I had a dream in which the Utah Jazz were in the Western Finals against The Oklahoma City Thunder. It was a great dream. It was year 4 of what we as Jazz fans (more so those fans that frequent SLC Dunk) refer our young core to as "C4". In the dream, the NBA announcers referred to those players as "C4" too. "The Utah Jazz has a young core that has stormed the NBA scene. Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, and Enes Kanter are known to Jazz fans as C4, the Core 4, in which they have literally surprised the league with becoming All-Stars. The Jazz lead this series 2 games to 1, but the way that this team has come alive I doubt anyone will be surprised to see the Jazz up 3 to 1 after tonight."
(Side note of my dream, and this is for you Amar, Myck Kabongo was in my dream too. I have only seen his videos a few times here and there, but low and behold...well you can't "behold" squat because it was my dream, but he was in the dream.)
Well, we as fans were told to give our "Precious" two years. (Tangent, whenever you read the word "Precious" throughout this article, can you imagine saying it in the "Gollum" voice?) Kevin "The Heartthrob" O'Connor said "Give me Hayward or give me death." Actually he didn't say anything like that. That silly KOC, always tricking us fans into the most ridiculous...well I say, this floppy character needs a punch up the bracket.
So, let's get into a little of what Gordon is. He was drafted #9 overall from Butler, (how many times have I heard those words from the game announcers? Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.) He was picked for his versatility. One of the first game moments we saw from Hayward was the incident with Deron Williams. How about a hard ball flying at your face? From my point of view, other than that incident, I really don't remember too much from Hayward during most of the 2010-2011 season. It wasn't really until the later part of a failed Jazz season that we started to see great things from the Precious. What fans don't remember the battle with Kobe and winning in L.A with the team on the back of Mr. "Bright and Dreamy" Hayward? Really, Hayward played well until the end of that season, but we weren't in the playoffs, so nothing else came of it.
Now we move into 2011-2012 season. The roster that composed that team was vastly different from the ones many Jazz fans were used to for several years before...woah, woah, woah, hold the phone here. Let's back up. I almost forgot a vital part about Gordon's activities. The Precious went on to play Starcraft in the IPL3 Finals in Atlantic City with IGN Pro League. Granted, this was during the NBA Lockout so maybe he didn't feel like he had anything better to do. Who really knows what he was thinking.
So the Lockout ends. And we have a condensed 66 game season in which Gordon is starting. Good for him. We as a team start out poorly. We do start winning games, but Gordon is only playing as if he is a basic starter. He plays well at times, and his defense was decent at times, but overall, his play was not what fans were be expecting. I guess we should be glad that Tyrone Corbin and the Front Office were giving him minutes. Many fans were left asking themselves, "Where is the Precious that we started to see at the end of last year? Where is the player that beat up on the Lakers and the Nuggets?"
So...we waited. I would catch myself mentioning how he was doing several aspects of the game well, but to me, it didn't feel good enough. Then Jazz Nation got word that Hayward would be going to the Rising Stars Challenge along with another comrade, Sexual "Beastman" Favors. Makes you wonder, as a fan, how other players feel with so much "dreamy sexiness" on the court when they are out there together. Gives me chills just thinking about it.
March starts and fans begin to taste the goodness of what Gordon is cooking on the court, Mmmm Mmmm. As March and April go on, Jazz fans just continue to devour the wins and we make it into the playoffs. Now I know we have Al Jefferson, we have Paul Millsap, and we have Favors, but if it wasn't for the Precious's magical powers to start kicking in and him beginning to dominate, I honestly believe we wouldn't have made the playoffs. Now I'm going to try and not riddle this article with stats, but the stats for Hayward when he started to make his year 2 "jumps" are very good. His full year stats are very good, but March and April stats are All-Star worthy by themselves. Instead of the passive player we were seeing in the first half of the season, we saw the aggressive, confident, and talented player we had only glimpsed at from the end of the season before. This time his shooting numbers were improving from all over the court. There were plenty of times that he was obviously the best player on the court. His versatility as a player really started to show at all levels. (I do want to point out that even though this article is about Hayward, Favors' numbers after the All-Star break were impressive too, stats which support Favors' "jumps" as well.)
Even Hayward, during this last season, wasn't without his faults or his confrontations on the court. I'm sure many fans remember the infamous J.J. Barea "bump" while Hayward was at the foul line. Honestly, situations like that are when the refs should really be...doing their job. Some people have mentioned how they thought Hayward should have done something to Barea. That is debatable. Gordon was at the line, trying to shoot free throws. Isn't that why we have referees, to enforce the rules and monitor misconduct so other players don't have to take it into their own hands? Even a different player, than Hayward, could have done something in Hayward's stead. Don't get me wrong, I would like to see Gordon stand up for one of his teammates when they get messed with, because I honestly feel Gordon isn't someone to shy away from competition, someone who isn't afraid to get dirty when the situation really calls for it. Also, a second year player trying to find his way through and trying to find his confidence in the game of basketball, he was having a tough time before the All-Star break, which this game was before then.
