I maintain that Gordon Hayward is, and will be, the most important player for the Utah Jazz, though it’s maybe not as obvious of a conclusion as it once felt. After all, a 38 percent field goal percentage is not what you’d hope for from the player that is supposed to carry your team offensively.
Hayward’s shot selection has been terrible. First of all, Gordon is taking shots from inefficient spots on the court. Nearly 40 percent of Hayward’s field goal attempts are mid-range jumpers, and just barely over 20 percent from 3-point range. For one, this is odd given that Hayward is a career 40 percent plus 3-point shooter. Also, if you look at super-efficient players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George, you see a shot selection that only allows for about 20 percent of shots from mid-range. Maybe even more condemning is the fact that Hayward is taking so many of his mid-range shots off the dribble, rather than as spot-ups. Over the first several games of the season, Hayward was in the top 10 in pull-up field goal attempts. The good news for the Jazz is that he seems to be taking less as the season goes on, but he is still in the top 30. A player who attempts a lot of shots, and a lot of inefficient shots at that, at a low percentage, is not generally someone you want to build your team around.
However, If Hayward improves (even slightly) either his pull-up shot percentage, his shot selection, or both, it could mean very dramatic improvement in his efficiency. There is reason to believe this is likely, as Hayward now has a starting caliber point guard to play alongside now that Trey Burke is back from injury. Gordon is much more than just a shooter, he is one of the best wing distributors in the league, averaging over five assists so far this season (if Utah didn’t have the league’s worst shooting team, he would likely have much better assist numbers). Because of this it has been vital that he have the ball in his hands as much as possible in the absence of Burke. What this means for Hayward is that he has essentially been running the point, limiting his chances to spot-up for open shots and making him reliant on pull-up mid-rangers. This is actually relatively normal for a distributor/point guard. Though I pointed out LeBron, Durant, Love, and George as being very efficient, Chris Paul is also one of the most efficient. As a point guard, CP3 spends a lot of his time running the pick-and-roll off of the elbows, which in turn creates a need to pull-up if the defenders over-respect the “roll” part of the pick and roll, leaving the initiator open for a shot. CP3 actually takes more mid-range shots than Hayward does, though he makes them. So, while Gordon isn’t making his shots, the poor shot selection may be more excusable than it looks. Again, as Trey picks up more of the ball-handling duties going forward, it should create better looks for Hayward.
Utah has only won two games this season, but Hayward has left an undeniable mark on each of them. First, Gordon is averaging 11 assists in those two games compared to 4.3 in the losses. He’s also scoring more points, averaging 21 points in wins compared to 16 points in losses. The biggest indicator of Hayward’s impact on this team is that in the two team wins, Hayward has played an average of 44 minutes, while in the losses has only averaged 35 minutes.
I made a bold prediction in the preseason that Hayward might be looking at All-Star consideration. After a poor start, it looks unlikely that Hayward could play himself into consideration, but we may be talking about him as one of the premier free agent targets next offseason.