[Ed note: And here is the other winning entry for the "FanPost about..." for this week!]
It Sound Easy Enough
So this week we've been given a simple prompt: should Gordon play the 2 or 3? I think any Jazz fan could argue he has traits representative of both positions. He has length, size, and defensive abilities that seem to be more like a small forward, but his off-the-ball intelligence, slashing, and general playmaking remind me more of a shooting guard. Hayward is actually an interesting type of player. He is able to change his style of play based on the game situation he's in and what position he's playing. If he had the physical attributes to match, I actually believe he would have the rebounding and defensive skills to play center, or the passing and court vision skills to play point guard. This is of course completely hypothetical and more or less a tangent, but Hayward is a player that just understands how to play the game.
Clearly, Hayward understands how to win at anything.
Let's refocus though and concentrate on just small forward or shooting guard. For the most part, I believe these are the two most similar positions on a team, both with required skill sets and physical attributes. Some people, like Hayward, fall into that grey area where you are really able to do both positions interchangeably. This is all nice and whatnot, but the eye test can only tell you so much. Stats are where the truth lies, and that is where my argument will be made. More after the jump.
You can make an excellent case that Gordy should play the 2 for us more often. According to the stats breakdown from 82games.com, when Hayward plays the 2 he has a higher PER accompanied by a higher PPG as well.
With him on the court as a SG the Jazz went +92 and won 53% of the time. That is pretty damn good. No, that's ridiculous. Of course, as my half-dozen stats classes have banged into my head, where there's smoke there isn't always fire. What I mean by that is there can be more to this than just a simple cause and effect relationship here. Let's explore that next.
One thing should be clear; Hayward didn't play the 2 much, because he mostly played the 3. So why would Gordon playing the 2 suddenly help us? The Big 3 of course! As David Locke pointed out in his breakdown of Hayward, playing Gordon at SG meant Millsap could get some time at SF. Millsap went +77 at the 3, so clearly the big lineup helped a lot on both ends of the court. There could be an entire post about the statistical differences between all of these different lineups and all of that, but I'm not Amar and I don't have the patience to try to pull that off! Simply put, Hayward at shooting guard meant we were going big, and going big helped us a lot (as long as we weren't playing the Spurs).
So heading into this section I assume you've looked over those stats a little, and, well, Hayward at small forward isn't anything to write home about. The Jazz went -44 with him at the 3, his PER was lower, his PPG was lower, and the Jazz lost 45% of their games with him playing SF. So is there even a case to be made here?
I say there is. For starters, look at just his stats alone. His individual defense was better, so despite his lower PER, the difference between his PER and his opponents was actually higher. He got more blocks, assists, and rebounds as a small forward, and outperformed his matchup in most categories better as a 3 than a 2. So despite the fact that the Jazz as a whole did worse as a team with Hayward at SF, individually he actually did better. This is of course due to the defensive jugger-not of Millsap and Jefferson at the 4 and 5, respectively. Playing Hayward at the 3 also meant we were playing some non-offensive player at shooting guard, like Raja or Carroll, which obviously didn't help put points on the board. Again, this is a case of data being misleading. The Jazz kinda sucked when Hayward played small forward, but the amount of blame that can be attributed to Gordon may be less than it seems.
So, What's the Verdict?
I wish this was an easy answer, but unfortunately, it's a bit complicated. My answer is going to have to be conditional, which isn't something I like doing, but it is the only way to offer a correct answer. So, let's explore a few situations:
1. Jazz make no blockbuster or ground-shaking moves this offseason, essentially leaving the team untouched: At this point this should be completely obvious. Hayward plays the 2 and we start the Big 3 lineup. To do this we would actually need some more size to back up the frontcourt comfortably (like AK and/or Fez), but it would allow this semi-proven lineup to start the game and play a big chunk of minutes. Hayward still gets some rotation minutes at SF so Burks can get minutes at the 2, but it plays to our current strengths.
2. Jazz make a trade involving a big (Paul or Al), thus making Favors a starter: Now this would be interesting. The thought here seems to be the Jazz would get rid of one of these guys (99% more likely that it's Paul) to get a guard. This would force our hand a couple ways. First, it clears up the 3 spot. Millsap can't do it, so it's all Hayward's. There's also a decent chance the guard we trade for plays some shooting guard, which again would solidify Hayward's spot at the 3. Whether or not this helps or hurts the Jazz depends on a lot of things that we really don't know. Will Favors starting anchor out D enough? If we still have Al will our defense continue to hemorrhage points? Will our backcourt get us enough points? I can't answer those, so that's a problem our front office would have to try to solve.
3. Jazz acquire another 2/3 player (through a trade like situation 2, the draft, signing AK, etc.): Now this is where it could get complicated. We'll say that out of Favors, Millsap, and Jefferson we still have two of them, who start. Harris still starts at PG. We have a few options from there. Either new guy and Hayward can start together, and we likely have no depth off the bench, or we can start Carroll and the new guy together. This gives us our secret weapon. We have our Harden, our Ginobili, our capable, smart SG or SF off the bench. This gives him a chance to play either position based on matchups, situations, whatever, and he could be the focus of our offense - something that is clearly impossible if Al is on the floor at the same time. Hayward can create for himself, he can square up for jumpers, he can run his route off the ball, and he has just enough size to get a few points in the post.
Could we get used to seeing this matchup?
So yeah, there really is no simple answer. Depending on who's on the team next year it may be an obvious one or the other. Maybe he starts but which position he starts at depends on matchups. Maybe he's the next sixth man award winner, our secret weapon off the bench. I wish I knew what the right answer was, but speculating can only get you so far. So is he a 2 or a 3? Simply put, it depends.