Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward now has bull’s-eye on his back
Jazz • Swingman has become focal point for defenses.
Published: December 26, 2013 10:45AM
Updated: December 26, 2013 09:01AM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Gordon Hayward has turned in some great performances for the Jazz this season and has struggled at other times.

There have been more than a few frustrating nights for Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward this season. Take last Friday in Atlanta for example. Utah’s young co-captain finished in double figures but missed 10 of his 14 shots in a blowout loss to the Hawks.

“Shots just didn’t go in,” he said afterward.

But perhaps it shouldn’t be entirely surprising.

“Our scouting report, we’re talking about Gordon Hayward, Gordon Hayward, Gordon Hayward,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game. “To be able to take that kind of defensive focus and attention and still produce for himself and his teammates is something that’s a big adjustment.”

For his first three seasons in the league, Hayward was asked to be a complementary player, most often coming off the bench. “He had guys that could take the load from him offensively,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said.

This season, with no Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap, teams have zeroed in on Hayward.

“He’s trying to be the franchise guy and as well he should,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “He’s a terrific player. He plays hard, he runs hard, he cuts hard. By and large he makes open shots. He’s a tough cover. He plays the right way. He plays the way you would want your kids to play.”

The Grizzlies coach rewarded Hayward’s play by blanketing him with All-Defensive Teamer Tony Allen most of Monday night. Hayward finished an assist shy of a triple-double, scoring 16 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and also blocking four shots.

“Every night, when you’re the focal point on the offensive end … it’s a different role,” Corbin said. “It’s not just the game. It’s the mental part of it, the physical pounding on your body has increased. You’ve got two guys on you a lot and everywhere you go on the floor you’ve got eyes on you because they want to pay attention to where you are.”

The adjustment hasn’t been easy. Hayward has started all 31 games for the Jazz — four more games than he started all of last year. He leads the team in minutes (36.1 a game) and scoring (16.4). His assists, rebounds and steals are all up.

But his shooting percentage has suffered.

Hayward is shooting just 39.7 percent from the floor, down from 43.5 percent last season. His midrange numbers have actually improved over a year ago. But Hayward has struggled inside 8 feet, where he’s converting less than half his attempts after shooting 54 percent in that range last year, and more drastically from behind the arc (27.4 percent from 3 compared to 41.6 percent the previous year).

“I just have to make shots,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. I’m doing a lot of other things for the team, I’m just not knocking down shots.”

“Teams aren’t leaving me for as many catch-and-shoot opportunities,” he added, sweat beading up under his eyes as he stepped away from the court before Monday’s game. “I’m still getting some pretty good looks just haven’t been able to knock them down. That’s why you put in the work like right now.”

DeMarre Carroll, who signed with the Hawks in July after two seasons in Utah, believes he already knows who Hayward is.

“He’s getting double-teams, triple-teams, but he’s still playing great. Gordon to me is a very, very top-of-the-line player. I think he’s just trying to prove himself to Utah that he’s worthy of having a bigger deal,” said Carroll, adding he was “very surprised” the Jazz and Hayward, a restricted free agent at the end of the year, could not reach a contract extension before the season. “I think he’s the backbone of that team. He’s the face of the franchise.”

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Twitter: @tribjazz

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Gordon Hayward’s season averages

Minutes Points FG% FT% Rebounds Assists

36.1 16.4 39.7 83.0 5.5 4.7