Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski needs someone to step in and be a versatile combination forward after Paul George went down for with one of the most gruesome leg injuries in recent memory.
Even before George broke his leg on the stanchion at Thomas & Mack Arena last Friday, Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward had a chance to make the team that will represent the country in the upcoming World Cup.
But with Coach K now needing guys who can play multiple positions, Hayward’s standing on this team seems to have strengthened a bit.
"He’s more decisive than he’s been in the past," Krzyzewski said. "He’s stronger, he’s a better player now and he will continue to grow. He has a chance to make this team. I think the coaching change to Quin Snyder will be really good for him. We like him a lot, and I like his future, especially working with coach Snyder."
Hayward survived the initial Team USA roster cut to 16 players, with John Wall, Brad Beal and Paul Millsap having been trimmed. Coach K has lauded him for his toughness, increased strength and ability to do some of everything on the floor.
That was on display last Friday night in the abbreviated scrimmage. Hayward scored seven points, had three rebounds, three assists and three steals in 15 minutes. It’s clear Hayward has lived in the weight room this offseason. He’s noticeably bigger and stronger. He’s put on muscle.
That was evident when he took the ball to the basket on two occasions, took bumps from defenders and still finished plays in the lane. It’s something that he would not have accomplished in years past.
"We think he’s very versatile and we think he’s one of the very good young players in the league," Krzyzewski said.
But does he survive the final cut to 16 players? Team USA will be in Chicago for training camp in a little less than two weeks. It plays Brazil at the United Center a few days after camp opens. Those few days will be crucial for Hayward, who will enter the season as one of the faces of the Jazz and their continued rebuilding process.
His advantage over others is his ability to make an impact at three positions. He can back up James Harden, Kevin Durant, or even Anthony Davis. But he will have to prove he can shoot the ball, continue to play defense and expand upon the initial improvement he’s shown.
If he can, Hayward just may make Team USA’s final roster.
-- Tony Jones
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