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Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward's offensive evolution

Looking at the Synergy Data for Gordon Hayward and finding out if he has changed how he takes control of games . . . and if it's effective or not.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

I understand that not everyone reads peer reviewed journals in scientific papers, but I think most of us have a clear understanding of some basic evolutionary principles. There are plenty of theories that try to explain what we see through natural observation. One theory that many people have problems with is Lamarckism, which most of us known from his theory of Use and Disuse. Effectively an organism can make changes depending on behavior. And, crazily, these changes can be passed on to future generations. The primary examples here are that Giraffe's have long necks because they stretch them for food, and that humans don't have tails because we didn't use them. In the world of basketball player evolution is a serious thing with plenty of examples. The one we Utah Jazz fans are all happy about is the progress of Paul Millsap who worked hard on his game and transformed from an energy guy into a stretch four.

The Jazz fans are a little occupied by the idea of what Gordon Hayward is becoming. At college he was really their point forward, and did everything from hit the glass to take game winners. Early on with the Jazz he was mainly a spot up shooter on offense when paired with people like Mo Williams and Al Jefferson; however, when grouped with people like Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter he was more of a primary ball handler. We've seen him in both roles over his career, and in most cases (unless you are LeBron James) you kind of have to pick a path -- be a shooting specialist with unchallenged range, or be a distributor. Ideally he'd be both.

In the reality of this season we've seen his scoring go up, but his efficiency go down. He's being used more by the team, and asked to do more -- and it appears (back to that natural observation) as though he's having a rough time. Our own Prodigal Punk asked in the SLC Dunk internal e-mail thread about this, and specifically about how he is getting things done. Is there a change here? And if so, what is it?

It took me a while, but I crunched all of his numbers in Synergy. And because I'm a big huge nerd, I also made them into graphs. Also, because I'm a big huge nerd, I crunched those numbers into other numbers too. So this is going to be an analysis of applied data. And basically, I think we all know what it's going to say.

So I guess the abstract here is that: Gordon Hayward is evolving into a more ball dominant playmaker who has had to change where he scores from and in the process, gotten a little worse at it.


Cumulative Synergy Data:

When you take all of the year by year data and plug it in, and fill in the gaps with crazy formulas, you get a pretty good picture of who the Career Hayward is. He's a guy who spends over 1/5th of his time with the ball in his hands on offense spotting up and shooting jumpers. He's also a guy who can attack the other team off the bounce in transition, off of screens, and as the ball handler in a pick and roll situation. Dude rarely every posts up despite being a 6'8 shooting guard usually being defending by 6'3 to 6'5 guys. And he's someone who doesn't spend a lot of time in isolation, nor does he finish plays as a cutter.

The full, cumulative data is all here. And please note that I've added a few things.

  • The first is ePPG, which is "Estimated Points per game" which is based upon exactly what you think it would be -- their PPP scores, how frequently they use that play time, and how many games they play. For example, this data shows that the cumulative Hayward scores an estimated 2.74 points per game off of spot ups.
  • The second is Distrib%, which is the distribution % of his scoring (his ePPG). It's simple enough too. The data here shows that Hayward scores about 50% of his points on spot ups and transition plays.
  • The third is eFGA, which is estimated field goal attempts. That's how many shots a game we estimate he gets from each play type.
  • The last two things are ePPS (estimated points per shot), and ePosPG, which is estimated possessions per game. Of course the PPS value is estimated because we don't have the exact Free Throw information for each play time. And ePosPG is probably the most important thing here. This shows us the value breakdown of each play type -- which is necessary so we can contrast it against the play % breakdown and of course, the distribution %.
Yeah, sorry. Anyway, here's the data:
Play Season G Pos Play % PPP FGM FGA % 3PTM 3PTA % Score % TO % ePPG Distrib % eFGA ePPS ePosPG
1 Spot Up 2010 2014 259 678 21.8% 1.05 241 615 39.2% 178 437 40.7% 39.2% 5.5% 2.74 24.4% 2.37 1.15 2.62
2 Transition 2010 2014 259 581 18.7% 1.23 279 466 59.9% 27 63 42.9% 59.9% 9.5% 2.75 24.5% 1.80 1.53 2.24
3 P&R Ball Handler 2010 2014 259 480 15.5% 0.67 121 333 36.3% 15 62 24.2% 32.3% 23.3% 1.25 11.1% 1.29 0.97 1.85
4 Off Screen 2010 2014 259 434 14.0% 0.79 141 376 37.5% 12 51 23.5% 38.0% 7.6% 1.32 11.7% 1.45 0.91 1.68
5 Isolation 2010 2014 259 212 6.8% 0.71 51 151 33.8% 3 16 18.8% 36.8% 15.6% 0.58 5.1% 0.58 0.99 0.82
6 All Other Plays 2010 2014 259 185 6.0% 0.59 9 29 31.0% 0 5 0.0% 33.5% 54.6% 0.42 3.7% 0.11 3.76 0.71
7 Cut 2010 2014 259 180 5.8% 1.24 80 136 58.8% 62.2% 12.9% 0.86 7.7% 0.53 1.65 0.69
8 Hand Off 2010 2014 259 123 4.0% 0.95 45 100 45.0% 14 35 40.0% 42.2% 13.0% 0.45 4.0% 0.39 1.17 0.47
9 Off Rebound 2010 2014 259 92 3.0% 1.05 37 75 49.3% 52.2% 6.5% 0.37 3.3% 0.29 1.29 0.36
10 Post Up 2010 2014 259 66 2.1% 0.64 10 44 22.7% 31.9% 16.7% 0.16 1.4% 0.17 0.96 0.25
11 P&R Man 2010 2014 259 2 0.1% 0.00 0 1 0.0% 0.0% 50.0% 0.00 0.0% 0.00 0.00 0.01
Overall 2010 2014 259 3103 100.0% 0.94 1014 2326 43.6% 249 669 37.2% 43.6% 13.6% 11.25 100.0% 8.98 1.25 11.98

