Los Angeles • Gordon Hayward’s been in the starting lineup, out of the first unit and back in the initial rotation this season, and the Jazz still have 13 games to go.
The Utah small forward’s latest promotion occurred March 20, when Josh Howard was lost to knee surgery. But after bouncing all over the place for the initial three months of the 2011-12 campaign, Hayward has finally been able to lock in.
In turn, he’s played his best ball since joining the Jazz. The No. 9 overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft entered a game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers averaging 15.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1 steal during his past five contests. Hayward’s defense had been stronger than ever, while his ballhandling was often superb.
And one of the primary ideas behind Utah coach Tyrone Corbin’s March 5 decision to promote Howard and send Hayward to the bench — putting the ball in the latter’s hands and allowing him to create off the dribble — had quietly been tossed aside.
Not because Corbin was wrong — he was dead on. But with Howard out of action and Hayward constantly attacking as soon as he takes the court, the Jazz’s Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Devin Harris have had no choice but to feed the 22-year-old kid who keeps growing.
“I think it’s teammates trusting a little bit more. Just passing the ball out and allowing us to make plays,” said Hayward, who entered Friday ranked third on the team in average scoring (10.8) and assists (3.1), while pulling down 3.4 boards. “When they do that, it allows me to be a little freer out there and just kind of play my game a little bit more. I know that they have confidence in me, so I can just do my thing.”
Utah rookie center Enes Kanter took on veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley during a playful but intense pregame one-on-one session.
But while Kanter worked on his low post moves, a more intriguing development occurred in the 100 section inside Staples Center.
A group of about 150 Kanter fans chanted his first name, adding to their devotion with a Turkish flag and a poster of the No. 3 overall pick in 2011.
“They do it for every Turkish player,” Kanter said. “But I didn’t know it was that big. It was pretty cool.”