Game Ball Batch Four (a.k.a. An Ode to Gordon Hayward)

February 26th, 2015 | by Dan Clayton
Hayward is playing the best ball of his career -- and has the game balls to prove it. (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

Hayward is playing the best ball of his career — and has the game balls to prove it. (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

You’re going to read a lot about Gordon Hayward in this fourth edition of the Game Ball rankings.

Another batch of glowing recognition for some of Utah’s recent victory engineers seemed like exactly what Jazzland needed after a tough loss to the Lakers1. After every Jazz win (and with the help of the social media community), I assess the game’s arc to give a game ball to the person who most contributed to the win or whose performance we’ll most associate with the win in our collective memory.

A full description of the criteria and ethos behind the GB exercise can be found here, along with the first batch of rankings, and you can also catch up on batches two and three.

All along, Hayward’s name has been all over these rankings, and he cemented his leadership in the fake award department with an unbelievable stretch of ball recently. He got all three available game balls during a six-game stretch where he averaged 26, 6 and 5 on 52-52-80 shooting. Since December 17, the date when the Jazz appeared to have magically reinvented themselves as a good ball club2, Hayward has been a 20-4-5 stud.

I’m running out of of ways to quantify just how good he’s been and why we shouldn’t take this for granted. How about this: his Real Plus-Minus is 4.47, 22nd in the league. Four and up is pretty much All-Star level. His RPM-derived Wins Above Replacement is 7.86, which is eerily in line with the eight total game balls he’ll have after you’ve read this post. That’s 15th in the league.

And he has a healthy lead in the SCH Game Ball rankings. Read on…

Jazz 110, Warriors 100 – Gordon Hayward

I shouldn’t even need to defend this one: 26 points, 15 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. Enough said. Need more evidence of how he dictated his will in this game? 17 of his 26 were scored in the paint or at the line.

Also considered: Trevor Booker deserves some credit for 17-7-3 and his usual insane energy. Enes Kanter called this one in rather ballsy fashion (but only played 18 minutes), and as Matt Harpring kept reminding us, Quin Snyder had a great game plan to knock the West’s best off their game.

Jazz 102, Kings 90 – Gordon Hayward

I almost fell into the trap of overthinking this one. Derrick Favors had an impressively versatile game3, and Enes Kanter’s physicality on DeMarcus Cousins was as big as his 17-and-13 line. But seeing @ESPNNBA,  @NBAStats and even @NBA4 tweet out about Gordon’s 30 reminded me that I shouldn’t outsmart myself. He’s just hitting a whole new level right now, and I hope it’s not lost on Jazz fans.

Also considered: Favors (20-9-5) and Kanter (17 & 13).

Jazz 100, Pelicans 96 – Gordon Hayward

Has Hayward ever had a better stretch in his career than his pre-break run? 32-7-8-2-1 were the raw numbers, but that doesn’t even cover it5. The way he took charge late — on the road, no less — was the stuff of stars. Here’s what he did JUST in the final 4:20 after NOP took an 87-86 lead: stole the ball, sunk two free throws, assisted a Dante Exum jumper, short jumper in the lane, the awesome long J on iso, and four free throws to seal it.

Also considered: I’d say Steve Novak for his flurry of 3s (in retrospect, Novak’s two nice pre-break games might have helped the Jazz make their February 19 deal), but really this was Hayward’s, period.

Jazz 92, Blazers 76 – Rudy Gobert

When we look back on this one, we’ll probably think of it both as Rudy’s “this gig is mine” game and as Trey Burke’s “check out my sweet floater” game. Ultimately, I think the game story was more about Gobert, but it was close. Before any of us ever turned on the TV, the game story was “Rudy’s taking over.” In a game that was all about defense — holding one of the league’s best offenses to 76 points and an 82.9 ORtg — Gobert didn’t disappoint. His personal DRtg was 80.7 (!!!) and he had four blocks while helping limit LaMarcus Aldridge to 5/16 shooting.

Also considered: Burke had one of his better games in a while, and put on a nice display of floaters. And, if I’m going to mention Trey for 19-0-3 on 20 shots, I better give credit to GH for 20-4-3 on 13 shots. Quin Snyder again. And, for the sentimental folks, Larry H. Miller (McCade’s idea) on the anniversary of his passing.

