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The Great Evolution of Gordon Hayward

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Having the best season of his career, Gordon Hayward is working hard to give Jazz fans a sneak peek of his final form.

NBA: All Star Saturday Night Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Utah Jazz starting forward Gordon Hayward landed in New Orleans on Thursday, marking the first time in six years that a Jazzman has traveled to participate in the All-Star game.

Gordon Hayward described the whole experience as “surreal,” a description that could easily used when talking about his basketball career as a whole. His journey to becoming an NBA All-Star started years ago, long before he was considered a NBA heartthrob and long before he became Utah’s first offensive option.

The once-lanky tennis player from Indiana has worked hard to transform into the reliable offensive power and decisive leader that Utah has needed for so long. Hayward has more than proven that his All-Star selection is well-deserved.

A Man With a Plan

On Friday, after a long day of press interviews and while most of the other 2017 All-Stars were likely enjoying everything New Orleans has to offer, Gordon spent his afternoon working with Jazz assistant coach Johnnie Bryant. This incredible work ethic is central to the evolution of Gordon Hayward. His entire work-hard-play-hard mentality is what has driven his evolution into one of the 24 best players in the entire league.

He’s always been dedicated to the game and has made gradual improvement every season in the NBA. He has slowly bulked up, gaining pounds muscle since his sophomore year at Butler. His overall strength, both physical and mental, has increased, and that has translated into increased production on the court. But after failing to make the playoffs last season, Hayward decided that it wasn’t enough. Gradual wasn’t going to cut it.

Hayward went right to work after the season ended. Instead of going home to Indiana, Hayward decided to stay in Salt Lake City to work closely with Jazz coaching staff on improving his game. He even passed up the chance to play with Team USA in the summer Olympics. Instead, he stayed in SLC and challenged himself to make the final push that would evolve his overall game.

The 2016-17 season has been the best of Hayward’s career. Despite less game time on the court, he’s averaging 22.2 points per game, a career high and the first time in his career that he has averaged more than 20 points. He’s shooting 46.5 percent from the field, 38.5 percent from the three, and 87 percent from the free-throw line. He’s also averaging 5.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, giving him a shot at being one of the most versatile players to represent Utah for quite sometime.

Hayward has helped the Jazz to a 35-22 record, and at just 26-years-old, he has time to make even more All-Star appearances. He’s just barely entering the prime of his career. With his obvious dedication and work ethic, Gordon Hayward will only continue to transform his game to higher levels. He’s key to a playoff run for Utah, and it’s clear that he’s up for the challenge.

One of the greats?

Before Gordon Hayward and the other NBA All Stars took could take the court on Sunday night, the Roots turned the Smoothie King Center into a visual time machine as they tried to answer the one question fans always come back to.

“We are culture that is obsessed with one question: ‘Who is the greatest?’” said Black Thought, as the Roots began their original musical-visual performance. With the help of a handful of cultural icons, including DJ Jazzy Jeff and one half of Run DMC Darryl McDaniels, the Roots guided viewers through a retrospective (and incredibly profound) journey of each era of greatness—from the beboppin’ beginnings to the powerful present.

After listening to celebs present their arguments as to who was the greatest era in the NBA, Black Thought gave his ruling: “Who really is the greatest? None of you are. True greatness is not comparison; it’s evolution.” If this is true—if true greatness is evolution—then Gordon Hayward could very well go down in history as one of the greats.

All you have to do is compare the player he is now to the player who took (and missed) the final shot of Butler’s historic NCAA tournament run. He has evolved and transformed more as a player than most NBA players do in their entire careers. His hard work has paid off. From scrawny rookie to Mr. Steal-Your-Girl, Gordon Hayward hardly resembles the player he was when his journey began.