A few years back a friend of mine said, “You know your team is bad when you are worrying about your starting 5 players. You know your team is really good when you have time to worry about your water boy.” Right now that water boy is Gordon Hayward. He, selected by the Jazz with the 9th pick in the draft, was supposed to be gift-wrapped talent sent from the heavens. Now he has become the Jazz’s victory cigar only seeing playing time in garbage time at the end of blowouts.
30 games into the season Jazz fans are eager to call the Hayward a bust and a waste of a pick, eagerly pointing to other rookies (Landry Fields, Xavier Henry, etc.) as proof that the Jazz missed the mark with this selection. Here are a few points that I’d like to make before we throw Hayward under the bus and give up on him before the season is even halfway over.
We are comparing him to Wesley Matthews
Wesley Matthews was able to steal, yes I said steal, playing time because of injuries. Korver was hurt, Miles was hurt, Price had a few bumps and bruises. This allowed Matthews to play out of necessity. Otherwise he never would have seen time, possibly never would have been signed, if no preseason injuries occurred. It is true he stepped up but there is something to be said to stepping up because you HAVE TO instead of pushing others to do so. Matthews was able to gain confidence because he was their ONLY option at SG for a time. Knowing that you can make mistakes without being pulled is a luxury that cannot be overstated. Also Matthews was a 4 year college player. There is something to be seen from playing 4 years of college. It is called experience and maturity. Hayward is still learning that.
Hayward is coming onto a very veteran laden team. Miles is a 5 year veteran. Price is a 5 year veteran. Kirilenko is a 9 year veteran. Bell is a 10 year veteran. Those are the guys ahead of Hayward on the depth chart. You’re telling me that on all of your first 3 months on the job you put to shame coworkers who had been working with your respective companies for 5, 9, and 10 years? It’s hard to earn minutes on a team that is not mistake prone. When you are on a veteran team usually the one making mistakes is the rookie. That’s rough. Especially when you got tons of people critiquing your every move. Was your first day of work covered on ESPN, NBA.com, local news outlets, bloggers, and the newspaper?
Not All Good Players Start Strong
Case in point: Kobe Bryant.
(Yes, I already know what you’ll comment below and save yourself the trouble. He won’t become a Kobe Bryant or a great player. Not what I’m trying to show. I don’t think he becomes top flight. But rarely do great players start great. And rarely do good players start good. And rarely do average players start average.)
Can anybody off the top of their heads list his rookie year statistics? If you were to look at his rookie year stats and say, “This kid is going to be one of the top 10 players in the game.” People would think you were crazy. Here they are:
15.5 mpg 1.3 apg 1.9 rpg 7.6 ppg
His minutes per game are misleading. In the first half of the season he was only averaging about 7-8. He only started 6 games. His following season he only started 1. He only averaged 2 Free throws a game. Point being he wasn’t great. Like the Jazz the 1996 Lakers were a team full of veterans and big time talent. It takes a while for a young talent to find his way. I’m not saying he’ll be a Kobe Bryant but what I am saying is 1/4 of a season is by no means any way to judge a player.
Sometimes a rookie is able to buy time with fans because he is able to excite them once a game with something tantalizing. I.E. a rim shattering dunk. The only reason Brewer wasn’t considered a bust in his first year was his ability to have highlight dunks in garbage time. High fliers like him are able to miss the bust label because they excite you with plays that have a flash in the pan quality. Gordon Hayward isn’t going to play above the rim. He’s going to be cerebral. If anyone of our readers saw him in summer league and preseason you saw what a treat that was.
Speaking of preseason, how many of you watched preseason? Summer league? Hayward was playing good basketball. I know we like to elevate D-Will on a pedestal and claim that he has done nothing wrong but since that infamous Phoenix home opener and the “pass” Hayward has been timid. It is not that D-Will chastised him. This is different.
Think of your idol.
Think of how much you adore them and look up to them.
Now think about your idol calling you out on national tv because you are trying and the rest of your coworkers have quit. That’s a psyche buster. I think Hayward is past that and with his breakout game against the T-Wolves he has shown he is ready to play. But I believe that Phoenix incident set his development back.
Give Hayward a shot. Give him a couple years. Yes, I said a couple. There’s this crazy thing with Jazz rookies. They usually elevate their game in the 2nd year. See also: Matthews, Brewer, Millsap, D-Will. So before we blame him for not trying let’s be patient with him. He didn’t step up his game til his 2nd year at Butler ONCE he got comfortable.
Give him a shot.
I know I’m of the few that still believe he’ll be something of value to the Jazz (and no I don’t mean a trade piece). There is no magic recipe to suddenly being great.