I meant to have this posted earlier, but I was too busy watching my Seahawks magically escape the Green Bay Packers via
replacement ref inefficiency terrific, hard-nosed football that I ran out of time.
Any-who, as the incredibly long offseason finally begins to wind down, we here at Purple and Blues thought it best to kick off a countdown leading up to the start of the NBA preseason. We’ll be doing a player profile each day, starting today, and share our thoughts on the upcoming Jazz season.
PLAYER: Gordon Hayward
YEARS w/JAZZ: 2010-Present
HISTORY: What can be said of good ole Gordy Hayward that hasn’t been said already? The kid is an absolute stud. A lanky outside shooter and incredibly defensive presence, Gordy has come a long way since those days when he was getting reamed by Deron Williams on the sideline.
When he was selected as the number nine pick overall in the 2010 draft, a lot of people, myself included, were more than a tad bit disappointed. Here the Jazz needed big guys to help control the paint and instead of drafting a center, they picked up the kid who nearly upset Duke in the NCAA tournament.
Gordy had a tough start, especially with the aforementioned Deron Williams debacle:
We all know what happened next. The Jazz quite literally imploded in a way I had never seen. Williams, unhappy with the direction the organization was taking, went off at former coach Jerry Sloan, who subsequently retired and left the team in coach Tyrone Corbin’s hands. Williams left shortly after in exchange for Derrick Favors and Devin Harris (and numerous draft picks, which ultimately brought in Enes Kanter), leaving Utah with a rag tag team of aging vets and unproven youth.
No one shined better during this interim than Gordy, however. He was bumped to a starting role and given much more to do on the floor. He finished the 2010-2011 season averaging a mere 5.4 points per game, but ended the regular season averaging 16.4 ppg in the month of April. During that time span he posted a 22-point performance against the Lakers and a 34 point performance against Denver. He also averaged 2.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds. Not bad for a rookie.
And for that reason alone, I was excited to see how he would do after an offseason of working with Jeff Hornacek.
Unfortunately, the NBA endured a laborious lockout that
ended up being a pointless debate over money that didn’t really help anyone basically cut the season in half. Once the regular season started, Gordy looked stagnant and slightly uncomfortable on the court. Some nights, such as his awe inspiring 19-point, four rebound, three assist, two block shot performance against Denver on January 15, the kid looked downright phenomenal. Or disgusting, as Stewart Scott might say. But other nights Gordy appeared hesitant and unable to lead.
As the season progressed, Gordy matured into a strong supporting role thanks to a rather unusual coaching maneuver.
Corbin opted to start Josh Howard at small forward and Raja Bell at shooting guard about midway through the season, which meant Gordy had to come off the bench. Even so, the kid flourished in his sixth man role running alongside Favors, Kanter and Jamal Tinsley/Earl Watson. He provided depth, athleticism and some decent outside shooting, something that was sorely lacking thanks to CJ Miles’ uneven play.
Then came the injuries. Howard and Bell both dropped around the month of March leaving Corbin with no other option than to put Gordy back in the starting lineup. Oddly enough, Gordy’s numbers increased each month. In February he posted 10.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg and 2.8 apg; in March he posted 13.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, and 3.0 apg. By April he was netting 16.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, and 3.1 apg and only scored in single digits twice in the entire month. The kid had matured into a strong offensive machine. He still had his occasional off nights and moments of weakness during big games (Phoenix …), but also made some big time shots and plays in similar situations (Phoenix …).
That’s why Gordy is my main point of emphasis heading into the 2012 season. I love Favors, Milsap, Kanter, Williams, Williams, and every damn body on the Jazz roster right now, but I think Gordy will have a true breakout season with All-Star-ish numbers … In fact, I think he will be our official X-Factor, meaning: if he’s on, then the Jazz are on. It’s too premature to call him the most valuable player on the team (I still think that title belongs to Milsap), but Gordy’s athleticism, size and abilities makes him a viable threat in any game time situation (he’ll also post fabulous fantasy points …), either as a shooting guard or a small forward. He can even spend some time at point, if Corbin wants to really utilize his skill set – but that’s another story.
The addition of Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye should really benefit Gordy in the long run as well. All three are powerful athletes capable of running the floor on a nightly basis, which is where Hayward’s game really excels, and all three provide top notch outside shooting, which should open the lane for more of those patented Hayward jams:
He’s a beast on both ends of the court, and this is his year to shine.
THE KEYS: For Gordon to be successful, Corbin will need to give him a specific role – ie, sixth man, SG, SF – and stick with it. I’ve always felt that Miles failed because he never knew what the hell he was supposed to do. Start? Shoot threes? Come off the bench and provide defense? Cheer on the bench? I think players flourish when they understand their role and have stability (look at Russell Westbrook). Gordy will never be a SUPERSTAR ala Kobe Bryant, but he will be a strong supporting player, ala Hornacek or Andre Kirilenko (without the tears, whining and injuries) and possibly future All-Star. But he needs to know his role and, in my opinion, that task lies squarely with Corbin.
He’ll also need to learn to post and shoot a lot better than he did last year. Part of Gordy’s difficulty adapting to the NBA is that he went from starting ball-handler at Butler, where he created plays and more or less ran the offense, to a third or fourth option on the Jazz. And while I would like to see more of his awesome passing game, I think he needs to handle those wide open 3-point shot opportunities with more, um, aggressiveness. Harpring said it all last season: Stop passing the ball so much Gordon. Take a shot! I don’t expect him to lead the team in scoring, but with his size and skill set, there’s no reason Hayward shouldn’t be jacking up around 20 points per game.
THE REALITY: The hard-nosed truth all Jazz fans need to understand heading into this season, however, is that they are still very much a work in progress. Indeed, I see this season as one last effort to utilize Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap, hence the newly acquired supporting cast (perfectly tailored to open up Big Al’s post game). This team will either soar or fail. That’s they way I see it. The good news is, either way I think Hayward will flourish. If the Jazz suck and deal Big Al and Milsap mid-season in favor of, well, Favors and Kanter, than Gordy’s playtime will increase two-fold. If they succeed, then he’ll act as a legitimate scoring option on a strong offensive team and serve as a competent defender against the likes of Bryant and Durantula. Either way, Gordy’s game will play a big part in Utah’s future.
That being said, I think he needs to come off the bench. As a sixth man he can run with the younger units, play more freely and get more opportunities to run the offense. In the starting lineup he has to deal with Big Al and Milsap, where 90% of the touches go. Off the bench he gets to SHARE the rock with Favors, Kanter and one of our many unproven back-up PGs. I still like Gordy in late game situations, and think he should act as our go-to guy more often than he did last season. But for now, his game can more fully develop in a sixth man role comparable with James Harden and Lamar Odom.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Hayward is a solid all-around player with an incredible NBA future in front of him. If he shakes off those knocking knees in big games (he had a really hard time in the playoffs against San Antonio), then perhaps he’ll eventually transform from the kid who nearly beat Duke to the NBA star who brought Utah its first NBA Championship.