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Kragthorpe: Jazz's Gordon Hayward responding to new job description

Published March 16, 2012 4:04 pm

Jazz • With offensive role increased on second unit, he's scoring more points.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The explanation for Jazz forward Gordon Hayward's emergence as a scorer, including his 26-point game Thursday against Minnesota, comes from his background in Indiana.

While spending all that time on the court while growing up in Brownsburg, he developed an aggressive style that overwhelmed most of his opponents.

Yeah, he was quite the tennis player.

In basketball, meanwhile, coaches constantly had to tell him to be more assertive. He obviously adjusted, once he became aware that his teams needed that kind of production from him.

So having studied Hayward during a series of interviews in his hometown last month, I'm convinced that his recent scoring surge is as much psychological as practical. In coming off the bench, he's becoming a much bigger part of the offense and responding to the increased responsibility.

He's expected to score now, and he's scoring.

"I get a little more opportunity, a couple more touches, chances to make plays," Hayward said. "I just try to take advantage of them."

In the seven games since he went to the bench (counting a start in Raja Bell's absence last weekend), Hayward has averaged 14.4 points.

"He understands that we're going to put the ball in his hands and we look to him to make more plays with that second group," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. "We're able to go to him more and he can make plays and create for his teammates, and he's comfortable doing that."

In other words, Hayward just keeps fulfilling his job description. That's his nature. That's why he thrived in tennis, where everything was up to him. While basketball coaches tried to make him become more aggressive offensively, "Thank heaven, I never had to say that," said Karen Starkey, a Brownsburg High School tennis coach.

With a game resembling that of 6-foot-9 pro John Isner, Hawyard was a big server whose height and reach made him an intimidating presence at the net.

Hayward, who turns 22 next week, is a product of his parents, who were high school athletes in Brownsburg. His mother led her team in assists as a center. That nurturing trait, mixed with his father's competitive nature, shaped Hayward's personality.

It makes for an intriguing package in basketball, which is both an individual and team game, if you think about it. Succeeding in the NBA takes just the right amount of selfishness — or at least a player's recognition that the team needs something from him.

That's how Hayward developed into a star at Butler University, once he realized what was necessary. Butler coach Brad Stevens said the staff always had to tell Hayward how good he was, during his two years in college before becoming the No. 9 pick in the 2010 NBA draft.

So it is easy to understand why he would defer to his teammates as a starter, while functioning as a fourth or fifth option. With the reserves, who play mostly together at the start of the second and fourth quarters, Hayward knows he's a vital part of the offense. He remains an adept passer but is much more inclined to drive to the basket and look for shots.

That has carried over now, even when he's mixed in with the starters. A combination of Bell's foul trouble and the other reserves' strong play enabled Hayward to get nearly 38 minutes of action in Thursday's overtime win. He took 17 shots (making nine). In a three-game stretch in February, as a starter, Hayward took a total of 16 shots.

Corbin attributes the increased production to Hayward's bigger opportunity. I would cite Hayward's feeling of greater responsibility. In Brownsburg, they would say we're both right.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com