In his seventh season, Gordon Hayward has finally arrived, meaning punch his ticket for New Orleans in February. He will be an All-Star. Everything about this season for Hayward shouts special. More importantly, more than anything Hayward is doing for himself and his career, he is carrying the Utah Jazz to the playoffs. The presence of Hayward makes the Jazz a free agent destination. They have finally turned the page from Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Paul Millsap.
The Jazz did the tough thing. They left their past behind. They suffered through developmental years. They correctly chose the right lottery pick. And they stayed with it. They didn’t panic or change course mid-stream. If the 76ers had a process then so did the Jazz. Except no one talked much about it because it’s Utah.
It is jarring that this is Hayward’s seventh NBA season. It feels like he just got here. It feels like that Butler-Duke game was yesterday. In getting this far Hayward was trying to do the impossible, join Jeff Hornacek, Dan Majerle, Tom Gugliotta, Wally Szczerbiak, Brad Miller, John Stockton, David Lee, Chris Kaman, Kevin Love as the only white American All-Stars since Larry Bird made the All-Star game his regular showcase 30 years ago. It isn’t an over-exaggeration to say that white NBA players are judged more harshly. They have to disprove a negative.
Gordon Hayward came into the league as a scorer, as a 6-8 versatile, high efficiency shot maker. Even though his rookie year wasn’t remarkable, what he demonstrated was he could put the ball in the hole. He shot 48.5%. He drained his threes, 47.3%. He hit the mid-range, 43.8%. He only played 17 minutes a game. The question seemed obvious. What would happen when he doubled those minutes? Who would he be?
An All-Star. In year seven Hayward is playing 35.1 minutes. He is making the most field goals of his career (7.1). He is draining 49.4% of his two point shots. He is rebounding at a career level (5.9). He is a 22.2 points per game scorer. He has an offensive rating of 118 and his defense is the best it has ever been. He is on track for an All-NBA selection at year’s end. His PER is 22.6. Last year it was 18.3. So- and this is a scary thought- Gordon Hayward is getting better and at 26 years old he has not reached his prime.
More numbers. He is the 9th best small forward when measuring on court impact. (Real Plus-Minus). He is draining 42.0% of his catch and shoot jumpers. 44.4% of his mid-range shots. 38.1% of his threes. He touches the ball 66 times per game. He makes 49% of his field goals that are contested at the rim. He is more efficient at uncontested shots which the Jazz offense can count on with the Utah bigs creating so much attention.
Gordon Hayward was in the playoffs his second year in the league and it was a humbling experience. The Jazz played the Spurs and Hayward had a disastrous shooting series, 18.2%. He only made 6 out of 33 shots. He connected on 1 out 12 threes and managed 7.3 points which was way off from his regular season of 11.8 points. But this is a different Gordon Hayward five years later. He has proved all the doubters wrong that said he could not be the best player on a playoff team. He is. He is the face of a franchise and a player you can build around.
A few days ago, he was on the big stage facing LeBron James and Hayward had the last word. LeBron always brings out the best in Hayward. In 2014, Hayward had a game winning shot at Utah to beat the Cavs. This year all Hayward did was make 83% of his shots and nearly had double digit rebounds. Hayward can’t stop LeBron James. But then LeBron James couldn’t stop Hayward when he went on a 8-0 run capped off by a couple of threes. Hayward though, self-effacing as normal, said, “we need more wins” as far as thinking about being an All-Star.
He’s being humble. He’s an All-Star. He’s having a better year than Draymond Green who was a first time All-Star last year. Finally, Utah has broken the five year curse. Two games out of a fourth seed, the Utah Jazz are back.
photo via llananba