A long time ago I was writing these season reviews. I did get side tracked by the NBA draft and sending fruit baskets to billionaires – and as a result, took a little break on these. (I still can’t believe I got the first 5 done in the span of a week!) Now we’re looking at a lockout that’s going to mean a longer off-season than we’d want. In the big picture it probably is a good thing that I’m spacing these season reviews out then. There’s no greater big picture issue to talk about in Jazzland than Gordon Hayward. Back before Christmas I wrote about him. Now it’s time to write about him again. But this time, instead of being merely a concept, or story telling device, I’ve come to realize that Gordon Hayward is a potential Summer Blockbuster. For me he’ll always be The Precious; but now we are seeing glimpses of just how great he could be.
Yes, this is a picture of him jumping off an ancient bridge after destroying Mount Doom (of Lord of the Rings fame) in a classic Action Movie Hero poster pose. Click on to be bombarded by a lot of words and numbers.
I did not boo Gordon Hayward when he was drafted by the Jazz. I wish I could have said the same for the draft lottery result that gifted the Jazz the (lowly) #9 pick, and the future opportunity to draft him, though. Once upon a time there was this little genius with the basketball named Isiah Thomas. He worked hard every day, and led his University of Indiana team to the NCAA national championship game. He was drafted in the NBA, and ended up winning two NBA championships. He later became a general manager and was a great evaluator of talent. He also made some crazy deals as an executive of the New York Knicks. A veritable Lord of a few Rings, Isiah forged The Precious – the unprotected 2010 New York Knicks 1st round draft pick. This prize was coveted by many teams and somehow found its way to
the shire Salt Lake City. No one expected the Jazz to be in any position to get this pick, let alone when they were in the playoffs every year, and more and more teams came calling for it with each passing season. Utah wasn’t going to give it up, and Kevin O’Conner and the rest of the Jazz brass held onto this prize – this forged Precious from a madman (Isiah). Rumor suggests that the Jazz turned down a lot of offers for it, including some former All-Stars. Verily, our front office felt like The Precious ‘belongssesss too usssssss!.
This was a gift of great power, and that power was to be used by the Jazz to jump from playoff participant to playoff contender. The draft pick, pure untapped potential, was The Precious; not Gordan Hayward. However both of their fates were changed forever when the ping pong balls fell, and left the Jazz with the #9 pick. The Jazz held onto this draft pick for years and years, for with each passing year the value of the pick increased. This was supposed to be a Top 3 pick, fans felt like it would be. Our front office seemed to feel this way too with how they protected it. It ended up being a middle pick in the second half of the 2010 Lottery. It was something I booed. Kevin O’Connor looked sad. (Frame of reference: this is him being happy) Isiah Thomas looked less like a fool for a few shining moments.
"With the 9th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz select . . . Gordon Hayward from Butler University." – David Stern
Gordon Hayward was drafted with the 9th pick in the draft . . . and his path merged with that of The Precious (the unprotected Knicks lotto pick) on that night. Jazz fans wanted this pick to be a Ringbearer, a high lotto pick that would lead us to the finals one day. Instead, all we got (sarcasm font) was a guy who was a few millimeters off of entering the NBA as a proven NCAA Champion.
I’m bringing this up because the ‘average Jazz fan’ who booed Hayward as he was announced as the pick was a fan who had already built up an amazing set of imaginary characteristics for who The Precious was supposed to be. No matter how great the pick was, or how good a job the Jazz front office did in picking the right guy for the team, he wasn’t going to be good enough. The guy we expected was supposed to have a Patrick Ewing style Rookie impact on the team; regardless of the fact that no rookie available could have that type of impact – let alone the fact that there were no Ewings available in this draft or any other draft since maybe Shaq. Hayward was so close to having the ultimate underdog storybook finish to his college career – capping a very solid two seasons at Butler – and if he did have the complete Storybook finish then we wouldn’t have gotten a chance to draft him at all. For our sake as Jazz fans, we’re LUCKY he missed that shot. Which is one of the most selfish things I’ve ever said in my life.
