Sensible Hype: Gordon Hayward will be an All-star
At the risk of alienating our still-fragile readership, I have a confession: I am a Duke fan. In related news, I also root for the terrorists every time I watch Die Hard, and I think David Stern is a selfless guy who doesn’t have enough power. My weak defense is that growing up Duke was on TV more than any other team, and every time I watched them play, they had just enough white guys with no marketable athletic ability beyond a decent jump shot that I thought I had a chance to play for them. So as a Duke fan, I was three inches away from forever resenting Gordon Hayward for ruining Jon Scheyer’s national championship. But he missed. Then the Jazz drafted him, traded Deron Williams, totally reinvented the team, and now I’m writing on a blog whose tagline is nothing short of a worshipful declaration of adoration for the Butler guard. Which is one of the great things about sports: a guy I vehemently rooted against is probably my favorite player on my favorite NBA team.
As far as rookies go, Gordon Hayward went largely unrecognized and probably with good cause. He only averaged five points and two boards in a forgettable season for an irrelevant team. But those numbers are deceiving. First, they ignore his improvement over the course of the season. His average final season numbers are much more indicative of his lack of minutes played (16.9 over the course of the season) than they are of his actual performance. Second, they ignore Sloan’s reputation for burying rookies. Third, they ignore Gordon’s more hopeful stats: 49% field goal percentage and 47% from three. In fact, if you check out Hayward’s splits, you see that in the months where his minutes went up, so did his numbers. This is especially true in the final seven games of the season, when he averaged 36 minutes a game. In those seven games, he averaged 16 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 58% shooting. Of those seven games, six of them were against playoff teams, and his virtuoso performance of the season (22 points, 6 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block) was against the Lakers in the Staples Center.
The usual knocks on Hayward were that at times he looked lost offensively and outmatched defensively, but in those last final games, he looked anything but. Despite his great offensive stats, what I remember most about that game against the Lakers was the frustration evident on Kobe’s face after Gordon had forced him into another bad shot. Kobe Bryant, perhaps the most polished offensive force in the game, was frustrated by a rookie’s defense. Just one year removed from missing that shot against Duke, Gordon Hayward was shutting down one of the game’s best shooting guards and leading the Jazz to an upset win against a team fighting for home-court in the playoffs. That was the Gordon Hayward that we all thought the Jazz had drafted: a guy who could definitely be the best player on a contender and who could someday be an All-star.
For a player who was the go-to guy on a previously unheard of college team, confidence is key. When Gordon is confident (something that was nearly impossible for him under Sloan’s harsh watch), he fills up the box score, he can guard the other team’s best player, and he’ll shoot the lights out. In the Jazz’s final game of the season, at home against Denver, he took 17 shots (eat your heart out, C.J. Miles!), made 12 of them, and went 5 for 6 from three-point range. He was rolling off screens and nailing jump shots. He was leading the fast break and finishing at the rim, and most of all, he was oozing confidence. That’s the Gordon Hayward that can be an all-star, and that’s the Gordon Hayward I believe we will see this season.
If you are still unconvinced, do yourself a favor and watch these highlights from the last time we saw Gordon take the court: