At long last, we’ve arrived. The 2014-2105 Jazz season is finally here. As is the pinnacle of the Salt City Hoops #JazzRank countdown. We’ve finally reached number one on the list, and if you hadn’t already deduced from the previous 13 ranked Jazzmen, or the title of this article for that matter, it’s G-Time himself—Gordon Hayward.
By no means am I qualified to write the capstone of this amazing countdown for it’s second annual appearance, but I’ve had a strangely inappropriate relationship/fascination/obsession with Mr. Hayward since his days at Butler, and especially since I compared his growth as a leader with the growth of his facial hair. So you’re stuck with me.
Why is it that Gordon Hayward ranks atop this list for the second straight year? Well, in my opinion, there’s a lot of reasons, because he does a lot of things. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that Hayward might lead the team this year in points, assists and steals. He’ll probably win player of the game more than anyone else on the team. And he’ll keep doing all the other intangible things that make him such a complete player.
One of the things I love most about Hayward is his humility. That’s not usually something that stands out for a lot of NBA players. For Hayward, it can be summed up with one story. During this year’s open scrimmage when David Locke asked each player one question, he asked Hayward if anything big happened to him over the summer. Hayward’s response? (Paraphrasing) “Not really.”
Hold it right there, Mr. Hayward. Maybe that answer will fly when asked what you did over the weekend in Salt Lake City, but you just had what could potentially be one of the biggest off-seasons of your career. And even that feels like an understatement. To use your own words, it was “Too Big Yo.”
Let’s start with the $$$. I know a lot of Jazz fans (and national media) weren’t very pleased when the Jazz matched Charlotte’s offer sheet for Hayward. I honestly didn’t mind it. They had to pay somebody, and Utah didn’t exactly have many other players knocking on their door to replace the void Hayward would have left. Did he deserve that number? Probably not. But you’re a rich man now, Mr. Hayward, so time to step up act like it. Everybody wins.
Then there was that little stunt with team USA. Yeah, that’s not a big deal either. That, by itself, would have constituted a better summer than 75% of the league ever has, even if you didn’t make the final roster. Oh, and what about that certain off-the-court decision you made? Wedding bells anyone? Hopefully Mrs. Hayward didn’t hear you say that. Even with just those three events, I’m honestly not sure which answer Locke was trying to lead you to. And that’s not even the comprehensive list. Butler named a video room after you in their basketball facilities. You went on the Ellen Show. You’re even featured on one of the more creative billboards the I-15 corridor has ever seen.
But does Hayward think anything big happened this summer. “Not really.” That’s why I love him.
Seriously though, all that other stuff is fine and dandy, but Hayward is number one in #JazzRank because of his abilities on the court. We’ve already seen a drastic improvement during preseason games. Points, up. Efficiency, up. He even led the league in steals for most of the preseason. Coach Snyder’s system has seemed to open up the floor for Hayward’s style of play. He is playing with more confidence, and dare I say swagger. This can be summed up for me in one play:
I mean, c’mon…
This is a revamped Gordon Hayward. He’s been more aggressive going to the hoop, not afraid of a little contact and willing to use his body when he needs to. The most noticeable difference this year from previous years is what happens at the end of that Portland play. You can’t see it super well in the GIF, but if you were watching it live, you remember. Hayward takes an added pause to make sure Joel Freeland knows what just happened. YOU JUST GOT DUNKED ON, SUCKA! And you can’t tell me that doesn’t make the rest of the team want to rally behind him as their leader. This GIF cuts off the bench reaction, but you can watch the whole thing in this video.
As far as visual changes, a few things come to mind. He seems to have finally found a grasp on his hairstyle. No more Bieber-esque locks. He grew up, and found a stylist to help him. Whether that was the Mrs. or an actual professional, it really doesn’t matter. He has also noticeably bulked up. Gone are the days of scrawny arms and baggy workout clothes. I have this sneaking suspicion that Hayward wakes up every morning, looks in the mirror and thinks to himself, “I dare D-Will to try and throw a ball at my head now.”
Hayward also made a big jump on the ESPN player rank, moving from #90 to #47, after being one of only five players last year to average 16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I think I was pretty spot on last year (with 3 spots to spare).
I’m definitely not alone in my thinking that he’ll continue to climb that ranking, while most likely staying atop ours here at Salt City Hoops.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: in Gordon we trust.