Why Our Gordon Hayward Comps Are All Wrong

July 3rd, 2014 | by Dan Clayton
Do Team USA mates Hayward and Thompson really have similar games? (Getty Images)

Do Team USA mates Hayward and Thompson really have similar games? (Getty Images)

Before you jump off the Gordon Hayward bandwagon, there are some things you should know.

Particularly if your discomfort at the idea of matching a max or near-max offer sheet1 for the versatile wing has to do with the-devil-you-don’t-know type logic, pull up a chair. I’ve got numbers.

Don’t get me wrong, $60+ million is a lot of money, and if that’s really what Hayward’s offer sheet comes to, the Jazz will wince for about a half a second right before they sign the damn thing and go out for an ice cream cone to celebrate. Why? Because none of the players you think compare to Hayward actually do what he does.

Grass often seems greener elsewhere, the saying goes, so it’s getting more common to hear a response like, “Just let him walk and go get So-and-so instead.” The problem is, in just about every case I’ve heard so far, So-and-so isn’t as complete a player as the Butler product.

For example, Chandler Parsons’ name comes up a lot as a guy who is roughly equivalent to Hayward. It’s easy to see why. The two check all the boxes for the lazy man’s comp: same size, body type, position and complexion. But they also have pretty similar raw numbers. Per 36 minutes, they both averaged almost exactly 16 points on roughly 13 shots. But does that mean their games are comparable?

“Parsons plays in an optimal spread floor system. His stats might be a bit juiced,” ESPN’s Ethan Strauss tweeted while defending a comment that Hayward is better than Parsons. In other words, he’s saying that Parsons raw numbers, while comparable to Hayward’s, have a lot to do with how he’s used and that he plays next to two All-NBA players.

Hayward also gets lumped in statistically and stylistically with players like Warriors guard Klay Thompson, Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and even teammate Alec Burks, who seems to have surpassed Hayward on some fans’ boards as favorite Jazz wing.

The problem with all these comps: they don’t work. None of those guys do everything that Hayward does. To underscore this point, let’s look at each player’s possession identity to understand their profiles.

Possession usage

Source: mysynergysports.com

Source: mysynergysports.com

Per Synergy, Hayward had 1406 possessions that he “used” for an attempt, a drawn foul or a turnover, not counting the times when he used a particular play type to generate offense for someone else (more on that in a minute). For starters, the only player in this group who had more possessions allocated to them was Thompson, and that’s largely because he just never surrenders the ball. So already we can see that Hayward more central to what his team is doing than the others.

Hayward used 492 of those possessions as the P&R handler or in isolation, meaning plays where he’s responsible for creating. The only guy who came close to that number was Burks (17 fewer) and the other three were somewhere in the 200-300 range. They’re just not expected to create their own shot in the half court.

Where Leonard, Parsons and Thompson are getting the lion’s share of their offense is on play types where other people are creating for them. For each of those guys, 300-400 of their possessions were spot-ups, meaning go stand on the wing while Tony Parker, James Harden or Steph Curry forces defenses to collapse. Hayward was second-to-last among the group in spot shooting possessions, so he didn’t have the luxury of playing off of other guys. He was also dead-last in possessions used off the cut.

The transition column is interesting, too, specifically as it relates to the validity of the Parsons comp. Playing for the pedal-to-the-medal Rockets, Parsons got about 25% more transition possessions than Hayward. I was surprised to see Burks’ transition number so low relative to this crowd, especially since fan perception is that he’s an athletic, dangerous finisher in open court.

Leonard and Thompson are the only ones on this group that use a significant amount of possessions. This is probably because they’re punishing teams that try to cross-match those guys’ elite offensive teammates or aggressively switch on screens, another tactical advantage Hayward doesn’t benefit from.

Finally, Parsons and Leonard also get a lot of high-efficiency second looks, probably because they’re full-time threes, while the others in this group play interchangeably at the wing positions.

So far we’re painting the picture that the other guys on this list are largely system players who have elite teammates creating many of their opportunities. But this is just on possessions “used”; what about the possessions where they pass the ball?


wing facilitation

Source: stats.nba.com

Hayward has the ball in his hands a lot more than his peers in this group, and this is reflected on this pair of graphs. He’s touching the ball a great deal more than the others – close to 70 times per game.

Again, Thompson is a funny outlier here. Where the other guys all pass the ball on 80-90% of their touches, 42% of the time Klay touches, he keeps it, per NBA.com’s player tracking data. And he’s not keeping it to hold it, because his time of possession is also the lowest of all these guys despite having the highest usage. Basically, he catches and then quickly “uses” — takes a shot, draws a foul, or loses the ball — the play.

