Curious Case of Gordon Hayward

December 27th, 2010 | by Mychal

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

AP Photo/Don Ryan

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.

Veteran Team

Veteran Cast

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.

Highlight Ability

Brewer At Rookie/Sophomore Game (Rare photo of Jazz jersey & headband)

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.

Mind Games

Do a google search trying to find Hayward & Williams in the same picture just the two of them. Good Luck.

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.

Patience

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.

Mychal

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17 Comments

  1. Kevin Malphurs says:

    I hope you are right. I think Hayward isn’t good to be any good for a few reasons. 1) His rookie year is much worse than Brewer, Matthews, Kobe or pretty much anyone. 2) He wasn’t that great of player in college or high school. He never really has shown that much potential. 3) He doesn’t do anything on the court and 4) He isn’t a good shooter.

    You make several good points. Thanks for at least talking me off the ledge for the time being.

    • Steve says:

      1. So what? That doesn’t prove how good a player is going to be.

      2. Hayward won a state championship in the biggest class in Indiana, which has some of the nation’s best players year after year after year. Please check out Hayward’s stats v.s. Big 6 college programs and you’ll see just how off base your comments are Kevin.

      3. That’s your opinion.

      4. That college career 47 FG% begs to differ.

      • q says:

        Hayward not only won the state title at Brownsburg high school, he was also the teams far and away best player and leader. He even hit the game winning shot in the state title game. He also led freakin’ BUTLER to the national championship game. The kid can play and he’s been a winner his whole basketball career – give him a couple of years and I think you’ll all be pleasantly surprised.

    • pipikit says:

      hay your wrong man..all you said are wrong and hayward will prove u that!!

  2. Jo Jo says:

    I like what you are saying and I am one that thinks that he is going to be better than most. I think that the Jazz draft the kinds of guys that fit their mold: tough and hard working. If he follows the Jazz plan he will end up being a guy a lot like Jeff Hornacek but even more athletic. I like the way that he handles the ball, pressure, and I think that he will turn into a great shooter.

  3. Luke says:

    Gordon Hayward WILL be a successful NBA player. He is smart, hardworking, and has a boatload of talent that goes so well with his basketball IQ. What do you Jazz fans want? Big flashy stats and numbers? Usually those are found in terrible teams that give all their shots and minutes to rookies. Give The Baby Faced Assassin time Utah.

  4. C33 says:

    Excellent points one and all! I am prepared to give Hayward up to 4 years to develop into a solid role player, what I believe his ceiling to be. As you said, his is a cerebral game. He will rarely be flashy.

  5. Smith says:

    I’m not so sure about the rook, especially considering Utah’s history of failing to get much out of first-round picks. Now second-round picks on the other hand… Jeremy Evans is a delight to watch with his athleticism, I really hope Sloan gives him more minutes as he matures because Evans has a lot of raw talent and if he develops his skill he could become an Iguodala or a Beasley.

    I think the problem with Hayward is the fact that he still doesn’t know what he’s really doing. I envisioned Hayward as a Kukoc/Turkoglu point forward type of guy, maybe with Price playing off the ball because he does have good handles for a big man, but when you take the ball out of his hands that’s just reducing Lebron James to being just a jump-shooter, which really isn’t using his talents the best way one could.

    Hayward really needs to try to put on the pounds, right now he’s too slow to keep up with the athletic SG’s of the league (ugh, Tony Allen could torch him!) and he’s too skinny and soft inside to hold off SF’s (Tay Prince could drop thirty on him…)
    I think if he could develop his game and try to become more of a SF/PF then that would help his game because he does have the height and the potential to play PF against maybe a few small-ball squads (though by all means, keep him away from the KG’s and Z-Bo’s of the L, they’ll eat him alive!)

  6. Perk says:

    Great article and very good points made. I like the comparison to Hornacek much more than Smith’s idea to beef him up as a F….there’s no way he could play PF. Height does not equal size, and putting on that many pounds doesn’t work with every body! The Jazz put players into roles based on their abilities and their role plays around their strengths. I think he will blossom nicely his second year. Coach Sloan is not about flashiness and getting highlights or awards. He has a system, and you work in that system, and once one year is under Hayward’s belt, he’ll understand Sloan’s system much better and feel MUCH more comfortable out on the floor. Flashiness doesn’t bode well with Sloan (i.e. D. Stevenson).

  7. CJ in Brooklyn says:

    Horny? You mean the best shooter the Jazz have ever seen? Hayward can’t shoot to save his life – THAT’s his biggest problem.

  8. skullafun says:

    Great article. After that Clipper game it seems almost prophetic. The kid is a baller and it’s odd that we’d jump on a kid that was drafted into a playoff team. Xavier Henry would be in the d league right now with our front court.

