The Utah Jazz are currently 2-1 and have looked mostly impressive against some subpar competition. Derrick Favors has been playing like an All-Star and alongside Rudy Gobert, the defense has been suffocating. But the third member of Utah’s Big Three, Gordon Hayward, has yet to look like the player he was last year. Through the first three games of the season Hayward has averaged just 12 points, shooting 35.3 percent from the field and 69.2 from the line. So what’s happening with Hayward?
Just as for any scorer, Hayward’s shot selection is key to his overall productivity. As great as Hayward was offensively last year, he doesn’t have the same kind of green light as Steph Curry. At times during this first part of the season Hayward has appeared to be forcing up tough shots. Take a look at this play from the last game versus the Indiana Pacers.
Hayward sets up his defender with a jab step and then uses a Trevor Booker screen to get to the the top of the key to receive a handoff from Rudy Gobert. Hayward then uses a Gobert screen to penetrate into the paint, only to stop his dribble and hoist up a tough turnaround fadeaway. While it may be a shot that Hayward has the ability to hit, he already had the smaller George Hill at his back. Instead of stopping his dribble, he could have used the lane he created to shoot a floater or attack the rim.
Here’s another example of a shot Hayward could have and should have taken.
Possessions after an offensive rebound are great chances to find open looks. Here the Jazz secure a rebound from a missed free throw. It’s kicked out to Raul Neto who then swings it to Hayward, who has the chance to step into a rhythm three, but instead drives for a contested layup and misses. In today’s NBA, the three point shot is extremely valuable and something rare for the Jazz — Hayward cannot pass up an open look from downtown.
Hayward’s issues with foul trouble are twofold. First, he’s had to sit for stretches during the games and has not been able to get into a groove because he’s been in foul trouble. On the other hand, Hayward has not been receiving the same kind of love from the officials he was last year.
So far, Hayward is averaging three fouls per game. While that average won’t disqualify him from any games, he still hasn’t been able to find his touch in part because foul trouble disrupts a player’s rhythm. Interestingly, Hayward has been called for a handful of offensive fouls, which indicate he could be forcing a little too much.
The other side of the equation is that Hayward is being slightly disrespected by the officials, in my opinion. Last season, Hayward got to the charity stripe 6.1 times per game. Thus far, that number is down to 4.3 from the line, where he’s shooting an abysmal percentage.
Only three games into the season, there certainly isn’t any reason to press the panic button on Hayward. Both of these issues are easily fixable and I don’t doubt they’ll be corrected, hopefully sooner rather than later. But if Hayward continues to struggle, look for his shot selection and foul trouble to be at the heart of it.