The truly great players in this league know that being successful means more than sinking shots or putting points up in a box score. And as Gordon Hayward takes aim at this sort of lofty perch, he’s already well aware of what’s expected of him, even on nights where everything isn’t clicking entirely.
This was on display Monday night versus the Spurs. Hayward seemed to find a lid on the basket for his jumper, shooting just 4-15 from the field, his worst performance in a recent stretch where he’s found points and efficiency coming to him with ease. He was marked by perimeter specialist Kawhi Leonard for much of the night as well, and free points were tough to come by. No matter, though: Gordon was up to the task, rising to the occasion like the greats he hopes to emulate. He took eight trips to the free-throw line in the first quarter alone, finishing 10-11 from the stripe, and remained fully aggressive despite the issues with his jumper. He was engaged defensively on multiple Spurs players. And despite his rough shooting night, the Jazz finished a torrid plus-23.1 per-100-possessions with him on the court1, a sign of just how effective he can be even when an important part of his game is missing.
I asked Gordon after the game if contributing elsewhere was a specific emphasis once he found his J lacking, and he confirmed as much: “Yeah, it is. From a young age I was told, if your shot’s not falling you gotta do something else to help the team win, or else why should you be out there? Always try to be in the right place defensively, try to stay active and be a facilitator, just push the ball…tonight I got to the line, which was really good.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, in a candid postgame interview that contained effusive praise for both Utah’s play versus the Spurs and their overall development, had some of Gordon’s same thoughts on performing even on off nights.
“You don’t worry about the last play or the last shot you missed or if you turned it over,” Pop told me. “You know, you gotta go to the next play if you’re going to be a player. And he certainly is.”
As he so often has been this year, Hayward once again serves as a microcosm for this Jazz team as a whole. The group is learning how to operate even when conditions are sub-optimal, fighting through adversity in ways Jazz teams of previous years seemed to often be averse to. One might say they’re just taking the example from their leader.
|Derrick Favors, PF 31 MIN | 6-15 FG | 2-4 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | +1 +/-Like Hayward, Favors had a rough night shooting the ball. But he combined with Rudy Gobert and Trevor Booker to give the Spurs’ frontcourt headaches all night long (the group combined for 30 rebounds), playing an active and help-frequent game on the defensive end while finding enough offense to scrape by.|
|Gordon Hayward, SF 33 MIN | 4-15 FG | 10-11 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | +16 +/-He does take a small hit for the off-night shooting, but Gordon was phenomenal along the margins of the game. He reached double figures in free-throw attempts for the 10th time this season.|
|Joe Ingles, SF 27 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +1 +/-Opponents are starting to find out that going under on Jingles screens is a kiss of death. He nailed a couple long bombs tonight and is up near 40 percent since the turn of the new year, continuing to provide spacing and all-around smarts to the Jazz.|
|Rudy Gobert, C 31 MIN | 3-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 14 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +9 +/-Gobert stood eye to eye with an all-time great in Tim Duncan, and didn’t blink first. He swatted a Duncan attempt in the post on what looked like a one-on-one challenge, plus had two other blocks and countless shot alterations. He had 10 boards by halftime and could have gone for 20 if he hadn’t left several minutes early with the game mostly in hand.|
|Dante Exum, SG 21 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | -1 +/-Exum’s defense was incredibly impressive even in a season where he’s exceeded expectations here. He shut down Tony Parker (2-9 shooting), and was impeccable with his rotations and closing speed. He also showed flashes of that fleeting offensive aggressiveness, with a few nice drives and a couple flashy dimes.|
|Trevor Booker, PF 24 MIN | 3-8 FG | 1-2 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | +11 +/-Booker’s stat line once again underrates his performance, as the energy man was everywhere for the Jazz. He had both an emphatic swat and an emphatic dunk, and played hounding, aggressive defense on a variety of charges.|
|Jeremy Evans, SF 6 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3 +/-It’s good to see Evans getting spot minutes at least, but he’s still not in the game quite enough to justify a real analysis.|
|Trey Burke, PG 28 MIN | 9-17 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 23 PTS | +6 +/-Trey was perhaps a bit trigger-happy at times, but his overall play continues to impress in recent weeks and he was strong offensively again tonight. The work we’ve seen him putting in during practice and warmups on his floaters and in-between shots is very clearly paying off, as he made several more tonight and seems to rarely miss these anymore.|
|Elijah Millsap, SG 27 MIN | 2-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -2 +/-His shooting continues to come and go, but Millsap is a full-on defensive beast at this point. He went from Ginobili to Leonard to Parker with ease tonight, and offers no spare moments for even the league’s premier offensive players to collect themselves.|
|Rodney Hood, SG 12 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +1 +/-Rodney gets a mostly neutral grade because he remained on a minutes restriction and was mostly anonymous in the 12 minutes he did see. He had one nice slicing drive to the hoop for a bucket, but otherwise stayed mostly out of the way on both ends. He should return to form gradually over the next few weeks.|
Any questions about the validity of Utah’s hire this offseason were answered a long time ago, and continue to be stamped into the ground emphatically. Quin has his team competing with the league’s elite on seemingly a nightly basis, and his rotations tonight continued a recent trend of excellence. Here’s hoping Jazz fans realize how lucky they are to have this guy in the long-term fold.