Moving on from both the Championship Game and the NBA Draft . . . we got a dude who was flat out schooling the NBA Orlando Summer League. Sure, he wasn’t jacking shots like he could have; but that’s just not his game. He’s not just a basketball player, Hayward is a teammate first. Going back to the "Lord of the Rings" well again, The Unprotected Knicks Pick was supposed to be like Sauron: big, huge, and destroying people single handedly. The pick ended up being a guy more like Legolas who can kick butt, but is more at home in a support role – doing the jobs that need to get done, because no one else can do them. Gordon’s Orlando (
Bloom?) Summer League stats were mind-blowing. He came into the NBA Pre-season training camp ready to produce. Who can forget that huge game he had (26 points) against the Lakers back in October? I can’t.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last. Hayward didn’t start out his NBA career like we hoped he would. Between dodging scud missile style passes from ‘veteran’ ‘team leader’ Deron Williams, he was also adjusting to the NBA speed. It’s not an easy transition to make, even for ring bearers.
Evaluating what we have
After this vastly disappointing season ended, the Jazz brass and fans alike were given a lot of things to digest. Bereft of both Hall of Fame coach and Star Power the team didn’t get the calls down the stretch of a few games and mostly limped the through the last two months of the season (getting only 7 wins in the last 21 games). There were some bright spots at the end of the year too. One of them was Gordon Hayward. Finally given an opportunity to play, Hayward excelled. Again, against the Lakers, he showed up on the Staples Center floor – and left with a win.
How good or bad was his season overall? To find out we need to look at a number of situations. The first is within his own 2010 Draft Class. The Precious (the unprotected Knicks pick) was supposed to be one of the best guys from his draft class, starting with the first season. The second measure would be against other wing players from previous NBA Draft lotteries (first 14 picks). This is a more apples to apples comparison than straight up comparison against other guys in the draft class. The last measure is against the other guys who have played the same role for this franchise. Sometimes the easiest way to make and apples to apples comparison is to see how a guy does against guys on the same team who play the same position, right?
Without further preamble . . . let’s begin.
The 2010 NBA Draft Class:
The Rookie of the year this past season was Blake Griffin – who was actually drafted in 2009. He doesn’t appear here because he’s not actually part of that Draft Class. (He is part of that rookie year, but still…) This class was headlined by John Wall, Evan Turner, and DeMarcus Cousins. "Ideally" the Jazz would have gotten one of those guys. They did end up with the actual #3 pick in the draft though, Derrick Favors, as a result of the Deron Williams / Devin Harris trade. So in a way the Jazz got both The Precious (the pick we earned, the #9) and The Precious (the pick we expected, a Top 3) last year. The other members of this draft class who were taken in the lottery were Wesley Johnson, Ekpe Udoh, Greg Monroe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Paul George, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry, Ed Davis, and Patrick Patterson.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the statistics and see if we can find anything out . . .
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Only two guys from this crew averaged over 10 ppg. (And we’re saying that the 2011 Draft Class is supposed to be a bad one?) Hayward, who scored only 5.4 ppg, ranks 11th out of 14 dudes here in scoring per game. Well, he’s a point forward, let’s look at his assists. Oh, wow. He’s also tied for 12th out of 14 here. That’s not so hot. Gordon looks below average compared to some of the other guys in this draft class but there are two very important things to take from this. The first is that he was drafted in the second half of the lottery, so he’s supposed to be ‘below average’, average being is the 7th and 8th picks. He was picked 9th, remember. The second is that there is a ridiculous difference in sample size for these numbers. The average value for minutes played during this season is 1474.4 ± 699.7. Yes, that’s right, the standard deviation for minutes played is ± SEVEN HUNDRED MINUTES. It’s easy to look bad compared to Wesley Johnson (#4 pick in the draft) when his rookie season is 169.9% longer than yours – and you both didn’t make the playoffs.
Still, if you look at the values for the guy drafted right before Hayward and the guy drafted right after you get a more reasonable picture. Both Al-Farouq Aminu and Paul George play the same spot on the floor. And their draft location is completely consecutive. Aminu plays 18 minute per game, and averages (rounding) 5.5 / 3 / 1 in points per game, rebounds per game, and assists per game. Hayward plays 17 minutes per game and averages 5.5 / 2 / 1. George plays 21 minutes per game, and his contributions are 8 / 3.5 / 1. George is the statistical winner here, but plays the more minutes.
Clearly, looking for solid answers out of this limited data set (Hayward’s draft class) is Apples to Oranges. We need to find a greater concurrence of similarity before we can really make some conclusions.
