1. Gordon Hayward’s up-and-down season continues.
Hayward was coming off a 3-17 performance against the Philadelphia 76ers last Wednesday, that was naturally overshadowed by a win. After a loss, naturally the players get more scrutiny, and Hayward’s understandably being attacked after a 3-11 performance tonight. After all, tonight’s game drops Hayward’s shooting percentage to below 40% for the year (39.9%).
On Twitter, some fans and analysts are calling Hayward’s game “aloof” or “disengaged”. There’s not a lot of evidence for that assertion. For one, by nearly every other measure besides his shooting percentage, Hayward’s having the best season of his career. This is Hayward’s best season in terms of assists per 36 minutes (averaging 5 per 36 minutes), rebounds (averaging 5.5 per 36 minutes), steals (1.4 per 36 minutes), and blocks (0.7 per 36 minutes). His turnovers are up over last season, but he has a turnover rate right around career averages.
Additionally, he’s clearly still hustling and trying. He still leads the Jazz by far in the amount of distance he’s traveling on the court, over 2.6 miles per game. That’s 23% more than second place man Derrick Favors. He’s second on the team in both touches and time of possession, and very understandably behind the PG Trey Burke. To call him disengaged in the offense is simply uninformed.
But he shouldn’t be shooting this poorly. It’s easy to surmise that Hayward’s poor shooting is a natural result of taking on more usage, a nearly axiomatic result in basketball analytics and one that makes a lot of intuitive sense. [ref]For more, see Dean Oliver’s skill curves in his Basketball on Paper.[/ref] Small sample size, of course, but of Hayward’s 11 shots tonight, 9 of them were uncontested (without a defender within 4 feet). He made 3 of those. 33% on uncontested looks isn’t a very good rate. [ref]Unfortunately, season-long data isn’t compiled.[/ref] Additionally, Hayward’s usage actually isn’t up that much, just 1.3%. This is worrisome for Jazz fans, but speaks much more to Hayward’s skill level than his effort level. If Hayward’s to be attacked, it should be for missing too many shots, not his emotional investment in games.
2. Strangely, the Jazz didn’t foul with 32 seconds left down 4.
There was a strange strategical slip-up at the end of Wednesday’s game. Down 10 to the Nets with 2 minutes left, Utah went on a mini-run to get the game to within four points with 32.6 seconds left. At this point of the game, there were two ideological possibilities for coach Ty Corbin:
a) foul immediately, thus getting the ball back as quickly as possible to try to reduce the deficit further.
b) wait for the Nets to take a shot. Ideally they’ll miss with about 8 seconds left, allowing you to rebound, call timeout, and possibly make a couple of threes to send the game to overtime. [ref] I think I prefer this one, but I haven’t done the math. At the very least, you could conceivably control the result if you were able to stop the Nets defensively in the first possession.[/ref]
Unfortunately, Corbin chose option c): “Inexplicably allow Deron Williams to dribble the ball down the court and wait patiently for 16 seconds before then telling Trey Burke to foul.” Burke, to his credit, looked back at his coach for instruction to foul, but said instruction came far too late.
I asked Corbin about the play after the game: “I thought they were going to go quick, and they held back, and I decided to go ahead and foul. My call.” It’s not clear why Corbin thought the Nets were going to play quickly while they were up with only 30 seconds left, but at least Corbin took responsibility. It certainly wasn’t the most important possession of the game, so it’s important to keep the mistake in perspective. But it wasn’t a brilliant move.
3. Jeremy Evans got his career high in rebounds tonight.
Evans accumulated his 13 rebounds, 4 of which were offensive, in just 20 minutes tonight, an impressive tally. Evans’s small frame means that boxing out isn’t as effective as simply just jumping high for rebounds. Nevertheless, it’s an effective strategy; according to NBA.com’s SportVu stats, Evans gets the second most contested rebounds per minute of anyone on the team.
It’s just another part of a solid season by Evans. He leads the team in PER at 19.1, and this season he’s getting significantly more minutes, over double his career average. He’s added a pretty impressive mid-range jump shot (he’s shooting over 40% from mid-range) and of course is still finishing well within the restricted area. He’s rebounding as well as he ever has, and despite taking on more possessions, he’s rarely turning the ball over. [ref]His 7.0% turnover percentage rivals Big Al’s 6.7%.[/ref] Teams aren’t really game planning for him, but his production is a valuable bargain at under $2 million dollars per season.