It seems like it’s been a very long time since the Jazz last had an All-Star. Six seasons have passed since the Jazz last had representation at the big February game, by far the longest streak in their history. They had previously never gone more than two seasons without an All-Star selection.
The last five all-stars were Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko, and Karl Malone. The Jazz have averaged over one all star a year, with 42 selections in the past 40 years. It’s time to end the drought and have a current Jazzman join that club, and today we look at who that might be.
Which Jazz player will have the best chance at being an all-star this year?
The Jazz have four players who could be considered possibilities for the All-Star game: George Hill, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors.
While Gobert and Favors are both excellent players, and some of the best in their position, neither put up the counting stats to be serious candidates. In addition, the injury troubles of Favors has likely ended his already slim chances.
Hill and Hayward are the two most serious candidates. Hill has the reputation of being a great defensive player, with playoff experience, and has always led his team to win games. In addition, his statistics this year have taken a huge jump. If he can keep up these numbers and efficiency, he will be considered one of the best point guards in the Western Conference, and a serious All-Star candidate.
Hayward has always been considered a good to very good player, but never an elite player. This year that is changing. He’s upped his game at nearly every level, using his strength to get to the line and hit his free throws at an incredible rate. The only blemish so far is a rough start from three point territory, but even that has been elite the past few games1.
In the end, if the Jazz have one all-star, it will be Hayward. He has more of an elite pedigree, being selected (and subsequently declining) an invite to join the 2016 U.S. Olympic team in Rio, and is the face and longest-tenured member of the Jazz. While Hill has been incredible, it will be hard to beat out a long list of western conference point guards, including Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, and James Harden. Though Hill’s incredible efficiency and impact on this team is helping him build a stand-out resume.
Who will they have to beat out?
This is where it gets tricky. You could argue that Gobert, Hill and Hayward are playing like All-Stars, and even deserve to make the team, but who are they going to beat out?
Out of the Western Conference All-Stars from last season, only Kobe Bryant is certainly out of the picture. That leaves one opening. But there are several other candidates the Jazz players would have to beat out. Damian Lillard, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Marc Gasol, and Blake Griffin have all put up impressive seasons so far. 2016 Eastern Conference All-Star Pau Gasol moved over to the west, but he is not playing anywhere near that level this year.
Based on performance so far, Gordon Hayward or George Hill would have the best chance to beat out LaMarcus Aldridge or Klay Thompson. These two have seen a decline in their performance so far, and the question has to be asked – will the Warriors have four All-Stars?
The two likeliest candidates to fall out are Aldridge and Thompson. Both have seen a decline in their statistics so far, and it’s fair to ask whether the Warriors will have four All-Stars. Aldridge and Thompson have seen a decline in scoring and shooting, with Klay’s struggles coming primarily from behind the arc. Draymond Green has also seen a huge step down in his shooting and scoring, but it seems safe to assume that three Warriors will make the team, and Green’s reputation as a top-five defender and DPOY candidate probably makes his spot safe.
How good do the Jazz have to be as a team to have an All-Star?
Being a playoff team in no way guarantees an All-Star selection. Portland didn’t land a player at the midseason classic despite finishing in the conference’s top five. (Portland was actually 8th at the time of the all-star game, but Lillard was considered on of the biggest snubs regardless.) To all but lock up an All-Star, the Jazz will likely need to be a top-4 team at the time of selection. If not, Hayward or Hill would likely be one of many fighting for the last few spots.
So, will the Jazz have an All-Star?
It will be a tough call and a close race, but if the Jazz continue to win and stay relatively healthy, Gordon Hayward will be an All-Star this year. SCH’s Dan Clayton said it perfectly in his latest piece:
“Every year, thinkers around the NBA world assume that they’ve seen the best possible version of Gordon Hayward. This has to be it, they think, his ceiling can’t be much higher than this. And every year, he comes back and finds a way to be better.”
Hayward is playing like an All-Star, and this Jazz team has some of the markers of an elite team. It’s time to recognize that and make Hayward an All-Star.