Of all the main guys next year, Gordon Hayward is the closest to a sure thing that we have. This is because he, unlike any of the others, has both actually played major minutes (about 30 per game the past two years), and played a role closest to what he will play this year.
Because of this, I believe his per-36 minute projection at BBR is probably the most likely of the young guys to reflect what we will see next year. Here it is:
16.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1 steal, 0.7 block :: 46% FG, 41% 3P, 83% FT
And for those who don't realize it, that is very good production. In fact, if you do a search at BBR for players who put up those numbers last year, you get quite an exclusive list.
Here's what I mean: look for guys who exceeded these thresholds: 15 ppg, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 45% shooting, and 38% 3P.
Your list is: LeBron, Durant, Steph Curry, Chandler Parsons, and Kyrie Irving.
Chandler Parsons is, of course, the most similar from this list. And if that's what we have in Gordon Hayward (110% of Chandler Parsons, plus much better defense), then we have a very good player. At the same time, Super Chandler Parsons isn't exactly a star. if Super Chandler Parsons is your best player, you probably don't have a great team.
So let's look at what Hayward would have to do to make that leap from terrific sidekick to NBA star.
Hayward's progress as a scorer is, of course, already pretty impressive. He began his career deferring to everybody, but ended up last year as the team's third leading scorer (barely behind Millsap). He's become aggressive, confident, and at times dominant.
But there's still more ways that he can improve. Let's look at his shot distributions and efficiency:
- At rim: 185 shots — 59% FG — 63% assisted
- 3-9 feet: 97 shots — 37% FG — 41% assisted
- 10-15 feet: 54 shots — 31% FG — 53% assisted
- 16-22 feet: 192 shots — 38% FG — 63% assisted
- 3-pointers: 246 shots — 41% FG — 91% assisted
I'll get the obvious out of the way first:
Dear Gordon Hayward,
It would be terrific if you made your layups.
Lots of love,
Jazz fans everywhere
That out of the way, the major thing that jumps out are those long 2's—Hayward shot a lot of them, but he didn't shoot a great percentage. These shots are, of course, the ones that smart teams work to cut down. The problem for Hayward is that it's actually his best shot that isn't (a) at the rim or (b) a three. And that's fine if you can either get to the rim at will, or if you aren't expected to be a major shot creator for yourself or others. However, Hayward IS expected to be a major shot creator for himself and others, yet he isn't exactly LeBron when he decides to go to the rim.
So Hayward has to improve on his mid-range and long-2 jump shots if he is going to make a leap to stardom. Being able to hit those at a better rate will both improve his overall efficiency, and open up the lane for both drive & scores and drive & dishes.
Nic Batum, a player Hayward is often compared to, had something interesting happen to him last year. He made a role change that is almost identical to what Hayward is going to do this year. Batum was playing about 30 minutes per game as an on-again-off-again starter. Then he jumped to 38 minutes per game as a full time starter. He was also asked to be more of a playmaker.
And boy did Batum respond: 1.7 assists per-36 minutes in 2011-12; 4.6 assists per-36 minutes last year.
I believe much of the Jazz's success this year will depend on not only Hayward's ability to be a primary scorer, but also his ability to be a main playmaker. Everything I hear from Dennis Lindsey seems to imply that this is the expectation: that Hayward will be the all-around leader of the team's offense. And it makes sense ... besides whatever Trey Burke can give the team, Hayward is by far the most well-established passer.
If Hayward can make a Batum-like jump in his assists ... say to five or more, then I believe things will be going really, really well for the Jazz. It is what I am going to watch for, almost more than even his scoring.
I always marvel at Hayward's defense. I do so because he really doesn't have a bunch of crazy physical tools to become a great defender. He doesn't have the insane defensive potential of, say, Derrick Favors.
All Hayward does is fight. He fights through screens, he fights guys posting him up. And yes, he gets beat plenty of times. But by just fighting everything, he turns out to make things hard for opponents.
That said, I think sometimes Hayward's defense can be overrated. He rotates off his man standing at the corner 3 WAY too often. Part of is on Ty, for his game plan made infamous by Zach Lowe's fun analysis. But part of it is on Hayward. You're a smart player, so let's be smart about this: Don't rotate off the corner 3 to help. Especially when Derrick and Enes will be covering the paint.
But it's more than that, even. He's not really a lock-down defender. He can't simply go in and shut a guy down. Instead, Hayward pesters them and make things hard. That pestering is enough to make his opponents have overall down games (12.4 PER-allowed last year).
I hope that as Hayward becomes a leader of the team, he can instill some of this pestering in the other players. And that's what I will look for this year: how much his effort on defense is reflected in other players. Because I don't think Hayward will ever be a lock-down defender. He just doesn't have the tools. And that's okay ... because there are guys on the team who do have the tools (Favors and Kanter, as well as Burks on PG's).
I mostly hope that Hayward can inspire the other guys to put as much effort into it as he does.
One of the good things about Gordon Hayward is that he hasn't, to date, had problems that hurt the team. He doesn't foul much, and he doesn't turn the ball over much (only two players turned the ball over less despite assisting and scoring as much as Hayward—Joe Johnson and Gerald Henderson). In fact, Hayward's turnover rate has actually decreased every year ... despite his usage and assists also increasing. This is a very exciting trend.
His rebounding, however, is not ideal for a small forward. His 5.1 rebounds per 48 minutes puts would puts him at 32nd out of 35 SF's. However, this is mitigated a bit by the Jazz having two SG's who rebound at a good rate—Burks and Rush (Burks ranked 11th among SG's last year, and Rush ranked 5th two years ago).
To me, Hayward is a SG who happens to play better against SF's. And as long as there are SG's to handle his main deficiency as a SF (rebounding), the team will be okay. The good news is this appears to be the kind of SG's the Jazz now have.
That said, if Hayward could begin rebounding like he did in college, that would obviously be terrific.
Finally, the scruff. I know it looks goofy. I know he probably gets made fun of. But let's be honest ... he's awesomer with shaggy hair and that absurd scruff. No missionary haircuts for Hayward!
At the very least, Hayward is likely to spend his career as a very productive player — a guy who could easily be the third best guy on a championship team. Like Andrei Kirilenko, Hayward is a kind of jack of all trades. He scores, he passes, and he plays defense.
That said, if Hayward is going to make a jump beyond this and become a real star—a guy a championship-caliber team can build around, he will have to improve even more. So look at his line this year. If his BBR projection turns out to be correct, then we know who he is. If, however, his line looks more like this:
19 ppg, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 0.5 blocks, 48% FG, 42% 3P, 85% FT ... well, look out. He just may have made that final leap.