Then we have Mr. Delonte "I love Lebron's Mom" West and his "finger willy" to Hayward's ear. I read somewhere recently that Gordon has an ability to get under people's skin and make them start doing stupid things. Honestly, I think that is a talent Gordon should learn to cultivate more, especially if it gets players to do dumb things like West did. Yeah, the refs didn't see it at first, but they did the right thing and did a review of the overall play. Should the refs also have caught that one? Yes. Do I think the refs will start to notice more things in favor of Hayward? I also think this.
I think there are several reasons that Hayward will start to get noticed by the refs more. There is his talent. We all know that refs do at least a little bit play favoritism (yes Jazz fans...now is your time to go off) to talent and the "stars" of the NBA. Hayward has a pretty high FTA rate, and I think it will only increase with a more attacking and aggressive role on the team. I already mentioned he was in the Rising Stars Challenge, but also his other selection, again with his chum Favors, on the U.S. Select Team over the summer. Hayward is building notoriety throughout the league, and with further development can just build on that more. This will cause the refs to look at Hayward and notice things more in his favor.
Also, there is something else that puts the Precious in the spotlight, his fantastic plays. Running the floor all the way to the bucket against many teams like Mavericks, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Spurs, Hawks, Clippers, and Suns. I'm pretty sure I can go on. I can't find all the plays in which he gets a steal or rebound and runs the length of the court. When he is aggressive like that, he is usually putting points on the board and is hardly stopped. Who hasn't seen some of the blocks that Hayward has done throughout last season? Nice block on Mario Chalmers when the Jazz played the Heat. The block party Gordon put on against the Celtics. He owned that rim. Or the nice, come from behind, block in which he ran the floor off the pass as Devin Harris was sliding out of bounds to slam it for two simoleons at the other end.
For many of the good and talented things I have pointed out about Gordon, he does have his flaws. I am a person that tries to be objective. Hayward was not so great at the beginning of last season, as I have already mentioned, but he got better. Sometimes fans, as I have already hinted at, will say that the Precious isn't assertive enough when an opposing player does something to him. I feel I hear more fans talk about Hayward not doing something than I hear fans talk about Favors not doing anything, such as the time against Dirk "I was hit with a stick too many times when I was young" Nowitzki. Overall, I think the comments about Hayward not being aggressive or assertive enough are the most common complaints against Hayward, from those that are doubtful of him and from the fans that are optimistic about him but try to be objective. I'm not even going to go into depth about how sometimes I would be annoyed watching him miss technical foul shots.
Over this recent break, John Hollinger did player profiles of the players that were in the playoffs last year. Hollinger talked about Gordon and his defense, and using Synergy, mentioned how Hayward was poor on the defensive end. Very soon after the Hollinger insider article came out, David Locke looked over the videos of Gordon very carefully, and even talked with Hollinger about what he was seeing. Locke wrote a piece pretty much debunking Synergy when it comes to most of the defensive numbers. What fans were seeing in game, before the Hollinger article, and what Locke was seeing in his review of Hayward, Hayward was very good defensively. Even Hollinger admitted that he was just going by what Synergy was putting out, and that after another look of the videos, that Gordon was a good defensive player.
I think the one spot that hurts me as a fan is Gordon's performance in the playoffs. As a fan, I have the luxury of keeping those feelings inside and holding onto them as if they were my prized toy. Fans sometimes have a tendency to hold too much onto the things the players that they are fans of do, even the good things or the bad things. Hayward, as the player, doesn't have that luxury. Granted, I can mention several things to Hayward's defense about his play in the playoffs. His first game was good even with a poor shooting night, but the rest of the games, I really could tell that the Spurs were constantly implementing something to keep Hayward out of the game, that or Jefferson's defense during Pick and Rolls in which he would constantly run into Hayward. I wanted to throw something at my screen every time I saw that happen, and it was a lot. Overall, our dreamy Gordon didn't have a good outing the other 3 games during the sweep. Maybe it was the hair and the beard. He didn't seem to have his hair longer or his beard grown out to its quasi-scruffy look that Gordon enjoys when he doesn't shave. I personally think he looks better with his hair a little longer and the beard grown out some. Fans even make jokes about how he plays better when his hair and his beard are not all clean cut.
