kirilenko contract still, but I can’t seem to forget the Wesley Mathews scenario. I remember that offer being way too much at the time too, but I know there are a lot of people who wished we just would have ponied up the money.

  13. Clint Johnson says:

    I think the Jazz will match the Hornet’s offer sheet, and I think that’s probably the right call. That said, I can see an argument to the contrary, namely, what if the best option isn’t to procure the best player in terms of production but in terms of financial value or cultural value?

    For example, if the Jazz could overpay Luol Deng for three years. I can see an argument for that. Financially, it provides greater flexibility while Deng would be a fantastic infusion of tough, defensive-minded, extremely professional culture. His influence on young teammates may match his value on the court.

    Or how about overpaying for two players rather than one in Hayward? Could the Jazz overpay for Trevor Ariza and maybe someone like Marvin Williams, especially with front-loaded contracts? Overcompensate them during the team’s growth years with the intent to retain them as role players when the young core has come into its own? It might make sense to shift offensive usage to the future’s more central players (Exum, Favors, etc.).

    Finally, in terms of a sheer value signing, why not at least consider Lance Stephenson. Stephenson may realistically end up being a better overall player than Hayward, but questions about his mentality make it likely to get him on a significant discount. If the team felt they could rein in his wildness and maximize his talent, they might end up with the better player on a bargain contract. In fact, if the objective is championship or bust, I think this is the way to go: accept risk if it provides the possibility of maximizing talent under the cap. Many people love the high risk / high reward draft strategy. (Personally, I think Sam Hinkie has laid the groundwork for his own firing.) Why not apply the same reasoning to cap usage?

    I think offering max money to Hayward is justifiable, but I don’t think it is the only option and may not even be the best one, depending on how creative the team could be. But it is certainly the safest option.

    • Matt Pacenza says:

      Clint, you’re articulating exactly what I haven’t quite been able to. Paying Hayward $63m is an utterly defensible path, but I’ve been surprised — given the sharp decline in his performance last year — that it’s treated as a given. And that there are no other options. You articulate a few. Here’s a few more: What if you made Phoenix match a max offer to Bledsoe? What about Parsons? Morrow? Patterson? Tucker? Ed Davis? All bring something to the table — for less money and fewer years (perhaps not Parsons.) To that I would add trades. For example, I’d kick the tires on Larry Sanders’ availability.

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