Mar 17, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward (20) dunks the ball during the first quarter as Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones (6) defends at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Get Behind Gordon Hayward: Poised To Join The Elite

What is it about new toys? At this point in his career Gordon Hayward is a familiar face on billboards and buildings around northern Utah. He just got paid and for some strange reason many Utah Jazz fans don’t like this fact, this facet of the business that most of us realized was pending and suspected might go the distance. And it did, right to the dreaded max salary match end.

I made the call in that tweet two years ago. It’s become a vicious cycle in Jazzland: Root for the new blood, scorn the veterans. And now that he’s off of his rookie deal Hayward is officially a vet.

Some turned on Hayward once his price rose above whatever arbitrary figure they had in their mind. “He’s only worth [insert nine-figure-per-year number], not a MAX!” as if he was somehow forcing them to eat from the McDonald’s value menu for the next three-plus years himself.

Any asset is worth however much someone will pay for it. It’s the same free market system many of these same people will fight tooth and nail for in other circumstances when their own money is on the line. And it’s not as if paying Hayward is breaking or hindering the Jazz in their endeavor to build a contender.

When Chandler Parsons, a player many Jazz fans wanted instead of Hayward because “he’ll be cheaper,” got paid $15 million per year I thought, “Phew! Now folks will back off Hayward a bit.” Nope. The venomous efforts redoubled, oddly enough.

When Gordon Hayward was announced as a summer workout member of Team USA — far from his first stint for America’s FIBA team — I thought, “Okay, now folks will chill.” Wrong again. The reaction was instead “Hayward is OVERPAID. He has no business on Team USA!” It’s enough to make some want to just sigh and give up on the silliness.

Hayward’s contract, in relative terms, won’t be hamstringing the Jazz’s ability to continue moving in the right direction. The length of the contract keeps the Jazz from having to sweat about retaining the cream of the next free agent crop waiting in the wings.

Plus, the NBA salary cap is projected to rise significantly next season, then expected to explode with the new TV deal in 2016. Relatively speaking, by that time Hayward’s contract won’t even be a max anymore as that number will rise.

We all knew Dennis Lindsey was going to match any offer, even up to a max. Jazz brass said so all along, so why the “Oh!” faces and veins popping out of foreheads? He wanted to get paid and brass obliged by letting him take the lead last season. It was always a gamble.

Some analysts claim the Charlotte Hornets would have been the better fit for Hayward, and many Jazz fans would have been happy to oblige as armchair GMs. Certainly, Michael Jordan was ready to up the ante until the pot was full. But Quin Snyder’s faster, spread offense feels like a fit that could better utilize the former Bulldog.

We’ve already seen Hayward next to Al Jefferson, know how he would have to play with the slower, halfcourt-centered big man. Hayward may not be a number one option, and just because he’s now getting paid like one doesn’t mean he would have been one in Charlotte, nor has to be in Utah.

Statistically, Gordon Hayward was fantastic in every area except overall field goal percentage and three point percentage last year. Like, really good. He became the first Jazz player in the Utah era to average 16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in a season, a feat that typically less than a handful of players pull off each year, at most.

And to be perfectly frank, .453 from two isn’t that bad for a perimeter player, especially considering how often Hayward seemed to take long twos. Really, his three point percentage is what dragged down his overall percentage of .413. For a perimeter player, 45% overall is quite acceptable and should be attainable for Hayward.

Shot volume is a legitimate concern, but partway through the 2013-14 season in a postgame presser a reporter noted that Hayward seemed to have been playing better of late and asked him why. Consulting the game logs from the season you can see why Gordon answered that he’d been taking too many shots and needed to concentrate on facilitating more, which he did.

The other, last 10 players to accomplish 16/5/5 in a season are: Reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Tyreke Evans, Andre Iguodala, Stephen Jackson, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. That’s pretty stout company, with three MVPs, all All-Stars with the exceptions of Jackson, Carter-Williams and Evans, who is a former Rookie of the Year.  Seriously, who would want to run off a player like that?

Despite underwhelming shooting percentages, Hayward still managed to lead the Jazz in scoring, largely due to his 4.9 trips to the free throw line per game where he hit nearly 82% of his attempts. Last season for the Jazz, Hayward:

• Led in scoring at 16.2 PPG

• Led in minutes played, despite missing five games, with 2,800, or 36.4 MPG

• Led in steals per game with 1.4

• Led in free throw attempts at 4.9 per game

• Was second in assists to only Trey Burke at 5.2 per game (to only 2.8 turnovers)

• Was second in free throw percent (minimum 15 MPG) at .816

• Was third in rebounds per game with 5.1 (tied with Marvin Williams)

• Was fourth in blocks per game with 0.5 (tied with Marvin Williams and Enes Kanter)

Some have said that in order to make the contract worth it Hayward will have to average 20 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. While that would be nice, it’s hardly a fair qualifier and only sets him up for failure should he not reach the marks. The list of players who have averaged such high marks is occupied almost solely by Hall of Famers. Only 19 players have ever done it, so to say Hayward must borders on delusion. And if he does happen to, well then you’ve got a bona fide star on your hands, Utah.

Within context, realizing that Gordon Hayward came two buckets, an assist and a rebound shy per game of that compilation of splendor and all-timers makes the max contract much more palatable, the potential for his ceiling that much higher. He’s only a little over halfway to the typical statistical peak of an NBA player, currently, at 8,137 NBA minutes played, and should be reaching it right around the time his current contract is up.

In Quin Snyder’s system Hayward will likely take less shots, as well as more efficient ones, with more pick-and-rolls from the ball handlers if a quick, open look isn’t there in what’s being described early on as a faster-paced offense that should suit Hayward’s game well. And let’s not forget what Quin Snyder did for DeMarre Carroll’s shooting percentage last year in Atlanta, coaching him to a career high field goal percent on a career high attempts.

With new dynamic players and ever-improving young talent to share the load — not to mention losing the distraction of testing a player in a contract year — and defenses no longer able to key in on Hayward, he should find the basket a little more easily next season, find passing and driving lanes even more readily.

Let’s not be so quick to kick Gordon Hayward to the curb. He’ll likely make you eat those discouraging words as he joins the elite of the NBA.

Tags: DeMarre Carroll Gordon Hayward Quin Snyder Utah Jazz

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