  9. Thomas says:

    Every single hater comment looks silly after watching the clipper game. You guys are a joke. Give him time.

  10. Mr Sloan should use Gordon Hayward like Larry Bird or Jerry West player of guard/forward because of rookie, age, and lack of rebounding against stronger players. He has great three point shot, but needs to learn how to make decisions about shooting three point shots or two point shots based upon shot clock and game clock. He still on 30 second shot curve not 25 second shot curve of NBA. He needs to understand that you only have 20 seconds to shoot a good shot once ball reaches front court. Celtics have rule of not passing up open looks for ball movement. Laker’s use 4 second rule with 7 seconds to shoot at basket to offensive boarding. Clippers wait until last 10 seconds to shoot poor shots by Baron Davis. Hero, to make or miss last second shot to make crowd adore him. Would Jazz like Chris Kaman, Baron Davis, and Brian Cook for Haywood and Fesenko? Haywood will develop into premier player but should be guard/forward not forward due to lack of rebounding against stronger players. He has good decisions about passing, plays, and shooting. He would be great sixth man off bench behind Williams and Bell. Donald Blaskovich, cell 951-837-7043

  11. jack Olson says:

    Some of the comments on here are interesting. Some are just plain dumb.

    Gordon Hayward is hardly slow. He stays in front a his man on defense almost all the time. That’s one reason Sloan likes him. His energy stays up the whole game. He played over 40 minutes against the Clippers and he was still running the floor and defending in the last minute of the game.

    He does get physical, but he picks his spots carefully. He challenged Griffin on a dunk. Griffin powered over him just like Griffin did to Milsap. He got a couple of key tips in a crowded middle that gave the Jazz important rebounds.

    Hayward runs the break as good as anyone on the Jazz. He can actually handle the ball. He’s a very good passer. His assists will be as good as Kirilenko’s. Kirilenko is getting old in NBA years and he wants a lot of money. He’s not worth $17 million a year.

    In year 3, Hayward’s stats will be 12 ppg, 45% from the floor, 41% from the 3 point line, 6 rebounds a game (3 of those offensive) 88% free throw shooter, and 6 assists a game. And unlike CJ Miles, Hayward will be consistent. Unlike Kirilenko he won’t pout and spar with the coach like a whinny kid.

    He’ll make on average $6 plus million a year for 10 to 12 years. He’ll put on 20 to 25 pounds with no loss in speed. And in the end he’ll be as likable and popular as John Stockton. He may not be Hall of Fame caliber, but how many Jazz have been. And just like Stockton when he retires, he’ll have 80% of the money he made in the bank.

    You can’t learn to play with garbage minutes. He needs consistent playing time before anyone can see where he is in terms of development. Deron Willliams knows that. Deron was a complete asshole for publicly jumping on Hayward. It set his progress back both physically and psychologically. Deron had a lot of people he could have been pissed off with–the whole team. Deron gets a little too full of himself sometimes. He often wants to be named head coach.

    I like Evans, but he’s one dimensional. Unless he develops more skills, he’s only going to be a marginal role player with great jumping ability. He doesn’t do anything else. He needs to gain a lot more weight. He only defends well from a vertical position.

    That’s my 3 cents. Check back here in Hayward’s 3rd year and see how close my line is.

  12. rockdcasba says:

    I’m pretty sure no one can predict exactly how any player will perform in the future. So I won’t criticize these conclusions, but I am not sure about the methods. This article contains a lot of what is basically wishfull thinking.

    To be more scientific (slightly) I will point out that there are certain things that are solid predictors.

    What is absolutely certain: The less time a player has to develop, the less they will develop. If Hayward can’t earn significant minutes soon, the his upside potential will vanish. Defense may be his key to minutes, and he is not stellar in that arena. (Yet?)

    What is almost certain: A player wont run faster, jump higher, or get any taller than when they start in the NBA. Physically it’s mostly down hill, and Hayward is not a great specimen to start with.

    What is a very good bet: Ignoring small streaks, shooting percentages stay about the same. Normally you see shooting % shifting in the second or third digit on a year-over-year basis. If Hayward stays near where he is then…well, write this sentence for yourself.

    What is generally true: Short term dramatic changes are very rare, unless they are also temporary. Hayward will have good games, but like CJ, it is likely we will be waiting for him to live up to his potential perhaps forever.

    To be as fair as possible…I think the kid learns faster than most. Also I think we have seen the worst of him, not the best. Also, if Hayward shows the resolve to defend, I bet he at a minimum has a career.

  13. TJ says:

    He is alot better of a defender then you guys give him credit for. He just needs minutes to produce offensively. I am not worried about him at all, kids a baller give him a year or two he will be playing the 6th man or starting. Thinking he can play PF is just ridiculous though ha ha

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