That’s very different from Hayward, who creates 25% more teammate points per game than the next guy in this group, and 2-3 times as much as the others. The 50 passes per game means that not only is he creating more of his own offense than these other supposed comps, but he’s doing far more facilitation for everybody else, too. Keep that in mind before making a casual comp to someone who reminds you of Hayward.


In an ideal world, you could get this type of complete performance from Hayward but add better talent around him, thus fully unleashing his unique abilities that make him stand out from this crowd. If that happened, it wouldn’t take much for Gordon to reach impressive statistical levels. I threw out that I think his ceiling is as a do-it-all, 20/6/6 guy. Let’s see how realistic that it.

First, scoring. Contrary to popular belief, Gordon didn’t take a noticeably bigger chuck of shots last season, at least on per-minute basis. His per-36 or per-possession FGA numbers were essentially flat from 2012-13. He’s a guy who, pretty consistently now, is going to take 13 shots and 5 free throw attempts per 36 minutes. He did that the season before with the vets still in Utah and he did it last season as the supposed #1 option.

The problem was the much-discussed efficiency drop. He had career lows from the field and downtown, but that’s only part of the story. In his first three years, he was getting 27% of his attempts at the rim, 29% from three, and 33% on two-pointers from farther than 10 feet out. Last season, he dropped to 21% of his attempts coming around the basket and 27% from three while his mid- and long-range 2s went up to 39% of his shots. Having higher-quality teammates and a more spread system might allow Gordon to get the types of shots he’s comfortable with. If he were to maintain his minutes and attempts from last season but return to his previous eFG%, he’d be averaging 17.6 with no other changes.

Then you figure that Snyder has promised more running. The Jazz played at the fifth-slowest pace in the NBA last season, and they scored just 12 points per game on the break. If Snyder wants to run more, the chief architects of the Jazz’s transition offense are going to be Dante Exum and Hayward. It’s not hard at all to envision Hayward adding an extra bucket a game in the open court if the Jazz make a team-level focus on that, and suddenly he’s right at or near 20 points.

What about assists? Hayward had 5.2 assists on 11.2 assist opportunities last season, which means six times per game he put someone in position to score but that player missed the shot. I have no mathematical proof that it will happen less this upcoming season, but if the Jazz put more legit NBA talent around him, it’s more likely that those shots fall. Enough to cover a 0.8 per game gap? We’ll see. Also, if the offense is going to be more pick-and-roll based, Hayward is currently the Jazz’s best P&R handler, so that could led to more assists as well.

From a rebounding perspective, the addition of Exum and probable departure of Richard Jefferson means we’ll see Hayward spend more time at small forward. More possessions also means more rebounds, so even if he doesn’t see a positional bump to his rebounding percentage, a slight uptick in pace could help him on a rebounding front. Even a 3-possession increase to the league average means six more total possessions (three each team). Let’s assume based on minutes that Hayward is on the court for five of them (on average). His rebounds-per-100-possessions number would suggest that he could see a +.4 bump in rebounding average from that one factor alone.

Now, if the Jazz are contending in the next few years, it’s because Exum, Derrick Favors and others have improved, too, so at that point the Jazz may not be as Hayward-dependent and his numbers might be back to something like 17/4/52. But in the short term, 20/6/6 is a real possibility, and would put Hayward in pretty elite company3.

For Hayward to join that group would make him an elite-level, Swiss-army utility player that could be the Robin to someone’s Batman on a very good team. And even if he doesn’t quite reach that zenith, the comp exercise above shows he’s already got a better worst-case scenario than players like Parsons, Thompson and others who only do for their teams a portion of what Hayward does for the Jazz.


Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

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  1. thatdoolinkid says:

    Dan, your bbref link is faulty in the sense that it has tons of players listed with less than 6 assists. The link lists 100 players but only 24 of them actually hit the numbers (e.g. Karl Malone never got 6 assists in a season but is on the list 11 times).

    • thatdoolinkid says:

      I found the problem. You only required that assists >= 6.0. You needed to put in the filter that assists/gm >= 6.0

      • Dan Clayton says:

        My bad, thanks for the heads up. That’s what I get for working on these while I’m multitasking. Fixed now.

  2. Mac_Jazz says:

    This should be required reading for anyone who wants to comment on Hayward. Well done.

  3. cw says:

    Very good work. Have you seen Draft express’ free agent scouting report? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aa6_sdCgOs

    It does a good job of identifying weaknesses and strengths. Strengths are size and passing and shooting potential. Weakness are ability to create for himself, getting to the rack, shooting actuality, and defense.

