Monson: Gordon Hayward's game can reach All-Star level
Gordon Hayward made a sweet move a few games back, setting up the most important shot of the night against the Miami Heat, going behind his back to the left with his dribble, rising in rhythm, dusting a soft jumper, hauling home a big Jazz win and looking like â¦ what's this, an NBA All-Star?
Here's a question nobody who booed Kevin O'Connor when he announced Hayward as the Jazz's first-round pick the ninth overall in the 2010 draft ever thought would be asked about the fresh-faced shooting guard from Butler: Will Gordon Clearasil be an All-Star?
Knock that disbelieving grin off your mug.
Yeah, the kid is easy to sell: short, pasty and lanky and big-eared and floppy, romping around the court like some kind of Saluki pup. But the unlikely question is more legitimate than some might think for a handful of reasons: 1) Hayward is getting more comfortable in his circumstances; 2) He's more confident with his shot; 3) His all-around game is extensive; 4) He can play defense; and 5) The Jazz need him to play at that level.
There's one more reason: Hayward believes that's what he will become, somehow, sometime, somewhere along his career path.
"Definitely," he said. "It's a goal of mine, and if our team plays well, it will be a lot easier to accomplish. It will be a lot of work, but I believe I can definitely get there."
The third-year player has forced more offense over the past 16 games. Part of the reasoning behind Tyrone Corbin's moving Hayward from a starter to coming off the bench was to find more opportunities for him to score. He's discovered those, not just with the second team but also with the front-liners. Fewer are those awkward moments when Hayward has open looks, then hesitates and ruminates and double-clutches and reads Tolstoy while figuring out just the right thing to do with the ball.
"His basketball IQ is off the charts," 11-year veteran Earl Watson said. "Gordon's almost too intelligent for the game at times. But he plays the right way. He's never going to take an abundance of shots without getting his teammates involved."
Averaging 13.5 points in 26 minutes a game, Hayward is accepting the fact that firing off more attempts is a good thing. Since the start of January, he's averaged nearly 15 points. Since the third week of December, he's scored in double figures in 14 of 17 games. He had 22 points against the Heat. He got 27 in a win over Dallas.
"I've worked on my shot, but I just try to create plays," Hayward said. "I want to be more dangerous out on the court so players have to respect me. That opens everybody else up, and it helps the team as a whole."
Said Watson: "Gordon could score 25 points a game if he wanted, but he's trying to win every possession for the team. I compare him to [Manu] Ginobili. You can't really put him in a category. He can play defense, he's taller than people think and way more athletic. He has good lateral foot speed, can shut guys down. And if somebody charted how many times he's chased down guys on the break to block shots, the number would be amazing."
Hayward is yet trying to smooth the undulations in his game, limiting performances such as the five-point mess on 2-for-10 shooting he put up against the Cavs and a six-pointer against Detroit. He's been working with shot doctor Jeff Hornacek, attempting to improve his form and timing. In his career with the Jazz, Hayward has shot 45 percent, with that percentage dropping from 48 percent his rookie season, when he hit 47 percent from 3. He's averaging 2.4 assists and three rebounds, all numbers he can and should improve.
"He's a player who puts in the work," Watson said. "I always thought Gordon would be an All-Star."
The Jazz, a team in need of any kind of star, are looking, hoping, begging for it to happen.
"I'm learning as I go," Hayward said. "And I'm getting more confident and comfortable. It has to do with experience, with repetitions on the floor. â¦ To me, success is when you put it all out there and win a championship. Everything else is a failure. I want to be the best."
Gordon Monson hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 and 960 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.