Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Gordon Hayward is the senior player of the Utah Jazz, having been there since before Deron Williams was traded. He’s seen the team’s rise every step of the way and is arguably the best player on the squad. He’s the highest I have any of them ranked, though, there’s not a lot of difference between him and Derrick Favors.
However, he’s not quite a top-25 player, sitting just outside of that discussion, and that poses an intriguing question about the Jazz and their prospects. How far can you go with a lot of very good but not elite players? Or can Rodney Hood take that next step to elite scorer? However things turn out, Hayward will still be the glue that holds everything together, keying the hopes of the Jazz for a deep playoff run.
Hayward actually saw his production take a small step back last year, with his Player Efficiency Rating dropping from 20.2 to 18.3, according to Basketball-Reference.com. That’s due to a slight drop across the board in his per-36 numbers, from 20.1 points, 5.1 boards and 4.3 assists to 19.6 points, 4.9 boards and 3.7 assists, along with a small fall-off in true shooting percentage. That could have a lot to do with the crazy point-guard situation the Jazz had, with no one quite working out.
That should change this year with George Hill in the fold. If Hayward can operate as a shooter and secondary ball handler, his scoring should be more efficient. If he can bump his numbers back up to 2014-15 level and the Jazz are a top-four seed, he has a shot at All-NBA.
The other possibility for the slight drop in his numbers is just the rise of other scorers like Favors and Hood taking away touches from him. As they continue to blossom, George Hill enters the fold and now Dante Exum back from injury, all those things could produce a team that shares the ball very well, which would make it hard for Hayward to maintain a usage percentage over 25. Along with that, the emerging Rudy Gobert is a favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year.
Should that happen, his numbers could drop even further, causing him to perhaps even fall out of the All-Star Game picture. With Hood, Favors and Gobert all having the potential to get named to the team, it’s hard to see Utah getting four spots.
Hayward is a diverse offensive player. As I’ve stated before in these rankings, the NBA divides shots into three categories which can be useful for analysis: catch-and-shoot (which is when a player shoots off a pass from more than 10 feet away), pull-up (when a player shoots off the bounce more than 10 feet away) and all shots with 10 feet. The more diverse players (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, for example) will have at least a quarter of their shots come from each range.
Such is the case with Hayward, who took catch-and-shoots on 28 percent of his shots (where his effective field goal percentage was 52.7), pull-ups on 34.7 percent of his shots (42.9 effective field goal percentage) and shots less than 10 feet 36.5 percent of the time (53.1 effective field-goal percentage). The difference in his effective field goal percentage and pull-ups is why George Hill setting him up more could help him boost his overall shooting. If those take up a larger chunk of his shots, his numbers should go up.
However, Hayward has proven that he’s a legitimate threat, on or off the ball. Even if he’s not a true “A-list” scorer, his ability to put the ball in the basket in multiple ways makes him a good imitation.
Hayward also gets points for his passing. He’s not on the level of LeBron James when it comes to distributing as a 3, but he’s pretty impressive. He averaged 5.1 dimes per 36 minutes in 2013-14, which fell to 4.3 in 2014-15 and then 3.7 last season. Some of that might be Hayward, but some of it’s the offense running through him less, and part of it’s that the Jazz just aren’t a great shooting team.
Hayward’s defense is a mixed bag. He’s not a great on-ball defender, but he’s the type who knows where to be and what to do, even if his body isn’t always able to execute. His -.02 Defensive Real-Plus Minus was indicative of the whole. He was 35th out of 74 small forwards, according to ESPN.com, placing him just above average.
The Jazz’s defensive rating was best (98.2) when he was on the bench. However, it was still pretty elite (101.5) when he shared the court with Rudy Gobert, which was right in sync with Utah’s overall rating of 101.6. In essence, Hayward isn’t a stopper, but if you have a great defensive presence behind him, he’s not going to hurt you either.