Editor’s note: This is the last in the annual series from Salt City Hoops ranking the current players on the Utah Jazz roster. Throughout the preseason, we’ll count up through the current Jazz roster, from worst to first, profiling each player as we go along. The profiles are individually written by Salt City Hoops’ staff of writers, while the ranking was selected by me (Andy Larsen). To go through JazzRank articles from this or past preseasons, visit our JazzRank category page. Gordon Hayward is #1.
For this article, we’re doing something a little bit different. I asked everyone on our team to write one paragraph on Gordon Hayward, taking any perspective or angle they liked. We got a lot of cool responses, and so we’re covering the man affectionately known as G-Time from 360 degrees.
How did we get here? After Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap departed the Jazz in free agency, Gordon Hayward is the team’s default leading scorer. What exactly is his role this season? Possible go-to guy? Even first option on some nights? Hayward is talented, but the 6’8” small forward is about to go against some of the league’s toughest players on a nightly basis. This is new for him; Hayward started only six games against the Eastern Conference last season, where the position is especially loaded with the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. The 9th overall pick in 2010 didn’t ask for this role, but the spotlight has a way of finding the quiet former Butler star. Hayward averaged a career-high 14.1 points in just under 30 minutes last season, although the career-high 10.7 field goal attempts led to a career-low 43.5 field goal percentage. I expect him to continue progressing into a solid NBA player. I also expect him to face his fair share of challenges on the rebuilding Jazz.
I’ve given my extensive opinion about Gordon’s facial hair, now it’s time to move on to more important things: the hair on top of his head. He seems to be stepping up his game with the hair gel. During his tenure with the Jazz, we’ve seen the shaggy look and the more clean-cut missionary look. But now, he’s going with the medium-length, I-tried-to-make-this-look-
Unrealistic expectations are often the precursor to disappointment. Reaction was mixed when the Jazz acquired Hayward. Kevin O’Connor, the GM who drafted Hayward, suggested that in two years very few fans would be able to criticize the pick. The Butler star needed time to develop and the fan base needed to be patient. Here it is, Hayward is entering his 4th year and managing the franchise’s and fan base’s expectations will be his burden to carry. Management has made it clear that they expect him to be the leader with this group. In addition, Jazz fans want a leader whose on court performance is reminiscent of #12 or #32. These are great expectations all the way around.
Jazz fans are an intelligent group. They are also passionate. While they will not deny the fact that he was the 9th overall pick in an average NBA draft, they simultaneously expect top three results. This is one of the lingering effects of Stockton and Malone’s incredible legacy. To be sure, if the 2010 draft where to be held again with the knowledge that NBA GM’s know now, Hayward would not be drafted less than sixth, but no higher than fourth. He does a lot of things well but doesn’t seem to have a dominant presence on the floor like someone like Paul George (with whom he will always be compared). So for all the talk of his PER and win shares, the expectations that come with being the face of the franchise will, fairly or unfairly, be the measuring stick that will be used when judging Hayward. Whether or not he meets (and perhaps exceeds) those expectations will be weighed differently by the front office and the fans. This will make assessing his value going forward all the more interesting. Make no mistake, I firmly believe Gordon is ready for the challenge and from listening to him speak, he has developed the kind of personality that can take the good and bad that comes with it.
In the Jazz’s preseason Jazz games, new number one offensive option Gordon Hayward took 44 free throw attempts, 14 in the second game against Portland alone. But two stood out. Receiving the ball on the right wing, Hayward drove to the hoop and elevated. Robin Lopez–all seven foot and 255 pounds of him–met Hayward in the air. When Lopez failed to block the ball, he settled for the man holding it instead, clubbing Hayward from the sky. Wincing, the new Jazz leader, looking like a fresh arrival at the MTC, took stock of himself; then, hobbling a bit, he made his way to the free throw line. Last season, Hayward attempted 4.1 free throws a game, good for second on the team. Through eight preseason games, he raised that to 5.5 per game. For the Jazz to compete this year, Hayward will have to continue to get to the line. A lot. He’ll need to shoot better than the 72% he posted in the preseason games. But most of all, he’s going to have to keep doing it after being beaten on and bruised. He’ll need to attack the rim, take the hit as he did against Lopez, then pick himself up, wince as needed, limp as needed, then step the line and take the points he’s earned. Then he’ll need to do it all again. Get knocked down. Get back up. Do it again. Jazz fans should watch for and acknowledge as the too young-looking wing from Indiana proves he is tough enough to take the hit, make the shots, then do it all again.
Butler-Duke was more Rocky than Rocky was; at least the credits had the decency to roll before Rocky wheels into Apollo’s hospital room and asks if he gave his best fight. When the term ‘loser’ transforms from a sort of Wayne’s World-holdover dismissive insult to a more biblical description of ‘one who has lost and knows’, we are probably getting closer to having the right kind of conversation about Gordon Hayward, because Hayward lost in the most beautiful way a dude can lose. We are all losers; we just generally aren’t as noble or courageous in it as Hayward. At odds with all the force of destiny and perfectly incapable of turning the boundaries of inescapable fate, but scraping your way right up to the line anyway and spitting over the edge before going quietly just to say you saw the other side–that was Butler-Duke. Before the Sloan debacle and the D-Will meltdown, before he had ever known a fellow like Al Jefferson could exist, before he was the fan favorite, before he wasn’t a bust, before Team USA, there was always that moment when he had a half-court shot so clean that nonetheless didn’t have a chance in a million of dropping for no other reason than because he was not repping Duke. Everyone jokes about announcers talking about it when they cover the Jazz, but they aren’t good jokes. It’s mythology because it’s real. A year from now this spot is going to Wiggins, so this could be Hayward’s moment holding the ship together before settling into his rightful place as team spokesperson and gritty game-winning-three taker (and all-star and millionaire philanthropist). Before that all happens though, there was that crazy night in Indianapolis when Gordon peeked over the line.
David J. Smith:
While Enes Kanter and Alec Burks might be candidates, look for Gordon Hayward to lead the Utah Jazz in scoring. But beyond that, the swingman will most likely pace the team in assists too. A few weeks ago, I made some predictions, and I stick with them. While Trey Burke’s absence to start the season makes the latter more inevitable, Hayward may have led the team in assists either way. Spanning back to his rookie season, his vision and deft passing have been perhaps his greatest skills. He knows how to involve people and good things happen when the ball is in his hands.Hayward understands his teammates and knows where and when to deliver the ball. With his heightened role as the team’s leader, his passing will be invaluable for the Jazz going forward.
I’m really not the person to explain this concept, but physics says that the higher arc on your shot, the greater the force with which the ball will hit the rim, or the backboard, or the hardwood, based on, you know, where you aimed it when you shot it. As you can probably tell, I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but I have seen Gordon Hayward shoot a whole metric ton of three-pointers, and man his arc is high, and when he misses, he really misses it. Like, he bricks the crap out of it. The ball flies in every direction, and its sound and impact against the rim almost physically hurts you. The rim vibrates and the waves run down your spine like when you hit a baseball wrong with an aluminum bat. But then when he makes it, it’s almost shocking. It’s its own miracle. How could it have made it through that tiny cylinder when it was falling from so high? How did it avoid so many opportunities to veer off course? How could anyone ever make a shot with that kind of arc on it? But he made it. It went in like lightning in slow motion, a blinding kind of flawless. And the net snapped, and the ball landed with all its force, unencumbered and powerful. And it is as beautiful and healing as the miss is ugly and painful. It’s a swish and a clank, a high and a low, Hayward’s narrative played out in the arc of his jump shot. Because it’s a metaphor. Get it?