SALT LAKE CITY — This was the year that Gordon Hayward was going to become a star. He passed on a contract extension to try to make more money by playing great, so far that decision seems questionable.
Exactly where the Jazz were headed coming into this season was unknown. There were no guarantees as to who would be the leader in the locker room, on the scoreboard or anywhere else. Hayward was slotted into all those roles by default and he's done his best to carry the load wherever the Jazz need it.
So far this year he is the team's leading scorer at 15.8 points per game, which is two points more than the next best. He's second on the team in assists at five per game, .6 behind Trey Burke. Hayward leads the team in steals with 1.45, is third in rebounds with 5.4, and as a shooting guard he is fourth in blocks.
He's done all this and fans have generally considered his season to be a disappointment.
In the Jazz's 110-98 victory over the Boston Celtics Monday night Hayward's contribution seemed small, but it showed off what he does well. In his 36 minutes he scored just eight points, but dished out 10 assists. In all, the Jazz ended the night with six players in double figures.
"I keep telling him that he does so much more for us than just scoring. He's one of the best all-around players in the league. He's one of the best all-around players that I've actually played with."
His season has been a bit of a roller coaster, but he is still one of more versatile players in the league. Hayward is one of seven players averaging more than five rebounds and five assists per game, and is one of five players averaging at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists.
“He gets frustrated because he's not shooting the ball as well as he has in the past," Richard Jefferson said. "I keep telling him that he does so much more for us than just scoring. He's one of the best all-around players in the league. He's one of the best all-around players that I've actually played with.”
This might be a bit of coach speak from a non-coach trying to praise a player, but Jefferson has played for 12 years and has been on a lot of good teams.
Hayward has the ability to make things happen for teammates, too. In February his shooting has dipped significantly, but he's keeping up his ability to keep other involved.
“When you look at a 6-8 player,” Jefferson said, “his ability to run pick-and-roll, his defense, the way he pushes things on the fast break — there's literally not one area in his game that I feel is lacking, other than confidence sometimes in his shot. Not that he's not a great shooter, it's just that he gets frustrated because he doesn't get some easy buckets here or there. The kid has a bright future.”
Hayward has had more single-digit scoring games this month than the rest of the season combined, but he also had some of his better games as well.
In the Jazz's 94-89 victory over the Miami Heat Feb. 8, Hayward scored just nine points, but he flirted with a triple-double by grabbing nine rebounds and 11 assists in 38 minutes of play. He's had two different games with 17 points and seven rebounds and seven assists.
Hayward is frustrated with his shooting, but the scoring load has been rolled to other players. Alec Burks has five 20-point games this month, which is as many as he's had the rest of the season. Over the last five games Enes Kanter is averaging 18 points per game.
“I think it's natural to get frustrated,” Hayward said. “Obviously, I'm frustrated a little bit with how I've been playing recently. If you're not scoring you have to do something else or else there's really no point in being out on the court. So, I try to always play good defense, rebound and get other guys open. Now if I can get out of this struggling slump.”
He wants to score, but now he just isn't shooting the ball as well as he normally can. This whole year has been rough, but especially this month where he is shooting 30 percent.
Hayward has been thrust into a leading role on the team, but is probably better as a supporting piece. He's trying to improve every piece of his game and there is no bigger critic of Hayward than himself.
This offseason will be interesting for Hayward. If he shows that he can fix his shot over the last 30 games this season he could be the subject of a bidding war. If he doesn't then he will have to sell the Jazz, and other teams, on his ability to do his other roles.
If one team believes it can fix his shot there could be a lot of money coming for a player that could be a great complement for a team looking to win soon or a building block for the future.
This year he has been the target of widespread criticism. Game after game fans have talked about how he is losing money and he answers questions about when he will break out of his slump. Game after game the media scrum gathers around him looking for answers and he graciously answers.
Hayward takes blame, answers tough questions and comes to play every game. He is young, but the longest tenured player on the Jazz and become a leader. Hayward comes out and just does his job that includes taking care of the little things.