Gordon Hayward is our prized rookie, and we’ve waited a long time for someone like him. Well, maybe not exactly like him – but someone with his pedigree. As Jazz fans we love our underdog stories of guys who ‘make it’ despite some people who say that he can’t. Instead of being a part of a socially and economically disadvantaged class, this guy instead comes from a middle class family. His obstacle was not crime and rising above his surrounding, it was growing out of being a tennis pro into a basketball one. He still had detractors at every step, and led a low profile school within a few millimeters from knocking off one of the biggest college basketball powerhouses in the NCAA Finals. It’s hard not to root for this guy, especially as a Jazz fan – we have a history of getting something good from the best player on the losing team in the NCAA finals. Unfortunately for him, and us, Gordon Hayward is always going to be something more, or less, than who he is as a player.
Because he’s ‘The Precious’.
Why ‘The Precious’?
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ , the Precious is the ultimate MacGuffin. Allusions to technological advancement in warfare, and a destruction of the environment aside, the One Ring is the Precious. It is a gift of great power, but it’s power is so great that even the best of men lose their minds trying to possess it. The Precious was the unrestricted New York Knicks first round draft pick – forged by the Dark Lord Isiah Thomas himself. We had the rights to the Precious. Many teams came for it, but it was ourses. It blongeses to us! We didn’t use it in any trades, we didn’t use it to get any good players. We held onto it, in our dark cave, waiting . . . waiting . . . for the day that it would be ourses!
Each Jazz fan had their own idea of the type of player, most likely a very high Lotto pick, that we’d get for free because of the Knicks’ inability to run a franchise. I doubt that many of us had imagined that The Precious would turn out to be a baby faced kid who was afraid to shoot the ball. Alas, the pick that was the Precious became the player, Gordon Hayward.
The Pick was coveted by all, but we kept it close, we kept it safe. It’s ours now. And we may or may not like exactly what it is now – but we hope that we can use its’ power to augment our own. That’s why Gordon Hayward is The Precious. And that’s why it’s a great disservice that for a very long time, at least for Jazz fans, we’re going to remember him as the product of that Knicks pick – despite his own natural learning curve in the NBA.
When you are a franchise that is always in the hunt for good playoff position, and usually pick in the last third of the draft, there are very few expectations for your draft pick. There are even less when you draft a guy in the second round from some back water European nation, and you’ve never even seen this dude play before. But what happens when you get a free Lotto pick – one that would still be a TOP 10 pick? Is it a disservice to that player, that player’s pedigree, and that player’s $2.4 million dollar contract to expect NOTHING from him?
Or on the flip side, are we expecting too much from someone who is supposed to be worth that much? Top 10 picks are supposed to be the best picks. They are supposed to be NBA ready, and have the talent to make bad teams into good ones – surely they’d be able to make good ones into great teams, right? This is the crux of the argument – should we expect anything from Gordon Hayward? Or expect nothing. I’ve heard arguments for both sides. Some say that the Jazz don’t even NEED anything from him this season – if so, does that give him a free pass to ‘Chill like a Bosh’ this season? On the other hand, if he was picked among peers that would be good enough to make an impact this season, their rookie seasons, shouldn’t he also be equal to the task?
My opinion of what to expect from Gordon Hayward (in principle) vacillates on a weekly basis. Similarly so, my opinion of if he’s doing well or not does as well. I know in my heart’s heart that he’ll be a solid pro. I know that I want him to succeed. I also know that even on a team with only four guys with traditional wing height, he’s still getting very little playing time. As I mentioned previously, the greatest currency for young players in the NBA is confidence. Some players have ‘swagger’, and know they are good. Others – specifically those who always had doubters and worked hard to get where they are partly because of the satisfaction of proving people wrong – have less innate swagger. They need playing time to justify where they are. The problem is that it’s difficult for young players on veteran teams to do enough to justify the playing time they need.
Because I think Gordon Hayward isn’t a bad player (and perhaps worthy of regular playing time), let’s look to see how he fares compared to his peers – highly productive wings who were taken in the lotto in his draft year.
Production vs. Draft Class
Note: For every chart, the data is from the 1st 20 games of each player’s NBA career
I said I wasn’t going to pull any punches a few weeks ago, so I won’t. Some people have said that it’s okay for Gordon to suck so far because the rest of his peers are doing so as well. Well, that’s clearly not the case. None of these guys are Michael Jordan, that’s for certain; however, some of them are actually playing well. Sure, a lot of these guys are on poor teams, but the 2nd round pick who plays for the Knicks (a team that’s in playoff contention) is killing it. If THAT guy (some no name dude) can be killing it – is it out of the realm of possibility that we should expect Hayward to be doing better than a 3.2 Go Rating?
The easy counter argument is that – well – these guys are playing on crappy teams, and they aren’t winning! Also, this draft class sucks, you can’t compare Hayward to these guys! Fine. You may feel free to say that. Let’s look at more players like Hayward . . . and see where he compares.
Production vs. ‘Similar’ players from previous Drafts
Here is a bunch of guys that are like Hayward, they are all Lotto picks who are swings. Well, everyone except Matt Harpring who was picked 15th, and Kyle Korver, who was a 2nd rounder. I put Korver in here because some Jazz fans may be familiar with him and want to know how he compares to Hayward’s first twenty games of his career. As you can see below, the average draft position for this group was 1st round, 10th pick. Hayward was the 9th pick. We could assume that he should be at least average in this group. Again, this was for the first 20 games of each of these guys’ careers.
