Is Gordon Hayward the Next Paul George?
St. George, Utah—1:15 p.m.
Immediately after the July Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas, Nevada, it seemed as if almost every news and media outlet had something unexpectedly positive to say about Gordon Hayward and his performance.
“I gained some confidence, for sure. I gained some respect probably from other people,” Hayward explained. “I just tried to get better through this week, and I think I did.”
Coach Tyrone Corbin, who watched the Team USA minicamp, added that, ”It doesn’t matter who he’s playing with or against; he’s showing his talents more, and that’s what we want.”
Numerous articles were written in the aftermath of the camp in which Gordon was tagged specifically as one of the few select players who stood out among the rest. And of course, the rest were future all-stars and promising young players. That fact makes it so much sweeter.
Even more impressive is the fact that Hayward didn’t wow people with his talents on offense or defense, but on both ends of the floor. For a Jazz team utterly lacking in that category last year, it’s a hopeful exhibition.
Now, as we move ever closer toward the season, it’s hard not to expect great things from No. 20. He’s shown steady improvement in each of his three seasons, and in this, his fourth season, Gordon has been given the opportunity to rise to those expectations—to show us all how good he can be. The multi-million dollar question thus becomes, Is Gordon Hayward the next Paul George?
As many can recall, the Jazz had an opportunity to select Paul George in the 2010 NBA Draft. They held the ninth overall selection. However, the Jazz opted to pick Butler’s own heroic Gordon Hayward. Paul George didn’t last long, though; the Indiana Pacers used the tenth overall selection to add the Fresno State product. It is this eternal bond, as the ninth- and tenth-overall picks, that leads to the continuing comparisons.
Gordon joined a Utah team that sported stars like Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap, and Al Jefferson. He was effectively at the bottom of the hierarchy—a baby-faced rookie that clashed with all-star point guard Deron Williams.
Paul George, more or less, joined the same situation in Indiana, vying for time behind veteran wings Danny Granger, Brandon Rush, and Mike Dunleavy. George, however, was always touted for his physical gifts and potential. He played, on average, 20.7 minutes per night in his first season in the NBA and averaged 7.8 points and 3.7 rebounds.
Hayward, at a mere 16.9 minutes per night, had a hard time excelling in his rookie campaign. It became even more difficult after head coach Jerry Sloan quit and Deron Williams was traded. His averages reflected his difficulties, to the tune of 5.4 points and 1.9 rebounds.
George’s minutes jumped to 29.7 in his sophomore season, and he upped his production to 12.1 points, 2.4 assists, and 5.6 rebounds. Hayward’s minutes surprisingly jumped even higher, to 30.4 per outing. Gordon, however, couldn’t quite match statistically at 11.8 points, 3.1 assists, and 3.5 rebounds.
Oddly enough, Gordon’s minutes dipped the next year, but his statistical output still improved: 29.2 minutes, 14.1 points, 3.0 assists, and 3.1 rebounds. Keep in mind that Hayward was relegated to a bench role.
With Indiana’s Danny Granger going down with a knee injury, Paul George, in his third year, found himself in an early position to excel. His stats exploded to 37.6 minutes, 17.4 points, 4.1 assists, and 7.6 rebounds per night.
As we transition to the present, it is now Gordon Hayward’s turn to improve. Will he reach the level of Paul George—an Eastern Conference All-Star? Looking solely at last year, these stats seem to be foreshadowing:
- 41.5 percent, Gordon’s three-point marksmanship outmuscles George’s by more than five percent.
- 1.7 to 2.9 TO, Gordon’s turnovers per game in comparison to Paul George’s disconcerting errors.
- 1.7 to 2.9 PF, Hayward’s personal fouls per game vs. George.
- 4.1 to 3.5 FTA, Hayward attempts more free throws per game (in less minutes).
- 43.5 percent to 41.9 percent, the difference in field goal percentage between Hayward and George, respectively.
The most impressive number? 16.8—Paul George’s PER (player efficiency rating). Gordon’s PER? 16.8.
Moreover, Hayward’s per-36 minute projections for next year are: 16.2 points, 3.6 assists, and 4.1 rebounds. As great as these numbers look, we can expect even more production from Gordon. The projection doesn’t account for Gordon’s new position as the team’s best offensive option, and the stats are per-36 minutes—meaning, of course, that they are a deflated projection if Hayward plays more than 36 minutes per game. He’ll almost assuredly play close to forty minutes per night.
Hayward is due for a fiery breakout. The stats tell all. By next year, the question may just be: “Can Paul George be as good as Gordon Hayward?”
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