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Is Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward a legit first option? How does he compare to Jazz history?

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There are a few factors that influence scoring, but at the root of it is the quality of the scorer.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

I was side-tracked when researching this article to pump out the list of best ever Utah Jazz Second option scorers (link here), only because this problem is so much bigger it needed more background information. So what's the question? Is Gordon Hayward, when compared to the entire history of Jazz first options, good or bad at his job? To figure this out we needed to construct a frame of reference that's simply the offensive performances of each first option for each season in New Orleans / Utah Jazz history. Immediately you see that there are two different factors: team factors, and player factors. And that's the first stumbling block, I'm trying to see how a player performs despite the fact that the on court performance is just going to be influenced by team factors. Is the team good or bad? Do they win? Does the team score a lot? Does the team play at a fast pace? Or is this team just good on offense, and a product of good players? Before we even get to looking at the first options in team history we're bombarded by other factors.

Yet we must press on.

When you finally get to the player you have other qualities to juggle. Does he score a lot? Is it efficient? Does he dominate in isolation, or does he benefit from being set up? Can they make their own shot? Can they extend the defense? Do they get to the line? What matters most to any individual may be so subjective it's hard to find consensus on who is good, and who is not. I'm biased towards scoring a lot and scoring efficiently. This bodes well for Gordon because he is efficient, but also hurts him in my personal evaluation of him as a first option because he's never averaged 20.0 ppg.

Aside from Hayward, in his third year as the top banana on offense, there have been eight other players who have led the Jazz in points per game. Here's a tidy little table that shows their exploits.

Player # High PPG PPG First Option Jazzman (Most to least)
1 Karl Malone 17 31.0 1 30.0 + Maravich '77, Malone '90, Dantley '81, Dantley '83, Dantley '84, Dantley '82
2 Adrian Dantley 7 30.7 2 28.0 - 29.9 Dantley '86, Malone '89, Malone '91, Dantley '80, Malone '92
3 Pete Maravich 5 31.1 3 26.0 - 27.9 Malone '88, Malone '97, Maravich '78, Malone '93, Malone '88, Malone '95, Dantley '85
4 Carlos Boozer 4 21.1 4 24.0 - 25.9 Maravich '76, Malone '96, Malone '00, Malone '94
5 Gordon Hayward 3 19.3 5 22.0 - 23.9 Malone '99, Malone '01, Maravich '79, Malone '02
6 Al Jefferson 3 19.2 6 20.0 - 21.9 Malone '87, Maravich '75, Boozer '08, Boozer '07, Malone '03
7 Deron Williams 1 19.4 7 18.0 - 19.9 Boozer '10, Williams '09, Hayward '15, Jefferson '12, Hayward '16, Jefferson '11, Okur '06
8 Mehmet Okur 1 18.0 8 16.0 - 17.9 Boozer '05, Jefferson '13, Kirilenko '04, Hayward '14
9 Andrei Kirilenko 1 16.5

Of course, that's not the real data set I used. Here it is:

1974 2016 Utah Jazz First Option Scorers - TABLE

Click here if you are a crazy person to open in a new window

So you see the team factors and player factors are both listed. Annnnnnd the grand total averages for a New Orleans / Utah Jazz first option result in a player who is on the court for 37.2 mpg, scores 24.3 ppg, shoots the ball 17.7 times a game, and has a points per shot (PPS) value of 1.37, and minutes per shot (MPS) value of 2.14. For those who care, the average Jazz team wins 43.9 times a season (53.5 win%), and has a PPG of 102.3, an ORTG of 106.2, and an average pace of 95.9 possessions per game.

By those measures Gordon Hayward is, well, let's break it down:
  • [Jazz Average] - Hayward's Averages for that category
  • [37.2 MPG] - 36.4, 34.4, 35.2 -- Clearly Gordon isn't getting the burn other first options have had
  • [24.3 PPG] - 16.2, 19.3, 18.9 -- Gordon isn't scoring anywhere near where the average is, but there are reasons for that
  • [17.7 FGA] - 13.4, 14.3, 14.0 -- The biggest reason is that he's not shooting as much as other first options
  • [1.37 PPS] - 1.21, 1.35, 1.35 -- Gordon has improved his efficiency over the last two seasons, but is still below average. I think part of that could be because if he shot more he may get to the line more, which may make up for some of the deficit
  • [2.14 MPS] - 2.71, 2.41, 2.52 -- The lower number means the player is shooting more frequently, and as Gordon's numbers here are all above it's clear that as a first option he's still kind of gunshy. That may just be part of the offense. That could be the gameplan. Part of that has to be Gordon's mentality as well. Guys like Dantley and Malone wanted the ball all game long because they knew they could score with the best of them. I don't think Gordon feels that way about his own scoring ability. That is opinion and conjecture though, and not based upon any evidence. I can't read his mind.

