The dictionary defines evolution as " the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form." This description is the epitome of Gordon Hayward’s basketball career. From his play in Butler’s historic NCAA tournament run, to his recent selection to the 2017 NBA All-Star game, he has been a constant object of evolution. His physical, mental, psychological, and cosmetic structure have been ever-changing since his stand-out college days at Butler, where he came inches from one of the most incredible shots in college basketball history. Now with six years of NBA experience, Hayward has become one of the league’s brightest up-and-coming stars, and one of the NBA’s best all-around small forwards. His "gradual development" has become a fascinating story, one worth following amidst a busy NBA scene.
"Too Big, Yo"
For those not familiar with Gordon Hayward’s (very short) rap career, in 2010 he released a (insert fire emojis here) rap song called "Too Big, Yo". The song and rapping itself was nothing short of terrible, but the main takeaway is that Hayward is "Too Big, Yo". Since this song was produced, Hayward has gained about 20 lbs of muscle, so it is more true now than ever. Hayward’s strength has visibly increased every year since being a rookie, and that weight and size has translated into higher production in drives and finishes at the rim.
His ability to absorb contact, take fouls, and finish "and-one’s" has been one of his signature changes to his game in recent years. This strength has also contributed to Hayward’s ability to get to the free-throw line. Each year since being a rookie he has improved in FT attempted per game, sometimes by a significant margin. Looking at Gordon Hayward in his years at Butler, compared to now, you will first notice he has gotten much stronger, particularly his upper body, which has probably made a larger impact on his game than any other evolving factor. Hayward has evolved physically, perhaps more-so than the majority of NBA players do throughout their careers. This evolution of strength and size has allowed him to remain a healthy force in today’s league.
The Haircut Heard Around the Hoops World
Besides Hayward’s enhanced muscles, the next thing you might notice had changed in recent years is the guy’s haircut. Hayward is known throughout the league for his fresh hair cut, and has been talked about by fellow hair enthusiast J.J. Redick on his podcast several times. Redick has stated his curiosity regarding Hayward’s hair, and how it remains a wonder how Hayward’s hair stays looking so nice during games. From a mop-top rookie to Mr. Steal Your Girl, Gordon Hayward has evolved cosmetically, and with his NBA-famous hair, he is making his mark on this league.
As strange as it may seem, cosmetic appearance can have a large impact on player branding and sub-conscience impact. Some examples of this include James Harden’s beard, Chris "Birdman" Anderson’s mohawk, Rip Hamilton’s mask, etc. These factors may have little to do with basketball, but everything to do with how the player is seen by the media, fans, other players, etc. Hayward has enhanced his cosmetic appearance, and it has seemed to be parallel to his performance on the hardwood.
Climbing the Scoring Summit
With each passing year that Gordon Hayward has been in the NBA, he has increased his points per game. That’s six off-seasons of training, practicing, film study, and determination to improve. Six seasons of only continuing upward in terms of scoring points, obviously the most important factor of the game of basketball. This constant improvement throughout a six year period is something fairly rare that is not accomplished by the majority of players.
Hayward is currently averaging a career high 22.1 ppg, and been incredibly consistent with his scoring all year. Hayward has silenced most of his pre-draft critics, the same individuals that worried he could not lead his team in scoring or become the go-to man in the clutch moments of a game. His FT% is up nearly 5% from last year, at 87%, which has caused a large impact on his ppg and scoring approach in general. Hayward’s ability to score the basketball has evolved each year since being in the league, and although his ppg may not continue to increase, expect him to diversify his scoring approach as most stars do as the age.
From Boy to Man
If you have followed and watched Gordon Hayward’s game over the years, you may have noticed a increased sense of confidence, patience, and composure. Hayward has developed into a steady, mature force in a league that contains a heavy amount of immaturity and childish antics. You rarely see Hayward lose his composure with poor officiating, other teammates/coaches, much like several players do in today’s league.
This sense of maturity is a combination of his development on the court, as well as his personal life off of it. Since entering the league, Hayward has become a husband and father to two little girls. He has mentioned in his personal blog the amount of priority he gives to being a dad and family man. After receiving an invitation to represent his country in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Hayward faced a tough decision with the birth of his second daughter coming at the same time. He declined the invitation, after what he said was "one of the most difficult choices he‘s ever had to make". He continued his justification of his decision by saying " experiencing what goes on when you have a child, to me, outweighed the benefits of being an Olympian." One can only imagine the difficulty of making such a decision. The potential world-wide exposure, endorsements, player interaction, and much more, was all secondary to Gordon Hayward and his family. This is a perfect example of the guy that Hayward seems to be, and deserves to be respected for.
The Center of a Franchise
Perhaps the single-most important contributor of an NBA franchises success is the development and retention of "franchise players". These players are the face of the franchise, winning over fans and being staples in the community off the court. The Utah Jazz have found their franchise player in Gordon Hayward. During the summer of 2014, Hayward was offered a max contract by the Charlotte Hornets. The Jazz did not hesitate to match the offer, locking in Hayward for another four years, making him the highest paid Jazz player. Hayward has always known how much he means to the franchise. They have built around Hayward at the 3 position, adding guys like George Hill through an offseason trade, and retaining guys like Rudy Gobert through a massive extension that locks him up through 2021.
The Jazz have all the right pieces to be a solid team for years to come, with Hayward begin the centerpiece of their franshise. With his contract nearing expiration through player option at the end of the 2017 season, the Jazz again face a "no-brainer" decision when it comes to keeping Hayward in Salt Lake City. He is one of the top wings in the NBA, and Jazz front office will do whatever they can to keep him around for the long-haul.
Becoming an All-Star
Becoming an All-Star in the NBA is no easy task. You must consistently play at an extremely high level, impressing coaches, players, and fans. To become an All-Star in a small-market organization, like Utah, is even more difficult and is usually a rare occurrence. Gordon Hayward was selected by coaches to be an All-Star reserve, becoming the first Jazz player since Deron Williams in 2011 to be voted to the All-Star game.
No one deserves the selection more than Hayward, who has improved and overcome a lot as a player over the years. Several GM’s and draft scouts would have scoffed at the idea of Hayward becoming an All-Star when he came into this league. The majority saw him as a solid role player that would provide good contribution off the bench. Few, if any, saw a player that would carry his team on his back to a top-5 seed in his conference. Few saw a player that would increase his points per game every season for six years, becoming one of the more dependable scorers in the league. Gordon Hayward has become and All-Star, and is very deserving of that honor.
It remains to be seen the player that Gordon Hayward will ultimately become. His evolution continues on, and it should be a spectacle to observe as his continues improving and becoming a better NBA player. What will he evolve to and accomplish next? Carrying the Jazz to the playoffs in a top seed? Make it to the Western Conference Finals? Make it on an All-NBA team? Olympic gold-medalist? The sky is the limit.