The Utah Jazz want what the Toronto Raptors have. The Raptors have been to the playoffs three years in a row and are a top two team in the Eastern Conference. Last season they advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after 1st round exits the two previous seasons.
The Raptors also have 2 two-time All Stars in DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry. The Jazz have two players in Gordon Hayward and George Hill who, although not (yet) All Stars, are traveling similar paths to those of the Raptors stars. The Raptors duo might also be proof that both Hill and Hayward could raise their games to another level. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see these duos match up in an actual game this season as Hill will be out for tonight’s game after missing the last meeting between these two teams in Salt Lake a couple of weeks ago.
The Hill/Lowry Comparison
Both Hill and Lowry are 30 years old. Lowry entered the league in 2006 when he was drafted 26th by Memphis and Hill entered the league two years later in 2008 when he was drafted 28th by the San Antonio Spurs. Both players have played on 3 different teams (MEM/HOU/TOR for Lowry and SAS/IND/UTA for Hill). Both players are having their best season by far at the 3-point line this year with Lowry averaging 44% from 3 (his previous high was 38%) and Hill averaging 47% from 3 (his previous high was 40%).
Lowry has made two pretty significant jumps in the level of his play in recent years. During a 3 year span starting in the 2010-11 season with the Rockets and ending in 2012-13 with the Raptors, Lowry started most games he played but only averaged 13 points per game. This is where the first jump comes: he averages 17.9 points per game over the next two seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15. He then takes another leap and averages 21.2 points per game last season and is up to 22.2 points per game this season. Getting better as a player isn’t just about scoring but Lowry has maintained pretty impressive numbers in rebounding (4.7 rebounds per game) and assists (6.8 assist per games) during the last 7 seasons.
Hill’s career has been a little more sporadic in terms of the role on his respective teams and his usage. In Indiana, his best season was the 2014-15 season when he needed to take on a larger role on the team. His usage (the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes) that year in 43 games was 23.6 with a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 21.5 and he averaged 16.1 points per game. His numbers this year have also been impressive in just 13 games as his usage has been 23.1 with a PER of 25.97 and an average of 18.8 points per game. To put those numbers into perspective, Hill’s PER of 25.97 this year is the 12 best in the league right behind Lebron James and Lowry is posting his career high PER this season at 23.67.
Hill is easily having the best season of his career which is all the more reason to be frustrated by the unfortunate random injuries he is suffering this season. There is always the caution of small sample size given that Hill has only played 13 games. That being said, even with a regression in his numbers Hill has made a significant jump in his 9th season in the league. Lowry’s significant jumps came in his 8th and 10th seasons in the league. Lowry could be the example that proves that Hill’s increase in production is sustainable and that Hill can elevate his game to higher levels than what we’ve seen this year.
The Hayward/Derozan Comparison
Derozan is 27 and was drafted 9th by the Raptors in the 2009 draft. Hayward is 26 and was drafted 9th by the Jazz a year later in the 2010 draft. With the exception of 12 games in his rookie season, Derozan has been a starter his entire career. Hayward did not become a full-time starter until his 4th year in the league (Hayward started 102 out of 210 games in his first three seasons). Hayward has increased his scoring average every year he has been in the league. Derozan has increased his scoring average in all but two seasons.
Derozan made the All Star team in 2016 and 2014 and is a virtual lock to make it this year as well. Hayward is vying for his first All-Star team appearance. Neither Derozan nor Hayward has made an All-NBA team in their career but this could be the year for Derozan (Lowry made 3rd team All-NBA last year). Hayward has more riding on making an All-NBA team as it means he could be paid significantly more by Utah under the new CBA. Derozan could have been in that situation had he not signed a 5 year deal with Toronto in the off-season (he’s getting paid though) but instead opted for a 1 or 2 year contract with a player option.
Both Derozan and Hayward are having career years. Derozan is averaging a career best 27.5 points per game after averaging 23.5, 20.1, and 22.7 the three previous seasons. Hayward is averaging 22.4 point per game this season which is up from 19.7, 19.3, and 16.2 his previous three seasons. Offensively, Derozan’s weakness is at the 3 point line where he is a career 28% shooter which contrasts with Hayward’s career 36% average from deep. Derozan gets a lot of points at the free throw line. Both he and Hayward are career 82% free throw shooters while Derozan shoots 8.6 free throw attempts per game while Hayward only attempts 7 per game.
Is it unreasonable to think Hayward could make another jump like Derozan has this season? It’s definitely not out of the question. The secret to Derozan’s big jump is that the ball has been in his hands more this year and he has a better shooting percentage than previous years. This has also happened for Hayward this year but on a smaller scale. Derozan’s usage is at 32.7 this year where his three previous seasons’ usage was at 28.5, 26.7, and 26.6. Hayward’s usage this year is at 26.7 when it had been at 24.9, 25.4, and 22.7 his previous three seasons.
This season and in seasons past Derozan has just been a bigger part of what the Raptors do offensively than Hayward has been for the Jazz. Though it has happened much less frequently this year there are times in the game where the Jazz (and perhaps Hayward) seem to forget that Hayward is the best player wearing a Jazz uniform and he disappears for stretches of the game offensively. If Hayward and the Jazz make it a priority to make sure this continues to happen less and less frequently then we should be seeing some Hayward/Derozan matchups in the All-Star game. And, if the stars align, maybe we’ll see this matchup in the playoffs a few years down the road.