Jazz 90, Spurs 81 – Trey Burke

Taken on the aggregate, those two games might be the best of Burke’s career. He had 42 points on 37 shots, scored from all over, and is visibly getting better at making the defense react to his probing. He played better D on the pick-and-roll than I can remember (his DRtg was 81.3), and hit one timely shot after another as the Jazz held off the Spurs. He was 6-for-12 on contested jumpers. Just had a great night. (And, I’ll be honest, since I was 50/50 on Burke/Gobert after each of the last two, I figured the safest way to address that was to give one to each.)

Also considered: Holy Gobert. Held Spurs to 33% shooting at the rim (12 attempts, and deterred a whole bunch of others). Ran the floor, grabbed 14 boards. Booker also had a nice impact, and Dante Exum’s D on Parker was an undersung factor in the win.

21 Jazz wins' worth of game ball awards.

21 Jazz wins’ worth of game ball awards. (Click to enlarge)

Some other game ball thoughts:

  • Interesting how aligned the rankings are with WAR, at least at the top. As mentioned above, Hayward has eight imaginary game balls and a WAR of almost exactly 8. Favors and Gobert have been honored with four and three metaphorical leather spheres, respectively, and have WAR figures of 4.29 and 3.02.
  • The trend breaks with Burke. I’ve given him three game balls, and his WAR (-0.28) seems to think I’ve been unabashedly generous to the second-year guard. That’s the worst WAR on the team6. But I wouldn’t take back any of his three game balls. I think this seeming contradiction just speaks (accurately) to the dichotomy in Burke’s game right now. When the right couple of things are going Trey’s way, he can be a tremendous help. When they’re not going right, he can really struggle. I joked during Mo Williams’ second Utah stint that some nights we got “Good Decision Mo” and some nights we got “Bad Decision Mo.” Good Decision Burke absolutely helps Utah win ball games. I hope we see him more often in the remaining 26 games.
  • Since now you’re wondering, the rest of the Jazz’s rotation players rank like this: after G-Fav-Rudy there’s a big gap and then you have Millsap, Exum7, Booker, Evans, Hood, Ingles, and then Burks/Burke (tied) and Kanter.
  • Twitter chums often suggest in the post-game discussion that a game ball be awarded to a role player who offered a timely spark. That’s a very different type of thing than game ball. Unless someone like that takes the game over for an important stretch8, this award isn’t for “energy guy,” or “bench sniper,” or even “fan favorite on a nice night.” Take over at a key moment, do something historical, or be the Jazz’s best player on an empirical level. Those are the ways to get a Spalding, not just hustling or knocking down a couple threes.
  • I often get asked if coaches and front office personnel can win the game. Sure, as evidenced by Quin Snyder’s game ball from the OKC game. But my overarching philosophy is that a player should win it unless there’s a really obvious reason. Snyder’s came on the “Wake Up!!” game, for example. Aside from something like that, there aren’t many angles I can think of where a coach or executive would be in the first sentence of my hypothetical game recap.
  • In three words: “That night when…” That’s how we decide who gets game ball.
Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton


  1. Andrew says:

    I made the exact same comparison with Mo and Burke to a friend on Tuesday. When Burke is thinking, the offense runs amazingly well with him out there. But he’s too likely to turn into Bad Burke and start jacking ugly shots when he gets rolling. If he can simmer down a bit, and stay in control, he can be something. Big Al had the exact opposite problem. Every few games he went into Angry Al mode and just flat out played, (a local radio guy said he was just letting his alter ego, Jeff Alferson, out when that happened) and suddenly he played some D and was absolutely unstoppable until it wore off.

  2. coltenvant says:

    I’m really tired of people saying that Gordon is “mediocre”. Great article and way to give Hayward the credit he deserves.

  3. Paul Johnson says:

    So, are you saying that Trey Burke has an alter ego, Brey Turke, who: 1)isn’t a ball hog, 2) takes (and makes) only good shots, 3) plays defense, 4) gets his teammates involved in the offense by making assists, 5) can finish at the basket, 6) doesn’t take the air out of the ball and slow down the offense to a snail’s pace, and 7) can successfully run a fast break?

  4. Paul Johnson says:

    If so, perhaps the 3 game balls given to Trey Burke up above should actually have been given to Brey Turke!!

  5. Pingback: 10-Game Season Recap, Part Two & Final Game Balls | Salt City Hoops

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