All wing player lottery picks from the Drafts between 2006 and 2010:
This is a much larger group (30 players), and we get to see how all of their rookie seasons compared. The players are Adam Morrison, Al Thornton, Al-Farouq Aminu, Brandon Roy, Brandon Rush, Corey Brewer, Danilo Gallinari, DeMar DeRozan, Eric Gordon, Evan Turner, Gerald Henderson, Gordon Hayward, J.J. Redick, James Harden, Jeff Green, Joe Alexander, Julian Wright, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Paul George, Ronnie Brewer, Rudy Gay, Terrence Williams, Thabo Sefolosha, Thaddeus Young, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyreke Evans, Wesley Johnson, and Xavier Henry. Again, this is rookie season only; some guys got better, some got worse as a sophomore. I’m splitting the analysis of this into two parts, but if you are nuts you can download the full chart here.
Rookie Season averages vs. Values adjusted to 24 minutes:
A number of rookies suffered from too little playing time. The average for this group was 22.4 mpg; however, over a quarter of them played less than 15 mpg. I felt like it was necessary to point out their actual averages in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals – while also showing the adjusted values if they all played the same amount of time. Hayward, who some would say had a poor rookie season (compared to unrealistic expectations), actually had one of the most average rookie seasons out of the group. He was within one standard deviation above and below the mean for each category in the 24 minutes of playing time data set. Sure, he didn’t score 20 ppg like Kevin Durant or Tyreke Evans – but he also didn’t jack up shots like they did either. They were put onto teams to be the central axis; while Hayward was put onto a team that made the playoffs the last four years in a row.
Rookie Season Shooting Efficiency and Advanced Statistics:
Here we see Gordon shine – his high Basketball IQ allows him to know the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. He was Top 3 in this group of 30 players in points per shot, which is amazing. Especially coupled with the fact that he was below average in getting to the line. The reason? Shot selection. Hayward was between one and two standard deviations above the norm in Points per Shot (PPS), 3pt%, and eFG%. (And they questioned his shooting ability coming out of college . . . ) He was only one standard deviation above in FG%. If only he was more consistent from the free throw line then I’m certain that he would have been above average in points per game, despite hardly ever shooting. Would more shots mean a trade off in shooting efficiency? Perhaps, but if you look at the game film (thanks Synergy Sports!) you’ll see that the vast majority of the shots he takes within the offense are shots that he makes at a high rate.
The Advanced stats show that he’s close to average in each of the five categories, and that could easily be rectified with more playing time. (These stats aren’t harmonized twice for playing time – if he played more they would go up, period – even if the rate goes down.) Of course, the data is skewed a bit because while he’s competing here only with fellow lottery picks from the last 5 drafts who happen to play SG or SF . . . it’s still not quite apples to apples. Why? Because of the differences in offense and defensive roles, depending on what team you are drafted onto, and so forth. Essentially, the team you join makes a huge difference in how you play. (Duh? Really?) While this comparison is more apples to apples than looking at how Gordon compares to John Wall (a PG) or DeMarcus Cousins (a PF/C) – it’s still not perfect.
Ten Utah Jazz Wing Players:
All of these guys played for the same team, the Utah Jazz. All played the same positions, out on the wing. All played under the same coach, Jerry Sloan. And all played in the same offensive sets. For the most part, you could argue that they played in a similar era of basketball as well – however, some rule changes did take place. The players are: Andrei Kirilenko, Blue Edwards, Bryon Russell, C.J. Miles, David Benoit, Gordon Hayward, Matt Harpring, Ronnie Brewer, Shandon Anderson, and current Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin. Out of this group there has only been one All-Star, AK-47. These cumulative regular season and playoff stats show us a number of things. (And not all of them about The Precious)
Too small? Click here for the full sized version.
Too small? Click here for the full sized version.
First of all, holy crap Andrei Kirilenko is Top 5 in everything here. He’s tops in points per shot, points per game, assists per game, Go Rating, total games played, and, of course, all the steals, blocks, and advanced defensive statistics as well (defensive gambling and pure hustle). Moving away from our Russian weapon . . . it’s clear that Gordon Hayward is a little behind the rest of the group. He is between -2 and -1 standard deviations below the mean in 8 of 22 categories. And he is between -1 standard deviations and the mean in 8 of 22 categories as well. Before we go off the deep end and all take our cyanide tablets let’s not forget that he was a rookie during his very small sample size (only 72 games, effectively 1/10th of Andrei’s Jazz career). Some of the guys on this list weren’t rookie at all during their Jazz careers (like Matt Harpring and Tyrone Corbin). Others had rookie seasons where all they did was get open looks by the virtue of playing with John Stockton and Karl Malone. Hayward did not have it that easy.
