Perhaps it’s because there has been no Jazz basketball for two weeks. Perhaps it’s because when I watch Manu Ginobili play, I feel a deep longing for what he could become. Or perhaps it’s because I’m still coping with the devastating Spurs sweep. But most likely, I watched this video of Gordon Hayward’s high school state championship game over and over again, because I needed to be reminded that rooting for Gordon Hayward is almost always a rewarding pursuit. Following his disappearing act in the Spurs series, I temporarily forgot that the only reason we had even made the playoffs was because Hayward played all-star level basketball for the last month of the season. Then I watched this video, and I remembered.
The entertainment value of this video is driven by the amusing fact that high school Gordon Hayward and NBA player Gordon Hayward look like, for all intents and purposes, the exact same person. I”m sure he grew in his Butler years, both physically and mentally, but it certainly doesn’t look like it. Brownsburg High School appears to be trotting out the current starting shooting guard for the Utah Jazz as their starting point guard. The happy consequence of Hayward’s unchanged visage in this video was that I felt like I was watching him playing in some obscure summer league, or showing up to play in the kind of random rec game that was all the rage during the lockout. Furthermore, I felt completely justified in drawing conclusions about current Gordon from watching a grainy video about 2008 Gordon. Some of these conclusions:
1. Running Gordon Hayward at the point is absolutely a good idea. I realize that in the few instances when Corbin has tried that experiment, it has failed; but if the offense was re-designed with a facilitating Gordon Hayward in mind, much like the way the Thunder use James Harden with their second unit (a creative, ball-handling, scoring point guard in behavior but a shooting guard in size and court placement), the team could maximize Hayward’s prodigious passing ability. Obviously judging his abilities at point guard based on his performance against other high schoolers would give you skewed results, but anyone who watched the Jazz this season knows that when Hayward is playing well, the whole team is playing well. Putting him at point guard is just a potential strategy to optimize his skill set and ensure that his solid play becomes even more contagious.
2. “Mental toughness” is an overused and often misapplied sports phrase that I usually loathe. Still, Gordon Hayward showed serious mental toughness in this game. To play three quarters of atrocious, brick-laying basketball in a championship game would plunge most professional players (let alone teenagers) into a crippling case of self-doubt that would then marginalize their effectiveness (see: James, LeBron–2011 NBA Finals). At least in this game, Hayward did the complete opposite. He took over the fourth quarter on offense, and before he got into foul trouble, his defense was suffocating. From what I could count, he scored six fourth quarter points (a big deal in a game that ended 40-39), including the buzzer-beating game winner. That was mental toughness.
3. High School basketball needs a shot clock across the board. Sweet mercy.
4. Hayward played confident in this game. Another prevalent theme from Hayward’s sophomore campaign was his wavering confidence. When he finally regained it late in the season, he was a different player. All of his shooting percentages spiked, most notably his free throw percentage–a good indicator of confidence. He started taking over games when no one else could score. Even in his post game interviews, he seemed more comfortable.
His turnaround jump shot at the 5:33 mark of the clip was a thing of beauty. The good news is that with his height and his vertical, Hayward could get that shot whenever he wanted it, even in the NBA. The bad news is that taking that shot requires confidence to break out of the offensive set–confidence Hayward often appears to lack. The Jazz need the offensively assertive Hayward to provide wing scoring when no one else can, and if this last season was any indication, Hayward just needs time to adjust to the added expectations and the superior competition in the NBA, especially in the playoffs.