JazzRank 4: Gordon Hayward

November 13th, 2012 | by Evan Hall

I should begin this JazzRank entry on Gordon Hayward with the following disclaimer: If you’re expecting me to do anything in this post beyond singing the praises of Gordon Hayward’s considerable basketball abilities, consider that I once wrote this about him:

“The fact is, as hard as it is to assess Gordon’s broader effect on the game, I’m often disappointed at how reluctantly he asserts himself. But even as I puzzle over his seeming fear for the spotlight, he grabs a loose ball, races down the court, draws the foul, and nails a game-winning free throw that acts as the culmination of an awe-inspiring, box score -filling performance. It’s almost as though he glories in seizing those moments when everyone has counted him out. He waits, and waits, until you’ve started to lose faith, to regret your prediction that he’ll be an all-star, and to lower your expectations to Rasual Butler levels–then he strikes. Then he wakes up, looks you in the eye and unassumingly asks “remember me?” Suddenly, he’s blitzing the passing lanes and starting fastbreaks. He’s throwing down brash dunks and flying around the court like Detlef Schrempf on speed. Most importantly, he’s winning games for the team you’ve loved all your life. He’s showing the same kind of respect for the game that drives you to wear that Jazz T-shirt for four game-days in one week because you think it’s lucky (it is lucky). He understands how you feel about this team, and he wants to win it for you. Gradually, in that dawning of comprehension, you begin to see the possibility that Momentarily Great Gordon Hayward could be Always Great Gordon Hayward. You begin to see Gordon Hayward The Future. Gordon Hayward The Hero.”

Glad we got that out of the way.

Offseason Accomplishments: chosen with Derrick Favors to play on the USA Select team, beat StarCraft 2 on hardcore mode, ostensibly took college classes over the summer, and became, with the departure of C.J. Miles, the longest-tenured Jazz wing player.

Patronus: Owl. If wizards use actual owls as their primary method of communication, and patronuses also have the ability to act as messengers, would a wizard who has both a literal, message-carrying owl and a ethereal, magically-produced owl defy the fundamental, eternal and immovable laws of magic? It’s one of the greatest questions of our time, and we may never know the answer. But we do know that this definitely defies some laws of something.

Stat to Watch: Three point percentage. This is simple: Gordon appears to be improving in every aspect of his game except his three point shooting. This isn’t to say that it’s getting worse, only that it has, like his confidence, been erratic over his first two seasons. In fact, look at his statistics from the month of April of last season. Look at them now. Look at them tomorrow. Gaze at them lovingly when you’re having a good day, and retreat to them hungrily when you’re having a bad one. Keep them in your heart and they will inspire you, for these are the numbers of beauty: 88/50/49 shooting splits, 16 points, 4 boards, 3.5 assists, and a steal a game. That’s right. 88% from the line, 50% from the field, and 49% from three. Perhaps even more shocking than those numbers is that I expected the former two. It’s the 49% from three that leaves me drooling. Now even after shooting blazing white hot in March and April, Hayward finished the season just 35% from three. Even if he could shoot at a 39% clip for this whole season, that would open up the Jazz offense in all kinds of interesting ways.

Three Outcomes for the Season

1. He is a fringe All-Star contender. It would take no small miracle to get Hayward onto an All-Star team. Not only because so much of what he does for the team is difficult to understand without watching the Jazz, but because people don’t watch the Jazz. Still, Hayward could be the darkhorse, small-market player that analytic bloggers rally behind, especially if he plays better perimeter defense.

2. Last season, again. This is the worst case scenario. Hayward spent a few too many months establishing himself last season. If Hayward takes a similar amount of time this season acclimating himself to his role in the offense, it will be hard for him to make many great strides toward reaching his potential. But because I’m me, and because Gordon Hayward is Gordon freakin’ Hayward, I’m sure that this won’t happen.

3. Hayward experiences the offensive equivalent of Derrick Favors’ defensive outburst. Just like Favors, we have seen flashes, even prolonged flashes, of offensive brilliance from Gordon, but Hayward will not become a top 50 player until he, like Favors, can come to rely on his skill set every single game. If Hayward turns what has hitherto been erratic into a consistent performance that the Jazz can count on, game in and game out, he’ll earn that max contract and he’ll become the face of the franchise.

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