Just because it wasn’t easy doesn’t mean we need to forget Hayward. He’s a hard worker and there were significant parts of his game that we need to look at. He did not shoot that frequently (and if he did, his numbers would look much better). Why am I so sure about this point? Well, he had the best eFG% out of this group of Jazz wing players. And he also had the third best points per shot (PPS) value out of this group. This number would increase for him with added aggressiveness (getting to the free throw line), and with the natural improvement in free throw shooting percentage that all guard / forwards go through as they mature in the NBA. Hayward was surprisingly -2 standard deviations below the mean when it came to free throw %. (As an aside, I had no clue that Ty Corbin shot 83% from there, did you?) Hayward should be working with Hornacek just as much – if not more than – as C.J. is this off season. And also, let’s not forget that he is a high percentage shooter as a Rookie. Most guys normally have their lowest percentage years as rookies.
Overall, I think we’d want to see Hayward increase his FGA rate and his rebound rate. When naturalizing all of the player’s data for 24 minutes he was below in both of those categories. I contend that Hayward is a good rebounder, and has the potential to be very solid as far as rebounding small forwards go. With consistent minutes I think he could average over 4 a game next season, whenever that season is. Hayward isn’t among the best players in this group of 10 Jazz wings right now, but I am certain that if he continues to develop his all-around game, he could be. It’s really unfair to compare a guy’s rookie season against a bunch of hardened veterans – the player with the second least games played has played in ONLY 246 games in a Jazz uniform. (Again, Hayward has only played in 72 so far). This comparison is as close as apples to apples that we can get right now, but only tells part of the story.
The Gordon Hayward Apotheosis:
The major point of hope and encouragement for a Gordon Hayward supporter is that this Big Summer Blockbuster of a player actually had a development arc. To move beyond the Lord of the Rings, I think that the story of Hayward is like those old Spaghetti Westerns. The town was looking for a savior (Jazz fans high on the unprotected Knicks lotto pick), but some fresh faced kid came into town instead of some legendary hero. People got down on him early, but he never stopped working. When all seems lost he steps up big, guns-a-blazing, and saves the day. It’s a nice story, heartwarming; but it’s more than just a story. It’s precisely what happened in the last month of the season for the Utah Jazz.
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The important part is bolded right there. Sure, he got increasingly more and more playing time as the months went by – but he also got increasingly better. Yes, he was no longer waiting 5.5 minutes between taking a shot anymore – but in the last month of the season he averaged 58.1 fg% and a mind boggling 66.2 eFG%. He was like a gun slinger from the old West, hitting everything he aimed for, and wasting no bullets. If you look at just his numbers post All-Star break you see a Top 5 player in this draft – a veritable draft steal at the #9 spot. His defense picked up as well, just ask Kobe Bryant. However, I really have to go back to the bolded part, Gestalt Offensive Rating (Go Rating). It went off the charts as Hayward played with both increased confidence and purpose.
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Hayward killed it. A Go Rating in the teens is in the Ben Wallace area of offensive ability. A Go Rating in the high 70s, on the other hand, is in the Tom Chambers / Reggie Lewis area. (Which is better than guys like Jeff Hornacek, Dwight Howard, Peja Stojakovic, Carlos Boozer, Scottie Pippen, and Manu Ginobili to name a few . . . ) Yes, it was only for a month – but what a month it was.
I don’t expect The Precious to be able to jump from a 2010-2011 season Go Rating average of 16.1 to the high 70s in 2011-2012 . . . but I wouldn’t be surprised for him to boost his Go Rating from the ‘only if he’s open’ echelon to the ‘specialist’ echelon next year (which is 40-49). That group features people like Vlade Divac, Josh Smith, Dan Majerle, Andrei Kirilenko, and Gerald Wallace. These are good rotation guys on offense, on playoff contenders. Vlade was a great high post passer. Smith is a great finisher. Majerle had amazing range. Andrei gets to the line. Gerald Wallace does a little bit of everything. I think Hayward can be a specialist (or a generalist) as well. As a result, my target Go Rating for him next year is 40+. It’s more than double what he got last year – but if he didn’t show me something, I wouldn’t have any expectations for him at all.
Hayward showed me why the Jazz brass were so high on him.