Some of these guys were out of the league in a jiffy, while others were able to use a strong college experience to fuel their formative NBA years. It’s a diverse group. There’s hope in this group. One guy that’s very close to Hayward is Austin Croshere, at least statistically. He became a rotation player. Most of these guys did as well. Yet, most of these guys were way more assertive than Gordon. We’re going to need to see more of what we saw last night from him.
Of course, only one of these guys was a rookie on the Jazz – Hayward – and the argument is that ‘These stats are invalid because it’s apples to oranges’. I know the Jazz system is hard on rookies, and part of Hayward’s initial suckitude may be due in part to that. Fine. Let’s look at other swings who played for the Jazz.
Production vs. other Jazz Rookies
The Gold, Silver, Bronze, and uh, Brown, colors for the drafted columns are there to show what part of the draft where these guys from. Only Hayward was a Top 10 pick. Keep that in mind, or his $2.4 million contract, when looking at these stats. All of these guys played under Jerry Sloan. All of these guys played under this system. All of these guys played with the same plays. All of these guys, save for Pavlovic and Snyder, played alongside a Hall of Fame point guard. All of these guys played with a solid scoring forward. Each season the Jazz were trying to win as many games as possible, and not tanking, nor where they giving minutes out to rookies just for fun. This is as apples to apples as we can get – save for the actual make up of the depth charts (which always have rookies at the bottom).
Guess who’s near the bottom of the pile? D-Steve and C.J. were teens in their rookie seasons. Jamie Watson sucked. Kirk Snyder is a head case. Who is right there with them? It’s The Precious.
Gilbert Grape Gordon Hayward?
So, we’ve seen the stats. They don’t look too good for The Precious. Whatever ideas of him we had from watching him play well at Butler, or even in the Summer league, are not matching up with reality. Even harder on him, whatever ideas and dreams we had from the Unprotected Knicks pick are really far from reality. A Top 10 Lotto pick is supposed to be good to go, not a project like a one-dimensional late 1st round shooting guard like Morris Almond. He’s not supposed to be a European draft and stash like a much maligned 7’1 center who shall remain nameless. The Precious was supposed to be, at the very least, as good as Ronnie Brewer (a guy who can’t shoot) as a rookie.
If anything, his production in the first 20 games of his career looks more like Morris Almond (who is playing in Europe right now) more than any of us would like to admit – and Almond only played one game with Deron, while The Precious has started a few and just ended one with him.
I think a big part of it is confidence. And some of the numbers show a severe decline in his production (both these stats do not require time as an issue):
To me a huge deal HAS to be confidence, as he’s the same player – the same LEADER who took a rag tag band to the NCAA finals. The only main difference is that he’s not getting enough burn to store up experience in his ‘confidence meter’ that helps him calm down and play his game. Some people think that he shouldn’t get more playing time because he sucks. (The stats don’t say he’s great, after all) Some people think that a little token playing time in order to get him back into productive shape isn’t that great an evil to bear. Playing time is tricky though, and a smart guy told me that NBA Coaches do not coach in a democracy. I guess that means that you have to play the vets over the guys with a potential to a) get better and b) actually be on the team in 3 years. Few people seem to care about that point though, after all, Sloan gets a pass by saying in training camp "Aw shucks, I guess I should have played _____ more last season." He’s on record admitting to having not played Okur, Williams, Brewer and others as much as he should have. I guess he doesn’t have to learn from his mistakes either, because he has full support from the front office. (Power without any checks and balances prevents people from seeing their flaws)
Do I think that Sloan has to play everyone fairly? No. Do I think that playing Hayward 20 a game is necessary? No. Lastly, do I think that playing him big minutes at the risk of losing games is going to make him an All-Star? No. But one of the largest contributing factor to such a prolonged development for C.J. Miles was having invested so little playing time in him as a younger player in favor of Derek Fisher, Gordan Giricek, and Matt Harpring. Miles could only get on the floor if someone else was injured, if you don’t remember. Now he’s a rotation player – finally. I’d like to see a return on our younger players that don’t take half of Yoda’s life time to mature. Maybe Hayward can suck a little less if he got better. Maybe he could get better if he played more?
Obviously this is not a unanimous opinion. After all, we’ve had other young players on the team who do not get consistent minutes – and some fans would protest them ever getting consistent minutes. I know that I wouldn’t be good at my job if I never got hands on experience in the real thing. There’s only so much practice can do for you. Perhaps this is the case with some of our players as well?
I think we all saw two things last night that we had not yet seen. The first is that Hayward can play on this team at NBA speed and contribute. The second is that he can get playing time and NOT hurt our team’s chances at winning (the dreaded consequence of playing a younger player who isn’t 30+ years old). His jam to seal the game was a great thing to see – hopefully he can build on it, and hopefully his coaches will allow him to do so by playing him more consistent minutes. E.g. Not ‘CJing’ him by yo-yoing his playing time; and especially not ‘Fesenkoing’ him – which is after a game where you get a double double vs. Yao Ming, you only play 1:46 the next game (no foul trouble excuse here), and a DNP-CD the next game after that.
Hopefully the Jazz coaches respect Hayward more than they have some of their other younger players. After all, it would be unwise to upset The Preciousssssss.