It has been said that this season for the Utah Jazz would be a year of discovery. Primarily, discovery of what they really have with their young core of players. Following this theme, Utah thrust Gordon Hayward into the role of playmaker-in-chief. Hayward had proved a capable, and quite efficient, scoring threat leading up to this season. Last season, Hayward recorded an effective field goal percentage of about 50 percent, boosted dramatically by his 41 percent 3-point shooting. The Jazz wanted to test his limits.
It’s not as simple as asking Gordon to just shoot more and retain his previous efficiency. This season’s role and last season’s role are completely different. Last season, Hayward was assisted on 91 percent of his 3-pointers, indicating that a vast majority of his 3-point attempts were spot-up attempts where teammates passed him the ball when he was open and ready to shoot. Gordon’s role was to knock down spot-up 3s and he did. This season, his role is to create his own shot much of the time. This has meant that he’s shooting much less from spot-up attempts and needing to create his own shot on pull-ups. Not only has this impacted whether he’s taking spot-ups or pull-ups (spot-ups being much more efficient), it has forced Hayward into altering his shot location. Hayward has been shooting less from 3 and much more from midrange. More pull-ups and more mid-range jumpers, especially more pull-up mid-range jumpers, is a recipe for inefficiency and it shows when looking at Hayward’s shooting numbers.
Though Hayward is still scoring more than 16 points per game, he is taking 14.5 attempts to get them and shooting only 40 percent from the field with an eFG% of only 43 percent.
Through 31 games, this may be enough proof that Hayward is not a No. 1 option. However, he’s still getting used to his new role. While he has stated that he is aware of taking too many long range 2-pointers (and he is), he has been improving his shooting percentage from them as the season progresses. If his awareness of his shot location problems can trigger reform, there is reason to believe he could see drastic improvement by the end of this season. Keep this in mind: Hayward has played the most minutes of anybody in the league so far this season. He has also traveled the most distance of any player in the league. He’s likely tired and adjusting to such a prominent role.
Hayward is a very good player that does much to help his team. Averaging more than 4.5 free throws per game, Hayward is sinking 83 percent of them. He’s a fantastic rebounder out of the 2 spot. Of players averaging at least four rebounds per game, Hayward is fifth in the league in percentage of rebounds per chance (how often he is getting a rebound that he has a chance at), joining efficient rebounders like Kevin Durant, LeBron James and DeAndre Jordan. Perhaps the most important aspect of Hayward’s game is his distribution. Hayward is averaging about five assists per game this season, recording an assist percentage of more than 22.5. Digging deeper, Hayward is 15th in the league in FT assists per game (number of passes per game that lead to free throws), a stat dominated by point guards. We’re not done there, Hayward is 19th in the league in secondary assists per game (passes per game that lead to an assist).
It’s easy to watch Hayward’s poor shooting recently and overlook his impact. However, Gordon is a jack of all trades. His contributions to the team are massive and essential to Utah’s long-term outlook.