The Utah Jazz are heading to the NBA Playoffs this year. They haven’t been there since Gordon Hayward’s second season in the league. Back then he was an occasional starter (look it up) and a complimentary offensive player. A new General Manager, a new head coach, and a new playbook later we see Gordon Hayward as the lead guy with the ball in his hand in crunch time. With his new responsibilities he added new parts to his game and worked and worked in the gym on his body and abilities.
And it shows.
I don’t know if they have ranches where he comes from, but now he’s 100% Indiana grade A beef. His ppg has gone up every year of his career, 5.4, 11.8, 14.1, 16.2, 19.3, 19.7, to this season’s 21.7 ppg. And this career high has been accomplished by a career high in FG%, FT%, and a near career high in 3PT. He’s better on the floor, and more dangerous than ever.
So now in his fourth year as the first option how does he stack up against the legacy of great New Orleans / Utah Jazz scorers in the history books? Guys like Pistol Pete Maravich, Adrian Dantley, and Karl Malone are Hall of Famers. And they were reliable scorers who were the primary and secondary focus of the other team’s defensive game plans.
This isn’t perfect timing, because in the aftermath of his 38 point explosion against the Indiana Pacers in front of his friends and family he hasn’t really been hurting the opposition. He has:
- 19 points off of 17 shots against the New York Knicks
- 13 points off of 12 shots against the Los Angeles Clippers
- 20 points off of 14 shots against the Sacramento Kings
- 19 points off of 16 shots against the Washington Wizards
- And 16 points off of 19 shots against the San Antonio Spurs
Utah has won three of these five games (N.B. Gordon did not play against the New Orleans Pelicans, but that was a win). But that may be more of their defensive focus, and less of leaning on Gordon to deliver as his predecessors once did.
And that is a good thing, not having to rely on just one guy to put up points if a luxury. But in the playoffs when the games get tighter, slower, and defenses are set up it’s even harder to score. Having a player who can get the job done as the first option becomes a necessity.
So I delved into the archives of Basketball-Reference.com to find out how all the players, first, second, or third, who averaged 15.0 FGA in a season did. The critical component was looking at players from 1974-75 till today based on their Points per 100 Possessions stat.
Effectively, this isolates the guys who have regular, reliable volume with their shot attempts - and judges how efficient they were. (Query here.) And here’s the data in graphical form:
The X-Axis is FGA/G, and the Y-Axis is Points per 100 Possessions, if you can’t see it clearly enough.
The usual suspects are here: Karl Malone (x17), Adrian Dantley (x7), Pete Maravich (x6); and they are supported by guys like Darrell Griffith (x5), Al Jefferson (x3), Carlos Boozer (x2), Thurl Bailey (x2), Jeff Malone (x2), Truck Robinson (x2), and Gordon Hayward (x2). Making it just one time are Spencer Haywood, John Drew, and Deron Williams.
The data tells us that Gordon isn’t shooting a lot compared to some of the legends, but that’s both pace and system related. He’s not particularly effective, his seasons ranking 35th and 37th out of 51 in PPP/100.
But for reals, AD and The Mailman really screw up the entire data set for being unreasonably efficient. The first to twenty-first spots out of fifty one are theirs.
Is there something we can take away from this? Well, Gordon is having a great season for him, but compared to the rest of Jazz history if you are a numbers queen you aren’t going to be that impressed.
Would this team benefit from having a HOF 1st option on it? Yes.
Does it have one? No.
But Quin Snyder’s offense is fluid, pass friendly, and works towards getting the best team shot available. The type of basketball some of these legends played may not be that compatible with how the league has evolved over the decades since they hung it up.
Also, for people who do not have the full spectrum of color vision, this graph may not be that useful, I apologize.
I like Gordon. He’s good. The system is different, so it’s not fair to compare him to someone who is taking over 25 shots a game. But this is a frame of reference we can use to properly place him amongst the peer group his offensive primacy deserves.
Last night he didn’t shoot well, and the team still had a chance to win the game. That wouldn’t be the case if he didn’t shoot well, and the team funneled 30-45% of the offense through him.
#TakeNote That times have changed.