Gordon can't let his first playoff series get him down, and from the word out of training camp and from information about the recent Jazz scrimmage, it seems he has only used his flaws and failures as stepping stones for improvement. We know Gordon was drafted at #9, but if there was a redraft of the 2010 draft class, where would Hayward land (playoff series aside)? I would think he would probably land in the top 5. I think John Wall would still be picked at #1, and actually #2-#4 would be DeMarcus Cousins, Favors, or Greg Monroe in no particular order, with Hayward at #5. Some people might would mention Paul George, but the stats between George and Hayward are almost identical. Also, several of George's stats went in the downward trend in his second year. That is not a very good sign for a player. Hayward's only went up. Also, I'm giving Hayward the benefit of doubt considering these 6 players are probably the only ones worth taking right now if there was a redraft. Hayward was drafted before George, so in the redraft, Gordon gets the nod.
Actually, over this summer, we as fans haven't really heard much about "gamer" Gordon. I sure know that I've heard many things this current off-season about Gordon, but not too much about his gamer side. I know he did do some gaming, in which he probably will not completely give up that hobby of his, but nothing like last NBA off-season. We heard more about his time with the Select Team, or his time with his friends, or practicing, or his time at P3. We can see that the Precious bulked up a little more. He does look stronger, and maybe he is getting comfortable with his body. When players have that happen, it can either do wonders for their game, or really throw it off. Usually, players do well, and from the recent words, it is looking great for Hayward.
Comments about training camp are that many reports are of Hayward being the best player on the court most of the time. I also read reports about Favors and Burks and how they have good competition within the Jazz organization and how that can only help to improve themselves and the team. It makes me think...who did Hayward have as competition to help him improve and develop like it seems Favors (or the reverse Favors effect article as well, one that Locke wrote about how having Favors' talent on the floor is only causing Al and Paul to really try and improve as much as possible) and Burks have? In Gordon's first year, maybe there was Andrei Kirilenko, but after that...who? I'm always hearing that there seems to be someone for Burks to compete against so he can improve, but last year Hayward had who? Can anyone really tell me that C.J. Miles or Josh Howard really put up competition against Hayward? I will laugh at you if you try and tell me that.
DeMarre Carroll? Great guy, and he seems to want to improve and seems to enjoy being with the Jazz and around the players we have, but I don't think Carroll put up that much competition against Hayward. Hayward this year has Marvin Williams, but I really haven't heard too much of anyone going against Hayward to make him compete and improve. Honestly, I've actually read, even if it was in the slightest bit, how Hayward is also competition against Burks to try and make Burks better. Now, I really do feel that Williams is giving Hayward competition, but is it just that we don't hear much about the people that compete against Gordon helping him improve or develop, or is it that Hayward has a natural self-drive for improvement? Honestly, I think it's a mixture of both. I think that is why we have heard what we have heard from training camp about him, his scrimmage play, and even the interview with Locke before camp started.
His Jazz scrimmage play showed he was the best player on the floor that night as well. Yes, yes. I know there is only so much you can take from a scrimmage game, but I heard that even as good as the stats say Gordon was during the scrimmage, I also heard comments from fans that he didn't "stand out" too much, like Kanter did. I like that. I even commented along with Yucca about how I like that concept about Hayward, in that Gordon's talent is masked by how he plays, and that he plays within the concept of the team's plan. Can you be aggressive and play within the concept of the team's plan? Yes. Many great players have done it, and they learned how to do it well. I think that is one of Gordon's strengths that he knows that he can build upon.
Mixed reviews of Gordon are scattered throughout Jazz Nation, but I for one have optimism for this kid. I have one of the biggest "man-crushes" on this guy. When he does something great I feel like throwing a party, and when he does something wrong, even the littlest thing, I want to burn buildings. Well, he has made year 1 to year 2 jumps and year 2 to year 3 jumps, and I truly believe he has some more jumps coming this year as well. I think with Hayward on the team, the Jazz FO and coaching staff should make him a focal point, along with Favors, for this team going forward. I think he has the talent, the ability, the drive, and the IQ to really make it in this league. He improved when he didn't have that preverbal "light-bulb" going off in his head until late last season.
I really think that something was getting to him in the first half of last season, and things didn't click until after the All-Star break. Maybe Gordon was struggling with how he felt about being in the NBA, about his place in life, or whether or not he belonged here. The interview with Locke has him saying that he really feels like he belongs here now, on the court and that he feels he can be an All-Star. Is he finding and fixing that one issue that the majority of Jazz fans have an issue with him? Is he fixing the issues he is having with himself? Is he building on himself and realizing what can truly become of him and the player he has the possibility of being? We as fans can only wait, and can only hope.