Full circle . . . Evaluating what we have:
So what do we have in Gordon Hayward? A disappointing draft pick because he’s not a 7’ black guy who scored 20 points per game as a rookie? A guy a few millimeters away from being immortalized at the collegiate level? A good team mate who tries to play the game, instead of trying to shoot it every time down the floor? A below average lottery pick wing player, compared to his peers over the last five seasons? A very green Utah Jazz forward? A guy with tons of upside and the will to improve?
I think he’s more than the sum of his parts. Yet, he is a part (a key part) of our team moving forward. The jazz run a very regimented system, and the wing players usually steam into spot up shooters, or slashers – rarely both. And this offensive stream is usually secondary to the primary goal of setting screens and passing. Let’s take a look at how Andrei Kirilenko, C.J. Miles, Raja Bell, and Gordon Hayward scored last year (in terms of points per possession – PPP).
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The Jazz team killed it on post ups (#3 in the league last year), cuts (#8), and hitting the screener on the pick and roll (#9). The Jazz wings usually score in other ways, one of the two streams – shooters (spot-ups, off screens) and slashers (cuts, hand offs). Both groups also rely on isolations as well. The Green cells are ranks that are in the Top 75 of the league. (The league has more than 400 players)
- Andrei was solid on post ups, but that’s not a traditional part of the wing offense. He did quite well on cutting to the basket (#38 in the league) and finishing. He also used this to get to the line a lot as well. He was also money in transition (even hitting 55.6% on transition threes). He was very bad on dribble hand offs. He did worse on that than he did on Spot-ups and scoring off of screens. Andrei is clearly in the slasher track, but should probably post up more instead of coming off of screens.
- C.J. is kind of stuck in between roles. If Andrei is a hybrid wing/post player then C.J. is a hybrid wing/ball handler. He was Top 50 in isolations and as the pick and roll ball handler. He was a volume shooter from the outside though. He was Top 100 off of screens, but his Spot up shooting could stand to improve. (He’s either on fire and will never miss, or be somewhat inconsistent from the perimeter) Like Andrei, he was very good at finishing in transition.
- Raja Bell is a defender who used to have a great spot up jumper. He’s not a slasher like Andrei. He’s not a ball handler like C.J. either. He was top 100 off of screens, and top 200 on spot-ups; however, this was a far cry from his Phoenix Suns days. I really was not impressed with his shooting this year, and became increasingly underwhelmed by his defense as the season went on.
- What about Gordon? The Precious was Top 30 in Spot ups *and* Top 5 (5!!!) off of cuts. He’s very versatile on offense, even as a rookie. He can do both – be the shooter and be the slasher. This is invaluable for our predictable offense. Yes, he had trouble in isolations (don’t ask me how many times he got his shot blocked) and finished in transition the worst out of this group. His work off of screens was below what I expected, but I think this goes into the idea that he’s better with the ball in his hand than not. (Then again, the same could be said for CJ and Andrei as well) I think that Hayward could form a good group with Alec Burks being the SG who is allowed to do the isolation stuff (because Hayward isn’t ready for that just yet). Too bad the Jazz can’t assign them to the Flash right now, and get to play ball instead of being locked out.
The point of this section was to show how Hayward scores exactly how the Jazz want their guards and forwards to score. And he’s one of the best in the league (right now) in PPP in two of those ways. Furthermore, he’s capable of slashing and shooting. He went 80.0 fg% on his slashes to the basket, and went 50.0 3pt% on spot up jumpers from outside. Again, as a rookie. I’m impressed, and I think he can only get better. Especially if he decides to be a little more selfish on offense. Defensively, well, he needs work. But so does the rest of our team. (scroll down to see the charts)
The Summer Blockbuster is a success
After the long exposition, the rising tension, and the heroic take over by the lead – we are left with the dénouement. I’m very happy with Gordon Hayward as The Precious. The Jazz were right to not trade that pick away, even if it did not result in a Top 3 pick. I’m certain that Hayward will improve (still holding out for a Go Rating of 40+ next year) and continue to blow us away with his play. The best thing about a successful summer blockbuster is that a) there’s bound to be a sequel, and b) all the exposition is done, so we can go right into the action.
He’ll always be The Precious to me because of how coveted the pick was, and how we held onto it jealously all those years. In the next few seasons Gordon Hayward will become just as coveted as the pick was, and he’ll probably be offered a crazy contract by the Trailblazers in a number of seasons as a result. The weight and responsibility of being a ‘ring bearer’ will continue – but I think he will be equal to the task. And we all know that the 2nd movie in a Blockbuster sequel is miles better than the first.
Get your popcorn ready