    I am not a big Hayward fan as a high usage player. I think last year showed exactly who he was. He had every opportunity and incentive to prove he was a number one option and failed. He just basically lacks the athleticism and the temperament. The Jazz are going to have a new offense and Dante Exum so maybe he will not have the ball in his hands so much. But I have heard second hand comments that suggest the Jazz think he will grow into the first option role he messed up last year. I just worry that the reason Hayward keeps asking for big money is he thinks he’s a no. 1 and I worry that the reason the Jazz are willing to pay big money is becasue they think he is going to grow into a number one.

    Another thing, I hear lots of people wondering how you replace his production if he’s gone, like there is a position called GH on the floor that requires a guy to get 16/5/5. That is not how basketball works. GH doesn’t do anything special except maybe pass off the dribble. You take him out of the equation and his shooting, ball handling, passing, rebounding are replaced by the Burkeses, Exum (we hope), whatever spot up shooter we have out there, and in terms of rebounding: everybody. All the +/- stats–which show how much better the Jazz play with him on an off the floor suggest he’d be easily replacable. His RPM, which seems like the best of the plus/minuses is .58 (134 in the league). His Offensive RPM is pretty good, but his D is bad.Which leads me to point out that if if he is replaced the Jazz might have better perimeter D. When you talk about who might replace him, you have to talk about what could be better as well as worse.

    So, I guess paying him big bucks to be a third option like say Klay Thompson or Parsons is OK as long as the Jazz use him like Klay Thompson. 14/4 may be the market for that kind of really good wing role player this year. But I just worry that the gravitational pull of all that money and maybe some kind of Great White Hope-ism on the part of the Jazz mean that the Jazz are going to keep trying to force the round peg into the square hole.

    Another thing to consider is that if GH gets 14 what are Burks and Kanter going to want?

    I think on the whole I would not pay more that 12/4 (knowing that that is overpaying in terms of just pure BB production). Any team that offers more I would work out a sign and trade.

    • Jordan Cummings says:

      Hayward’s on/off number suggest that the team is much BETTER, not worse, with him on the floor.

  4. zach says:

    This is a very good piece, I love to analize compared to other players. It would be nice to compare against lebron and paul goerge just for fun. I slightly disagree with the projected 6 assist per game. I yhink with a more experienced trey, having exum and trying to get favors more involved will take touches away from hayward, and thus asssts. I think he will be a 19/6/4 next year.

  5. LKA says:

    Comments and opinions don’t count for a dime. When it is all said and done it will be the Jazz brass that make the decision. Teams know Jazz will match and that they will take the full time whatever it is to match or not. Because of this teams cannot go out and make another offer since their money is tied up. That is why Cavs backed off..

  6. tc says:

    A very interesting article but at the end you use inductive reasoning, with huge leaps of faith, to reach your conclusion that Hayward will be a 20/6/6 guy. The small number of real stars (mostly superstars) who have accomplished this should show you that it’s VERY unlikely to happen.

    If you look at how common Hayward’s actual numbers are in comparison to your “real possibility” 20/7/7 the you’ll see what I mean.

    Seasons for players who have averaged 20/6/6 Per 36 for an entire season (21 total):


    Seasons for players who have average Gordon’s actual 16.0/5.0/5.1 2013-14 Per 36 for an entire season (136 total):


    Note: 2013-2014 was Hayward’s most statistically impressive the total was 565 for 2012-2013 season. Points are the easiest of the numbers to get.

    If you drop the count the number of players (6) who have done averaged 20/6/6 Per 36 for an entire season then you see how unlikely this “real possibility” is. Also note that LBJ had some 20/6/6 seasons on a bad team.

    If you use full games the results show the same thing–that Hayward is not likely to have a single 20/6/6 season (36 seasons versus 141 seasons and the 36 season were done by 9 different players).




    • Dan Clayton says:

      Never said he WOULD be 20/6/6. I shared math that shows he’s closer than we might think to that statistical level and that he COULD do it. And yes, I’ve done all the Bref searches, I know how special it would be if he did it. Honestly, even if just does 18/6/6, he’ll be an elite do-it-all Robin to somebody’s Batman.

      • tc says:

        You said, “…20/6/6 is a real possibility…”–not COULD. Any player COULD do 20/6/6 for a season; just like somebody COULD survive a fall from a plane. It’s possible, but not probable.

        There’s an enormous difference between COULD and a REAL POSSIBILTY.

        FTR: it is POSSIBLE to fall from a plane and survive.

  7. Bob says:

    Sure we would like to keep Hayward, but a max deal is just too much money for him.
    So, we are saying that Hayward is the future and give him the money. We all got a glimpse of the future last year. It wasn’t pretty.
    If he takes the money we’ll all end up hating him.

  8. Allen says:

    GH only gets the numbers he does because he is on a bad team. Someone has to get the numbers. On a good team his numbers would go down, not up. As the Jazz improve he will disappear into the background and the fans will hate him.

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