The data pretty much speaks for itself here, right? The cumulative Hayward is mainly doing four things with the ball in his hands when in scoring mode: spotting up, running in transition, running the pick and roll, and running around screens. That's what he does the most of. It's not necessarily what he's best at though. When looking at his ability to actually score he's best in transition, off of cuts, and on second chance points. I guess that's the case with most forwards, but with the Jazz he's being put into more and more guard like situations. That's just the gameplan though, and probably not something that can really be fixed.

After all, it's not like we have any plays in our Jazz playbook that involve guys getting the ball on the move to the basket, right? (Deletes 40% of the scoring plays of Karl Malone, Andrei Kirilenko, and Matt Harpring). The big thing here is that he's only getting an estimated 2 attempts per game in transition. This is something that makes sense when your team has Big Al and you never run. I'd like to see this become an increasingly larger number as his career continues.

By the numbers Hayward holds his own from downtown on spot up jumpers, in transition, and off of dribble hand-offs. Everywhere else he needs to get better.

This data set is what we need to compare the data from just this season against. Which brings us to . . .


The 2013-2014 Gordon Hayward:

This season's Hayward is a lot different. What's different? Well, his role is different. In some of our greatest victories he has been the first option getting his shoot off by himself. He's not getting set up. He's not really spotting up waiting for the ball to rotate back to him. Well, he's not really doing that compared to what we think he used to do by the eyeball test. Right?

Well . . . the cumulative Hayward was (from most used to least used) a: Spot up, Transition, P&R Ball handler, Off Screen, Isolation type of guy. This year he's a P&R Ball handler, Transition, Spot up, Off screen, and Isolation type of game. For the most part he's doing the same thing he normally did. What's different here is the rankings, and of course, the proportions.

Play Season G Pos Play % PPP FGM FGA % 3PTM 3PTA % Score % TO % ePPG Distrib % eFGA ePPS ePosPG
1 P&R Ball Handler 2013 2014 45 211 25.3% 0.72 57 145 39.3% 7 26 26.9% 34.6% 23.2% 3.38 21.0% 3.22 1.05 4.69
2 Transition 2013 2014 45 146 17.5% 1.25 63 108 58.3% 8 20 40.0% 60.3% 8.2% 4.06 25.2% 2.40 1.69 3.24
3 Spot Up 2013 2014 45 135 16.2% 0.81 37 119 31.1% 28 85 32.9% 30.4% 8.1% 2.43 15.1% 2.64 0.92 3.00
4 Off Screen 2013 2014 45 125 15.0% 0.72 36 106 34.0% 0 21 0.0% 35.2% 8.8% 2.00 12.4% 2.36 0.85 2.78
5 Isolation 2013 2014 45 60 7.2% 0.85 22 54 40.7% 2 4 50.0% 43.3% 3.3% 1.13 7.0% 1.20 0.94 1.33
6 Hand Off 2013 2014 45 51 6.1% 1.00 21 40 52.5% 7 13 53.8% 43.1% 19.6% 1.13 7.0% 0.89 1.28 1.13
7 All Other Plays 2013 2014 45 36 4.3% 0.64 1 6 16.7% 0 1 0.0% 33.3% 52.8% 0.51 3.2% 0.13 3.84 0.80
8 Cut 2013 2014 45 27 3.2% 1.11 8 17 47.1% 0 0 55.6% 11.1% 0.67 4.1% 0.38 1.76 0.60
9 Post Up 2013 2014 45 22 2.6% 0.55 3 16 18.8% 0 0 27.3% 13.6% 0.27 1.7% 0.36 0.76 0.49
10 Off Rebound 2013 2014 45 19 2.3% 1.16 8 15 53.3% 0 0 57.9% 5.3% 0.49 3.0% 0.33 1.47 0.42
11 P&R Man 2013 2014 45 1 0.1% 0.00 0 1 0.0% 0 0 0.0% 0.0% 0.00 0.0% 0.02 0.00 0.02
Overall 2013 2014 45 833 100.0% 0.87 256 627 40.8% 52 170 30.6% 40.6% 14.5% 16.10 100.0% 13.93 1.16 18.51

The numbers here are fine, but it really is seen more with that eye-ball test. For his career more than 1/5th of his offensive scoring attempts come from Spot up jumpers. This season that's down to a little bit more than 1/6th of his attempts. Is that a big enough proportion change? Probably not -- but the bigger changes only make it appear as such. And the biggest change is obviously his ball handling offensive evolutions.


