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Re-examining The Gordon Hayward Injury and Utah Jazz expectations

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In which we look back on some my predictions for the Haywardless part of the season and analyze what actually happened.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

When The Precious (Gordon Hayward) went down in the preseason with a broken finger, I wrote this. I'm no Nate Silver or even Amar, but let's see how I, and the Utah Jazz, both did:

Prediction 1: Hayward will be out for 15 regular-season games.

Nope. It's a testament to the training staff and Gordon's will to win that he only missed six, returning to play against the New York Knicks on November 6th.

Prediction 2: During the 15 Haywardless games, the Jazz will go 9-6.

Seeing as how my first prediction was off, we'll throw that out the window. Instead, consider the winning percentage. I had the Jazz winning 60% of their games. During their abbreviated stretch without him, they went 3-3.

Prediction 3: The starting lineup will be . . .

PG: George Hill

SG: Rodney Hood

SF: Joe Johnson

PF: Derrick Favors

C: Rudy Gobert

This was the easiest one to get right, so I'm not patting myself on the back for it. In fact, Boris Diaw and Derrick Favors split time at the starting 4 spot due to injuries of their own. Rather, I'm using this one as a vehicle to examine lineups in general. Here are the top 5 most-used lineups during Gordon’s recovery:

The most-used lineup seems to have been the best overall, which is heartening: the coaches knew what they were doing, yay! (Though I guess you could argue that the Hill-Mack-Hood-Johnson-Gobert lineup should have had more burn—wonder what would happen if Neto were in there?) The bad news, though? All of those lineups included a guy by the name of George Hill, who has been out with a sprained thumb since Hayward’s return against the Knickerbockers.

Here’s the line for the most-used Hill-less lineup compared to the lineups above:

data from stats.nba.com

Ouch. This lineup has the lowest field goal and three point percentages, worst offensive rating and second-worst defensive rating. It seems to me that, at the time, the Jazz survived without Hayward because they had a solved the problem that they’ve had since the Deron Williams trade: the point guard problem. George Hill is an experienced, competent floor general that can, you know, run the offense. Hayward is a good leader who is an excellent scorer and defender, but he can’t carry the team night in and night out. Dante Exum is awesome, but he’s still developing. Shelvin Mack is sort of a wreck. We used to have this other point guard on the team from Brazil, but I’m not sure what happened to him. Without George Hill, the Jazz are, to use a hackneyed phrase, a ship without a rudder.

Final Thoughts:

It was certainly a blow to lose Gordon Hayward, but what we’ve learned from this so far is that Hill, not Hayward, may be the key to the team’s success this season. Get well soon, George.