So we actually have some values for G-Time and he's not exactly at the first option level we've historically had. That said, in his defense, we've historically been led in scoring in 29 of 42 seasons by a Hall of Fame player. Gordon isn't even an All-Star. As a result, let's look at the conditional team factors and player factors.

Team Factors:

  1. Correlation between Team PPG and First option PPG: 0.69
  2. Correlation between Team ORTG and First option PPG: 0.04
  3. Correlation between Team Pace and First option PPG: 0.53
  4. Correlation between Team Win% and First option PPG: 0.12

So being on a good offensive team (that doesn't score a lot, hence a slow pace) doesn't seem to have any relationship with a first options' scoring ability. A huge outlier here that prove that point would be Karl Malone scoring 20+ ppg 8 times on a team with a pace of 90.0 or less. Stronger relationships exist between teams that play fast and a high scoring first option, and teams that score a lot, and a high scoring first option. The obvious point here is "duh". And double-duh, the correlation between Team PPG and Team Pace is 0.75 -- which we can say is a pretty direct relationship. One thing which doesn't really matter is winning. You can be a great scorer on a bad team. And we've all seen that before. The problem is what happens when you're a mediocre scorer on a bad team? (And that's the ultimate fear for both our lottery Jazz teams led by Gordon Hayward.)

When you apply these four relationships to Gordon we can feel a little better about it. The team plays slow and doesn't score a lot. So maybe Gordon is a good enough scorer, it's just the team conditionals that hold him back.

Player Factors:

  1. Correlation between MPG and First option PPG: 0.73
  2. Correlation between FGA and First option PPG: 0.74
  3. Correlation between PPS and First option PPG: 0.58
  4. Correlation between MPS and First option PPG:-0.66 (*N.B. Strong inverse relationship)

Okay, this is very clear. If you play more you have more chances to score, and thus there's a good relationship between MPG and PPG. More obviously, if you SHOOT MORE, you have more chances to score. A less strong relationship exists between being efficient (as seen in PPS) and scoring a lot (PPG). However, the gunner metric of MPS helps us see that this is very important too. And the case study we have has to be Pistol Pete Maravich. Maravich as a first option wasn't very efficient (no three point shot for starters). But he did shot very frequently -- once every 1.49 minutes, or every 89.4 seconds on the floor. Shooting a lot is better than being good at shooting, but holding it in. Andrei Kirilenko is the other extreme, he shot the ball once every 3.11 minutes on the floor (186.6 seconds on the floor). Andrei had a PPS of 1.38, while Pistol Pete rarely had one above 1.10. Somewhere in-between these two poles is Gordon. He doesn't shoot a lot, but he's pretty darn efficient.

So do we just absolve Gordon's lack of first option production on his player tendencies? Do we give him a free pass because of the system? Or do we just want a guy out there as the first option who goes out there and does what we expect a first option to do -- score a lot of points, and draw the defense to him, making life easier for the other guys.

The Role:

I don't see Gordon Hayward ever draw a double team. Other wing players of this era who are first options do, like LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Hayward can make his own shot, and he does get to the line. I love that. But he's not what I would confidently call a solid first option. I have a tendency to suggest that this is mainly team Xs and Os related. He's playing a lot more than the rest of his teammates but he's not playing as much as other first options. He's definitely not shooting as much, or as frequently. A huge factor is the pace of play of the team. This team doesn't get out there. There aren't enough possessions to be a big scorer.

He's not dropping 30 a night like Pistol, AD, or The Mailman. But he's not dropping 20 either, which is somehow unacceptable to me. I guess I have high standards? I don't know. I do know that Gordon isn't scoring as much as he should. But that's also the case for our second and third options Derrick Favors and Alec Burks as well. That indicates to me that it's a team issue, and not fully a player issue.

I am confident that Gordon's on court performance as a first option is less than what we Jazzfan have seen in the previous four decades. But I'm not really ready to blame him for it all. Still, I don't know how to feel about Gordon scoring as much as the first option as Thurl Bailey did as the second option. Whatever this is, it's not Jazz basketball. It really does look like Spurs basketball. Except the Spurs won titles with their star players. Spurs ball with no stars doesn't inspire me as much as the Jazz basketball I grew up watching.

If the Jazz do win the title in the next few seasons with Gordon Hayward as the first option I will be pleasantly surprised. And for his sake and mine, I hope the team plays a little faster on their way to the championship.