The Emergence of Gordon Hayward and The Utah Jazz

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Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Coming in to the 2016–17 NBA season, everyone knew Gordon Hayward was a good scorer that could certainly be a number two option on a good team. What most people didn’t expect was for Hayward to drastically improve various key aspects of his game to become a full fledged go-to option on a very good Utah Jazz team.

It has long been known that Hayward was a dynamic scorer, as he averaged over 19 points per game the past two seasons. Hayward had shown flashes of being a number one option in the past, but never put everything together in a season the way he is now.

After missing the first seven games of the season due to a fractured finger, Hayward returned with a vengeance and was determined to assert himself in the conversation of the 25 best players in the NBA. Hayward has continued his offensive explosion, but this season he has coupled it with improved defensive play and effort.

Hayward will never be a lock-down defender, but he is no longer a liability on that end of the floor. He is currently posting a career high 0.4 defensive box plus-minus, and while his defensive numbers are boosted from having an anchor like Rudy Gobert behind him to clean up messes, most nights you will see increased effort from Hayward on defense:

In the play above (courtesy of 3ball), Hayward first blocks Kyrie Irving’s shot, then closes out and chases Kevin Love off the three-point line, leading to Love throwing a risky pass cross court. That is the kind of effort you want to see from your number one option, and is a big reason for Hayward’s emergence this season.

Now let’s get to Hayward’s specialty, the offensive side of the ball. Hayward is averaging a career high 21.6 points per game, and is more efficient than ever, posting a career high 59.7 true shooting percentage. In fact, there are only eight other players accomplishing that feat. It’s clear Hayward is an elite scorer, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Hayward can beat you from behind the arc, with drives to the rim, or mid-range jumpers, all of which are shown here in which he simply took over a game against the Denver Nuggets.

Hayward has an incredibly diverse offensive game. Not only is Hayward hitting 39.2 percent of his three-pointers, he is also driving to the rim and drawing more fouls. He has a career high free throw rate (number of FT attempts per FG attempt) of .452, which is higher than Russell Westbrook’s rate, and Hayward is taking nearly 23% of his shots within three feet of the rim, which is his highest mark since the 2012–13 season.

Encompassing the other aspects of his game, Hayward is one of only ten players this season to average at least 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists per game while shooting at least 45% from the field.

When you look at Hayward’s other numbers, his performance this season becomes even more impressive. If you translate his numbers to per-36 minutes, you get 22.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game, which only five players are currently averaging this season on at least 45% shooting from the floor. Also, Hayward has a career high 27.4 usage percentage and is a big reason why the Jazz are tied for the eleventh best offense in the league even though they are second to last in pace.

An interesting development this season has been Hayward’s increased play at power forward. This season Hayward has played 17% of his minutes at power forward, blowing away the 3% of minutes he played at the position last season.

Putting Hayward at the four increases the floor spacing and offensive potential of a lineup, but does make sacrifices defensively and on the boards (but I guess when you have a glass cleaning, shot blocking monster like Rudy G behind you it’s all good). This is surely a development to keep your eye on the rest of the season as teams like the Jazz continue to find their best small-ball lineups.

It’s clear Hayward has emerged as a star in the league, and is a big reason the Jazz currently sit just a half game out of fourth place in the tough Western Conference after dealing with a slew of injuries to key players. It also helps that the Jazz are a very well built team, with shooters and defenders surrounding Hayward, allowing him to go to work offensively each and every night.

All statistics provided by Basketball Reference and Statmuse.

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