Being Gordon Hayward

"It's as though if I was a cook, and I worked my tail off to become a really good cook, and they said ‘alright you're a good cook, but can you farm?'"

Mitch Hedberg


Since he first took up the game as child, every time Gordon Hayward has pulled on a blue and white jersey has been one of the best basketball players on the court. (And for that matter, he's had the same experience on the tennis court.) Even when he added a dash of red to the mix by representing his country in the FIBA Under-19 tournament, his talent set him apart from everyone else. As we all know, he led a Cinderella Butler University team to within two inches of a NCAA title. His whole life, things have gone the same way... up until he joined the big boys in the National Basketball Association.

When you are the best player on your team, your job is... everything. If there's an important rebound to be grabbed, the responsibility falls to you. Need to break a full-court press? Guess whose job it is! Playing within the flow of the game means making sure that every last thing gets done- either because you accomplished it yourself, or because you put a teammate in a position to succeed.

When you are a rookie on an NBA playoff team, your job is often merely not to screw things up. The surest way to avoid screwing up is to play within the flow, but that can be harder than it sounds. For one thing, things flow quite a bit faster than they do at the amateur level. Secondly, and more importantly, things flow in an entirely different direction. When you are "The Man" things flow through you, but when you are playing spare minutes you have to learn an entirely different way of contributing. It's as though someone gets really good at supervising the assembly line, so they promote him to head of accounting. Thanks, but... uh... what do I do now?


In Hayward's case, the answer all of us fans tend to scream at the television is "SHOOT IT!" Admittedly, that would be a nice start. But the longer answer is that he has to learn what his role is and how to fill it. When one of us mere mortals starts at a new job, we are often able to keep our head down and slowly ramp up to the full range of responsibilities and expectations lain upon us. Of course, when you are pharmacist, you don't have to worry about people flying in from other pharmacies with the firm intention of making you look foolish. When you are a professional basketball player, the learning curve may not be so accommodating.


Now that Mehmet Okur has made his predicted mid-December return, the question of what to do with Gordon Hayward has become harder to postpone. Though they don't play the same position, they both serve the valuable function of being perimeter shooting who show too little interest in shooting from the perimeter. On a serious note, Memo's return means that the Jazz now have more active players than they have spots on the active roster. Until Raja Bell recovers from his wrist injury, Gordon strategic advantage over Jeremy Evans in the quest to be the twelfth man... insofar as Hayward plays a position where the Jazz have fewer bodies available. It doesn't follow, however, that sitting him on the end of the bench is the best thing for Hayward or for the Jazz.


There are three ways of working within the present situation. The Jazz can play him, sit him, or send him to the D-League. With the burn he's seen so far this season, Hayward has met with very little success. If the Jazz keep feeding him minutes, they run the risk of frustrating him. Remember in The Mighty Ducks when Coach Jack says "It's up to you, Gordon. You miss this shot, you're not just letting me down, you're letting your whole team down too."? It's like that quote runs through his head every time our own Gordon sees a basketball. He puts a lot of pressure on himself, and then when he doesn't live up to the pressure he devotes more energy to seething in frustration than he does to thinking about the next play.


On the other hand, it's not clear that he stands to benefit from riding the pine pony (yes, I know that's actually Mighty Ducks 3, but work with me here). When you're already overthinking things and have too much going on in your head, practicing without playing can be downright counterproductive. Insofar as he needs to reach a point where he can focus on acting rather than thinking, the last thing the organization should do is give him lots of chances to think but none to act.


This leads me to prefer option three: Orem. For the Jazz, Gordy is averaging less than ten minutes a game. There's a team just down the road that would be willing to play him two or three times that much. As much as a stint with the Flash might do wonders to rebuild his confidence and build up his experience, it does come with one important catch. In the D-League he's a lot more likely to be "The Man" than he is in the NBA. So if you're sending him down there to learn how to be Clark Kent, you have to make sure that the team doesn't start asking after Superman. Still, to my thinking that's a risk the Jazz should be willing to run. It's going to be a lot easier for him to develop by playing than it is for him to do so by sitting, and he's just not going to see a lot of playing time in the NBA at this point.


I say the best thing in the world for him at this point is would be to rediscover the magic and joy of the sport. Going to the D-League allows him to try his hand against professional competition without having to face NBA intensity and expectations. He's not here to save the world, he's just here to play basketball. Over the next year, he'll have plenty of chances to practice with the Jazz and to integrate himself into the team's system. Right here and now is his chance to recover his groove in Orem, so that he can have the confidence and comfort to make sweet music with the rest of the Jazzmen.

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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