If there's ever been a time for Gordon Hayward to slow down, this would be it.
The NBA has locked its doors. The Jazz's 2011-12 season is officially on pause. And while many players began the offseason with a bang, diving headfirst into their summer workout routines, some have already begun to scale back as they realize the league's lockout likely isn't going to end anytime soon.
Not Hayward. The 21-year-old Jazz forward was a workaholic when the work stoppage began and he's still a workaholic more than a month into the lockout. While the NBA sleeps, Hayward pumps iron. And works on his ball-handling. And conditioning. And everything else that goes into the second-year player's five-days-a-week workout routine at St. Vincent Sports Performance in his birthplace of Indianapolis.
"I'm blessed that they have all these huge facilities here, and the fact that I live here is just another bonus. I can stop by and then my mom is making dinner for me, so it works out well," said Hayward, who averaged 5.4 points last season while shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 47.3 percent from behind the 3-point line in 72 games (17 starts).
What a difference a year makes.
Hayward was a skinny, unproven rookie this time last season. Burdened by the expectations that go hand in hand with being the No. 9 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Unsure of his future with the Jazz and acceptance by a devoted fan base that initially booed his name when it was called on draft night.
A year later, the former Butler standout is one of Utah's brightest hopes as the rebuilding organization attempts to leave a lost 2010-11 season behind and move toward something bigger and better. Hayward embodies the work ethic that second-year coach Tyrone Corbin preaches, while everything from the young forward's untouched athletic ceiling to his fresh-eyed approach when dealing with admirers provides an organization that lacks a marketable face with a potential Salt Lake City star in the making.
"He's just a terrific person," said agent Mark Bartlestein, who represents Hayward. "He's like the kid who grew up next door to you."
Hayward's humility and kindness are refreshing. But Bartlestein said that Hayward is ultimately separated by his passion for the game that he gets paid to play. Other NBA athletes are faster, stronger and possess more innate basketball talent. But few outwork Hayward, and even fewer share his single-minded devotion to personal improvement.
"He's very much a perfectionist," Bartlestein said.
Hayward is not a machine, though. He acknowledged that he took about a month off from the game after the Jazz's disappointing season ended. But 30 days felt like a year, and Hayward struggled to adapt to weeks that had no start and end points. He'd been on the league's nonstop conveyor belt since predraft workouts in 2010. Hitting the stop button was harder than he imagined.
"It was tough for me to just sit and not do anything because I've been doing stuff for such a long time," Hayward said. "And so I think the fact that we were also not in the playoffs, I was watching the games and just wanting to play."
The lights were soon turned back on. Minor right Achilles tendinitis initially prevented Hayward from playing in the star-studded Indy Pro Am tournament. But a refined workout routine saw Hayward teaming with Jazz rookie guard Alec Burks as the duo hit the court twice daily under the guidance of St. Vincent strength and conditioning trainer Greg Moore.
"It is pretty cool," Burks said. "Gordon is a guy who goes hard and does the right things, so it's always good to work out with somebody like that."
Moore added: "[Hayward] is great. I've worked with him ever since the predraft days, and he pushes himself as hard as anyone."
While Burks concentrated on his strength and shooting, Hayward chose to specifically focus on his ball-handling. After dealing with inconsistent playing time and struggling with his confidence during most of his rookie season, Hayward found his touch at the same time that Utah was falling apart. He averaged 16.4 points on 58.1 percent shooting during his final seven games, topping out with a season-high 34 points April 13 against Denver. The late push will likely have Hayward penciled in as either the Jazz's starting shooting guard or small forward when the 2011-12 season begins, and the 6-foot-8 swingman is expected to have the ball in his hands more than ever as Corbin attempts to exploit mismatches.
"Ball-handling is going to be a big key for me this year," Hayward said.
The young perfectionist even has a veteran's take on the lockout. Nonstop training is at the core of Hayward's progress, but his payoff comes when the game clock starts running. That can't happen until league owners and players reach a new collective bargaining agreement, though, and middle ground has been difficult to find.
"It's something that, as players, we're unified and we want this to end just as much as the fans," Hayward said. "We want to play, but there's really nothing that we can do about it right now."
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Gordon Hayward file
Position: Small forward
Vitals: 6-foot-8, 207 pounds
Stats: 5.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 48.5 FG, 47.3 3-pt
Draft: No. 9 overall in 2010
Born: Indianapolis In control
Hayward is focusing on improving his ballhandling during the offseason. After a strong finish to 2010-11, Hayward will likely be penciled in as either the Jazz's staring shooting guard or small forward when the 2011-12 season starts. He is expected to have the ball in his hands more than ever before, and could help set up Utah's offense as coach Tyrone Corbin attempts to exploit mismatches. Lockout chatter
Hayward: "It seems like anywhere you go people always say something about it. They want to know what's going on, what's happening. And I'm like, 'I want to ask you the same questions.' Everyone just kind of talks about it. But it's something that as players we're unified and we want this to end just as much as the fans. We want to play, but there's really nothing that we can do about it right now."