The Gordon Hayward Clutch Turnovers Narrative


Jan 9, 2015; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) loses the ball while being defended byOklahoma City Thunder guard Dion Waiters (23) during the third quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

For more than two season now there’s been a perception that Gordon Hayward turns over the ball in the clutch. How accurate is the Gordon Hayward clutch turnovers narrative? “Clutch time” is defined as the last five minutes in a game where the lead is within five points either way, crunch-time, when hay is made, when good players have a chance to become great.

Gordon Hayward turned the ball over late two times in the Utah Jazz’s last game before the All-Star break, a close loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, ultimately losing by five, amplifying the narrative, furthering the perception that he coughs up the rock when it counts the most.

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The Gordon Hayward clutch turnovers narrative was born in the 2012-13 Utah Jazz season, when he still had to defer often late in games to Al Jefferson, Mo Williams and Paul Millsap. Nevertheless, Hayward still racked up 121 clutch minutes with a 15.7% usage rate.

In 2012-13 Gordon Hayward turned over the ball 15.02% of the time, but still managed to post ten assists to eight turnovers, also forcing six turnovers of his own with two steals and four clutch-time blocks to counteract some of his gaffs as a third-year NBA player.

Hayward was not often the focus of defenses and a third or fourth option on offense at this point of his career. Still, the eight clutch turnovers in 121 minutes came at times when Jazz fans were fully invested in close games, lending a greater weight to them when they did happen, even if unfairly.

The 2013-14 Utah Jazz season saw Gordon Hayward as the focus of the Jazz offense, and subsequently opposing defenses, for the first time. Still, clutch Gordon Hayward was very clutch. And the perception that Gordon Hayward clutch turnovers happened gratuitously persisted.

"The eyeball test might indicate Gordon Hayward turns the ball over in the clutch. In the course of the season he turned it over about every 13.2 minutes, overall. But in the clutch Hayward turned it over only about every 17.9 minutes of play, representing about a 25% improvement when it counted.Hayward’s assist-to-turnover ratio skyrockets in the clutch as a result as well, as he averages about one assist more per minute of play in the last five minutes of a close game as compared to the rest of the game, with 18 clutch assists to only 8 turnovers, for a 2.25 Ast/TO ratio.–The J Notes, July 2014"

While there were quite a lot of blowouts for the young team, Hayward logged 143 clutch minutes in 2013-14. In those 22 more clutch minutes played than the season previous he turned the ball over eight times, the same as the year before, while dishing out 18 dimes. This, while acting as the focus of defenses.

Those are pretty good odds from a pretty great player, the coaching quandary of knowing who they have to stop notwithstanding

The Jazz went 9-7 in games decidied by five points or less in 2013-14 and Hayward’s clutch-time turnover percent was a paltry 8.90% while his usage rate rose to 21.9%. The narrative was dead wrong last season when it came to Gordon Hayward clutch turnovers.

Enter irony.

For the first time since the perception was spawned, Gordon Hayward actually does turn the ball in the clutch in the 2014-15 Utah Jazz season, with a caveat we’ll examine in a moment.

This year, Gordon Hayward clutch turnovers have happened 14 times — tied for second-most in the NBA this season among players that have logged at least 50 clutch minutes — to only seven assists, and he has a career high 18.25% turnover rate in crunch time.

Gordon Hayward clutch-time usage rate has skyrocketed this year to a team-high 34.0%. Coaches like Rick Carlisle know where that ball is going when the game is on the line late.

The Jazz with the ball and 1:25 to play, the Mavericks zoned in on Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons fighting over the Derrick Favors screen to stay with the Jazz wing, effectively forcing a double team, pinching Hayward, forcing the issue.

One of two Gordon Hayward clutch turnovers in Dallas, February 2014-15

Hayward is forced into a jump-pass situation, trying too hard to get the ball to Favors, who could have set a better screen, then made himself more available to his teammate. Hanging back, Monta Ellis watches the play develop and jumps the poor pass before Favors can recover it for a steal and easy fastbreak bucket.

A few possessions later the Jazz still have a chance to extend the game with a three, but Carlisle’s guys aren’t giving one up. Hayward decides to try his luck on a drive but is stopped cold, again forcing a poor pass to Favors.

One of two Gordon Hayward clutch turnovers in Dallas, February 2015

And once again, there’s Monta Ellis watching and waiting. For the second time he jumps the pass and takes the ball away, ending Utah’s hopes for a win in Dallas.

One of two Gordon Hayward clutch turnovers in Dallas, February 2015

Both of these turnovers happened with under two minutes to play in a close game. An interesting thing happens to the Gordon Hayward clutch turnover numbers when we whittle the clock down to the clutch of the clutch, under two minutes remaining.

Hayward’s usage rate skyrockets to 39.8% while his turnover rate tumbles to 14.75% with less than two minutes left on the clock. Those are pretty good odds from a pretty great player, the coaching quandary of knowing who they have to stop notwithstanding.

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With under two minutes remaining, Gordon Hayward has only six turnovers on the season, two of those coming in the latest loss in Dallas.

While Hayward and Jazz head coach Quin Snyder still have some work to do in this area of the late game to more effectively counter experience, once we dig a little deeper, the perception of the Gordon Hayward clutch turnover narrative isn’t as erroneous as it seems on the surface.

For the record, in each of the last two seasons, Derrick Favors has a higher clutch turnover rate than Gordon Hayward, 12.52 in 2013-14 and 20.37 in 2014-15.