Gordon Hayward: All Star

Gordon Hayward: All Star. It sounds crazy, considering he’s never even been close enough to even sniff the All-Star game. But hear me out.

The Utah Jazz have played 14 of their 82 games this season, meaning they are just over 17% of the way done with their season. After a week of NBA games, Hayward’s play appeared to be unsustainable, as he was averaging 18.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1 steal per game on 48% from the field, 37% from 3, and a perfect 13 of 13 from the free throw line. Many NBA fans, including a group of Jazz fans who were still upset about Hayward’s contract, seemed to be crying "It’s a fluke!" and expecting him to come crashing back down to earth. After the second week of NBA basketball, Hayward was still playing All Star level basketball, with nearly the same levels of production across the board (19.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1 steal, 0.5 blocks per game on 50.5% from the field, 36.5% from 3, 97.2% from the charity stripe). His game-winning buzzer-beater against LeBron’s Cavaliers (not to mention his amazing chase-down block on King James himself, as well as a late-game defensive stop in the post against The Chosen One) forced people to take notice of his stellar play. Still, there seemed to be fans refusing to accept his play as anything other than a two-week-long fluke, including many of those same Jazz fans still fuming over Hayward’s hefty payday earlier in the summer.

It is now nearly a month into the young NBA season, and Hayward has maintained his level of basketball prowess on both ends of the floor. Gordon Hayward worked hard to bulk up during the offseason to help him guard the bigger wings in the league, and it has helped in a noticeable way. Carmelo Anthony struggled mightily to score with Hayward guarding him in Utah’s victory over the Knicks on November 14th, doing most of his damage while #20 was resting on the bench.

Gordon Hayward’s basic stats look really good – with career highs in points per game, rebounds per game, free throw attempts per game, and steals per game – but that doesn't tell the whole story. A quick glance at his advanced stats will tell you that Hayward’s great play is more than just surface-level production. He has made significant progress in his shot selection; 58% of his shots are either 3-pointers or shots at the rim, and another 17% of his shots are taken from 3-10 feet away from the rim. Basketball analytics will tell you that those are the desired shot locations, and 75% of Hayward’s field goal attempts are taken from the "desired" locations. Of course, good shot selection doesn't mean much if the player can’t convert, but thankfully Hayward is shooting 74% inside of 3 feet. As a measuring stick for just how good that is, LeBron James and Kevin Durant both shoot right around 72% inside of 3 feet for their careers.

Also standing out in his advanced stats is that Hayward is creating more of his own shots than ever before, with only 33% of his 2-pointers and 83% of his 3-pointers being assisted, both career-lows by a significant margin. Overall, a whopping 54% of Hayward's made field goals are unassisted. Creating one’s own shot is widely considered to be an essential skill that any superstar player must have, and Hayward is doing an outstanding job of it. Not only is Hayward creating his own shots more frequently, but he’s doing so with more success than ever before in his career. Hayward currently has career highs in true shooting percentage (.607), free throw rate (.414), and usage (24.3%), meaning he puts an incredible amount of pressure on the opposing team’s defense when he’s on the floor. He has also taken care of the basketball, posting the 2nd-lowest TOV% and 2nd-highest AST% of his career (giving him the best A:TO ratio of his career), and he’s pulling down rebounds and stealing the basketball at career-best rates.

Hayward has the 3rd-highest PIE rating among qualified NBA wings (Harden and LeBron are 1st and 2nd), and is holding opponents to 44% from the field. In addition to drawing fouls at an elite level, Hayward's aggressive play is showing up in other areas. Among NBA players who drive to the rim at least 6.1 times per game, Hayward has the highest FG% (61.4%) on drives of any player in the NBA. Kyle Lowry (61.2%) is close, but after that there is a huge gap and the next closest player is Steph Curry, who shoots 58.8% on drives. Hayward's 6.1 drives per game result in 6.1 points per game for Hayward, and 8.4 points per game for the Jazz, meaning Hayward is doing more than just lowering his shoulder and barreling toward the rim; he's looking to make the right play and is getting his teammates 2.3 points per game off his drives.

Hayward is lethal with the ball in his hands, but he's also deadly off the ball. Of the wings with at least 3.4 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game, Hayward's shooting percentage (39.6%) is bested only by the following wings: Kyle Korver, Shawne Williams, Kevin Martin, Danny Green, Klay Thompson, Marcus Morris, Draymond Green, Anthony Morrow, and Terrence Ross. Most of the players in that group are role players with USG% between 14-18%. Klay Thompson (27.9) and Kevin Martin (25.4) are the only two players in this group with USG% higher than 19.6. When your best player is as dangerous off-ball as he is with the ball in his hands, you've got a good thing going. (Side note: Kyle Korver is ridiculous. He shoots nearly 60% from 3 in catch-and-shoot situations with nearly 5 catch-and-shoot attempts per game. Absurd. Second side note: Chandler Parsons, the guy who was supposed to be cheaper than Hayward and "just as good", is shooting a Trey Burke-like 32.8% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in 4.8 attempts per game, and 31.6% overall in catch-and-shoot situations.)

I would love to see Hayward keep playing at an elite level, as he has done so far this season. He probably won’t be voted a starter in the West (Harden and Durant will likely be the starters at the wing positions), but there is a really good chance he steps in as one of the players selected by the coaches around the league. Right now he’s playing like a bonafide superstar and is producing like a top-15 player in the NBA, and I love every minute of it.

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