Can Hayward gain swagger from his time with Team USA?
There won’t be a World Cup for Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward. That much was decided on Friday night, when he learned of his ouster from Team USA shortly after a third exhibition win, over Puerto Rico.
Hayward being trimmed isn’t a surprise. He played only sparingly in Wednesday’s victory over the Dominican Republic. He accumulated DNP-CD’s in the other two games. He was the only member of the roster to not see a single minute in the first half of any of the trio of friendlies. Maybe most importantly, his skill set didn’t seem to fit in with Team USA’s brand of freewheeling basketball that put a heavy emphasis on isolations and dribble penetration.
Still, Hayward ultimately being cut isn’t the point.
No matter what, Hayward’s ability to last this long into the process has been a good thing for him, and the Utah Jazz, and his chances to play for Team USA down the road. I say this even with him seeing a very spare amount of minutes in the three exhibition games. I say this even with him without question being one of the lingering parts as time progressed.
Hayward’s biggest weakness last season was not his faulty jump shot, or his propensity to turn the ball over at the most inopportune times. His biggest weakness was his lack of aggression at key moments, and a certain lack of "swag" that all top dogs in the league must carry with them at all times.
Over the last month, this is the list of guys Hayward has seen and played against frequently in practice settings: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Paul George, Rudy Gay, Stephon Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis. Those are some of the biggest and brightest talents the NBA has to offer. And Hayward has been around them consistently in the past 30 days.
If he can somehow soak some of that confidence up, he has the chance to make the significant leap that Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey and the rest of the front office is hoping for, especially in light of the maximum contract Hayward signed in July.
It’s evident that Hayward has taken this offseason seriously. He’s no longer skinny Gordon Hayward. He’s put on muscle, he looks like he’s lived in the weight room and he looks more assertive on the court, even in limited time.
When asked, coach Mike Krzyzewski raved about his all-around skill, his talent for blending in and his ability to do a little of everything on the court. And Hayward was cut with the likes of Damian Lillard, Kyle Korver and Chandler Parsons. So it’s not like he wasn’t the only good player to not make the team. Clearly, there’s something to build on heading into training camp next month.
But can it translate? If the Jazz are to make an improvement on last season, it almost certainly can’t be done without Hayward taking a step forward. For three seasons after the departure of Deron Williams, Utah has been looking for a star, a face for the franchise heading into the future.
Jazz fans have 63 million reasons to hope that guy will be Gordon Hayward.