Most of you know where I stand on Gordon Hayward and his free agency. I'm sure most of you assume that I'm going over the top in defending him. But it's something I do (and have always done) with ALL our players with few exceptions (merc vets and/or lazy players). Call it homerism if you must, but I have a deep loyalty to this team and the players on it. I always have.
This loyalty is the reason I have John Stockton, and not Magic Johnson, at the top of my list of greatest point guards ever. It's the reason I rank Karl Malone ahead of Tim Duncan as the greatest power forward of all time. It's why I argued until I was blue in the face that Deron Williams was a better point guard than Chris Paul from 2006 until 2010 during our playoff runs.
This loyalty and my occasionally over-the-top optimism regarding our team and our guys is the reason I think Derrick Favors can eventually become Dwight Howard with better offense. It's why I think Enes Kanter, if given the chance, can become a poor man's Kevin Love. It's why I think Alec Burks' ceiling is Dwyane Wade with a jump shot, and that Trey Burke can eventually develop into a solid point guard who turns it up in the clutch.
And finally, it's why I think Gordon Hayward will eventually prove his worth as a legit #2, fringe #1 option. I realize he had a terrible shooting year. I also realize that, despite my inclination to blame everything on Corbin's schemes, and the lack of a shooting coach that allowed Hayward to develop bad habits, and a leg injury early in the year that I feel affected his shot and his play more than he let on, much of the blame must fall on Hayward. His shot selection could have been better. He could have been more aggressive attacking the rim, despite already drawing fouls at a good rate.
But I feel the need to explain why I've defended Hayward so adamantly the past few days. Very few players look good in their first year as #1 option. I've pointed multiple times to Paul George's lackluster 2012-13 season (nearly identical across the board to Hayward's 13-14), his first year as the #1. And yet with the minimal difference in overall play and production between PG's 12-13 and Hayward's 13-14, one was touted as the next superstar, the heir apparent to LeBron, and the other was thrown under the bus by his own fanbase. He isn't the defender Paul George is (not that George is as good as advertised, he's significantly overrated on both ends of the floor), but Hayward is no slouch on defense either.
Players with Hayward's all around game and skill are rare. Is he elite at any one thing? No, and he might not ever be. But he's good or great at EVERYTHING, and that's hard to find. There are maybe 10 wings in the NBA as versatile as Hayward, and most of them are on max contracts.
I've heard the arguments against Hayward. The first, and probably most common argument I've heard, is that Hayward "turns the ball over all the time in the clutch." Here are a few different small forwards and their respective assists and turnovers per 48 minutes in the clutch:
Player A: 2.8 assists, 4.6 turnovers (0.6:1 A:TO)
Player B: 5.4 assists, 4.9 turnovers (1.1:1 A:TO)
Player C: 6.1 assists, 2.7 turnovers (2.3:1 A:TO)
Player D: 3.9 assists, 4.8 turnovers (0.8:1 A:TO)
Player E: 3.1 assists, 1.7 turnovers (1.8:1 A:TO)
Care to guess who those players are?
What if I told you that player A was Kevin Durant, player B was LeBron James, player C was Gordon Hayward, player D was Carmelo Anthony, and player E was Chandler Parsons? Do you still think Hayward has a "turnover problem" in clutch moments? (In all fairness, I should mention that Paul George is actually very good in A:TO ratio down the stretch, with a 3.1:1 ratio.)
Let's address his shooting next. I've heard over and over again the past few days how Hayward can't create his own shot (and can't hit those shots) down the stretch of games. Let's examine more clutch statistics from a few different wings around the NBA.
Player A: 38% FG, 38% 3FG, 44% of field goals assisted
Player B: 48% FG, 31% 3FG, 17% assisted
Player C: 35% FG, 33% 3FG, 43% assisted
Player D: 38% FG, 29% 3FG, 42% assisted
Player E: 47% FG, 36% 3FG, 33% assisted
Player F: 36% FG, 35% 3FG, 77% assisted
So... where is Hayward? Player A looks pretty inefficient, right? Maybe that's him? Nope, that's Kevin Durant. Maybe it's player B? That 3-point percentage is pretty bad. Whoops! That's LeBron. Surely it's player C, below average shooting and not creating a ton of his own shots. Right? Oh damn, that's Melo. Is it... D? Those numbers look pretty terrible, that's gotta be Hayward, right? The man can't shoot! Wait, what? That's Paul George? Would you believe that Hayward is player E? 2nd best FG%, 2nd best 3-point percentage, 2nd lowest assisted percentage. (By the way, Chandler Parsons is player F, for what it's worth).
Look, I realize that Hayward's game isn't sexy. He's a solid athlete, but he doesn't have explosive or elite athleticism. He's kind of quiet and doesn't look intense at times. Some of his moves look awkward, even when they work. He makes the simple pass rather than the flashy one. But he's fundamentally sound, he makes winning basketball plays, he makes the right pass, and I have a feeling that, under a proper NBA coach and in a good scheme he'll start to look a lot better - especially if Utah hires a shooting coach (which they should have done 12 months ago, when Hornacek left).
Call me a homer if you must, but to me, saying that Hayward is only worth $8 million a year, or that Parsons could easily replace him, or that he'll be the most overpaid wing in the NBA at $12 million a year, or whatever other argument you want to make about how terrible Hayward is or how he "usurped" Burks all year, or... yeah. That kind of stuff drives me bonkers. Because according to the data, it's incorrect.
Hayward will blow up this year, increase his efficiency significantly, and show that he's worth a $13-14 million dollar a year contract.