Use and Disuse?

These are just the proportions of what he does. These, sadly, don't include info for his passes from P&R situations, nor does it show cool things like assists in general, let alone hockey assists. But still, this is where he shoots from.


Let's point out a few things here . . .

  • He's spotting up less
  • His Pick and Roll Ball Handler play proportion is way up
  • He's getting the ball off of screens more
  • His Isolations are up
  • His cuts are way down
  • and his Dribble Hand offs are basically doubled

The proportions show that he has changed what he does when he tries to score. Less forward-y, more guard-y. That's fine because he starts at shooting guard though, right? Well, it's fine if he's summarily getting better at those guard-y things. Otherwise it appears that he's moving away from the things that he does well. According to the PPP data, for example looking at dribble hand offs, he's a little better at 1.00 PPP vs. his cumulative career value of 0.95. Is that good enough?

I don't know, because the big thing we see with the eye-ball test that's confirmed with some of the data here is troubling, specifically with Spot ups. A smaller piece of the Gordon Hayward pie are spot ups now, and he's doing worse from there too. (Which, you know, goes back to confirming my green light theory: Jeff Hornacek info here; Randy Foye info here) His PPP, FG%, and 3PT% are all down for Spot ups.

But it's not all about proportions . . . because the big thing here is that . . .


Gordon Hayward, dagnabit, it just being used more now

And that's the rub. While the pieces of the pie have changed (biggest piece used to be spot ups, not it's pick and rolls), and the quality of the pie pieces have changed (used to be killer at spot ups, for example), he's firing off more from spot up this year than he has over his career (career: 2.37 estimated spot up FGA per game; 2013 2014: 2.64 estimated spot up FGA per game). And it's not just spot ups, he's a bigger part of the offense, and doing more of everything.

His estimated possessions per game for his career was only 11.98, but today it's 18.51. If you look at the pace the Jazz play at it's clear that he's a huge piece of the puzzle on our offense. (Wow, that's probably the smartest thing I've thought of, the current Jazz offense is a puzzle...) Anyway, take a look:


So he's doing more of what we want him to do -- spot up, transition, and cut -- but it's only marginal. He's really being asked to pump up his pick and roll, iso, off screen, and hand off game. And earlier we established that's not how Hayward is dangerous. But if you combine his shooting changes and shot making changes you get the larger changes that we see in the most obvious place ever -- the score board:


So, what does this all mean?


Use, disuse, and . . . misuse?

Often whenever I look at Xs and Os, or even invent out of time out plays my lovely, and helpful critics point out that I'm not an NBA head coach. The obvious rebuttal is to ask if Tyrone Corbin is one either. But then it ends up turning into some sort of "you got served" dance battle.

Anyway, the Jazz offense needs a guy who can attack off the dribble and make their own shot. Especially at the end of quarters and the end of games. Hayward is the guy who gets the call getting into a pick and roll with Derrick Favors. It's not his best move out of all the moves he has. And there are other guys who are on the team right now who may be better served as options -- we've seen Trey Burke blow by Kemba Walker for a game winner, and we've seen Alec Burks blow by a healthy Kobe Bryant for an easy score in the 4th quarter. Both guys can do it one on one, in isolation or in the halfcourt. Getting the ball out of Hayward's hands also frees him up to either migrate to spot up -- where he is historically excellent from; or alternatively, have him get an off ball screen and quickly cut to the basket.

That's, by the numbers, the best way to get him to score if you only have one shot at it.

Does any of this data point towards an evolution of Hayward? Well, he's being used more and more like a guard and less like a forward. If he can develop all of these off the bounce ways to score it will only make him more dangerous going forward. The current league seems to be dominated by these types of scorers and if the Jazz are going to make Hayward a lot of money, he's going to have to make a lot of points for the Jazz for it to be a fair partnership.

Is this better than hoping Hayward specializes into a knock down, spot up shooter? It depends on the role you want him to take. If this is the year of development and discovery I think it's fair to test Hayward as a primary scorer at the NBA level. What we see so far is that, perhaps, he's not elite. But he's able.

The flaw here is that the data set is of this season inclusive, an interesting comparison would be his first three years vs. this year. But in that post it would be similarly skewed in the other way. Anyway, Gordon Hayward, at the very least, needs to keep hitting his spot up shots. Regardless of how he evolves (down the path of Kyle Korver or down the path of a LeBron James), most of us would be happy if that's the one thing that doesn't go away.