It’s no secret what a quick first step and the threat of blowing past a defender to get to the basket can do for a shooter, though it’s hard to say it has helped Gordon Hayward too much of late.
“If they’re worried about the drive, then they stay back a little bit,” the Utah Jazz guard said, before letting out a soft laugh. “I mean, honestly, they’ve been doing that anyway.”
As the Jazz’s top scoring option through much of the year, Hayward’s been dogged by defenders plenty. His jump shot, however, isn’t garnering as much respect these days and he knows it.
In February, Hayward struggled mightily, connecting on just 34 percent of his field goals and a dismal 22 percent of his 3-pointers.
But as spring shows signs of life, so has Hayward’s game. Through six games in March, Hayward’s field-goal percentage is back up to 48 percent.
It’s an awakening that has started at the basket.
“We’re trying to find different ways to get the ball in his hands and put him in position to make plays a little bit sooner coming off the down screen,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. “He’s been much more aggressive, which helps everything.”
“It’s just a more focused effort to get to the rim and make things happen,” said Hayward.
The Jazz’s leading scorer on the season is getting 30 percent of his shots at the hoop over the past six games (compared to 23 percent for the season), and the rest of his game is following.
He’s averaging 5.5 free-throw attempts a game, the most of any month this season. He’s finding his touch from mid-range. And he’s connecting on 38 percent of his triples.
“I’ve been playing all right,” he said. “Playing a little better. It’s still not where I want to be. And we’ve still got to find ways to get wins. Personally, it’s been a little better. But the overall goal, we haven’t been as successful as a team.”
Corbin believes success will eventually follow the Jazz’s young co-captain, whom he praised for his ability to cope with the stresses of a slump, a contract year, and a rebuilding season.
“I think he’s been great all year,” Corbin said. “There’s been a lot of pressure on him from not signing early to trying to have a good year in a development situation with a young group of guys. … It’s a lot on a young guy and I think he’s handled it well all year.”
Still, Corbin and others want the young guard to stay aggressive as the season wanes.
Karl Malone was sitting court side with the Utah Jazz broadcast team Monday, pontificating on all manner of issues, basketball or otherwise, when Hayward capped off the team’s third-quarter rally against the Hawks with a put-back dunk just before the buzzer.
“I want that kid to play like that all the time,” the Hall of Famer said.
Mavericks at Jazz
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 97.5 FM, 1280 AM
Records • Jazz 22-42; Mavericks 38-26
About the Jazz • Have lost six of their last seven games, despite a recent uptick in leading scorer Gordon Hayward’s efficiency. … Been beaten twice by the Mavericks already this season, both times on the road. … Backup point guard John Lucas III sprained an ankle in practice Tuesday and is a game-time decision.
About the Mavericks • Have won six of their last 10 games and are a half game up on Memphis in seventh place in the West. … 35-year-old All-Star Dirk Nowitzki is averaging 21.5 points per game. … Have lost to the Jazz the last three meetings in Salt Lake City.