Gordon Hayward Embraces Leadership Role Of Utah Jazz


April 5, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) looks on during the first quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Preface by Ryan Aston

Jazz fans can be a bit insecure; not a dig on anyone that follows the team, just the facts. Being fans of a small-market franchise in a league populated by big-city ball clubs, it’s hard not to be.

As much as we love our team and love our city, the market has never been a destination for superstar free agents. Quite to the contrary, Jazz history is littered with near-misses and dreams of what could have been.

Remember when we almost had Rony Seikaly? How about Derek Harper? Even Deron Williams, the player who served as our Jazzman-in-chief for more than five years, eventually found his way out of town. Fans say what they will, but deep down inside, many of us live in constant fear of these scenarios playing out once again in the future.

Which is what makes the following statement so important for Jazz fans–

“I’m proud to say that I play for the Utah Jazz.”

The proclamation was made by Utah’s current top dog, Gordon Hayward, and comes in stark contrast to decrees like “You go live in Utah,” or “That’s why I signed a three-year deal.” 

The Rev Ryan

Today’s technology can bring us closer than ever to professional athletes. One such athlete doing it right is Gordon Hayward, who writes about his experiences as an NBA pro for the Utah Jazz. He’s pretty good at it too.

In Gordon Hayward’s latest offerings he reflects on the 2014-15 season in a two-part series. The pair of posts contain numerous interesting insights, including the Jazz small forward citing stats, giving fans a peek behind the scenes into the locker room and Hayward embracing the role of leader for Utah — something that’s been missing for some years now.

"As a collective group, all of us really appreciated everything you did for us this year and the support you brought to ESA every night — even early in the season, when we were struggling and went through that nine-game losing streak. That’s when the support meant the most. It seemed like, even then, the games were sellouts almost every time we played at home."

By percent capacity — 19,911 at the EnergySolutions Arena, where the Jazz call home — the 2014-15 season saw a bounce-back in attendance of 94.6%, up from an eight-year low of 91.3% the season before.

"It’s something a lot of people disregard. A lot of people believe fans don’t really make a difference in how a player performs, but I would argue against that. When fans have your back, it gives you confidence, and it was good to see that come from a tough moment in the season. I appreciate that you have continued to stick with me and the Jazz through thick and thin.You’ve always had my back, and I thank you for that."

It’s something a lot of people disregard. A lot of people believe fans don’t really make a difference in how a player performs, but I would argue against that

Before the season even started fans were moaning vocally on social media about Gordon Hayward’s max extension, saying he wasn’t worth it, many asserting he would never be anything more than a second or third banana on a quality team. It didn’t take long for Hayward to silence critics.

Gordon Hayward was one of only five qualified players in the NBA in 2014-15 to average at least 19 points on at least 44% field goals, 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. His company are all All-Stars and potential future Hall of Fame’rs: LeBron James, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and James Harden.

While we’re on the subject of stats, Hayward knew some impressive ones from the past year.

"We definitely experienced a lot of things. We had buzzer-beating game-winners. We lost at the buzzer. We blew out teams by 30. We got blown out by 20-plus points. We saw everything.We were also involved in the most games decided by five points or less.We finished the year 19-10 after the All-Star break, and there were three or four games that we should have won that we didn’t because we had some guys out injured. So we could have easily finished with one of the best records in the league after the All-Star break.–Preparing For A Bright Future (Part I)They told me that I was up there among the players with most miles traveled in the NBA this season. I thought it was kind of cool that they can actually track that.–Preparing For A Bright Future (Part II)"

For a good portion of the early season, Gordon Hayward was the leader in the NBA for distance traveled on a court in a game. He finished the year tied for fourth-most miles traveled per game at 2.4, 182.0 total miles in 76 games. In other words, Gordon Hayward could have run to Heyburn, Idaho, home of… well, nothing. Had he run 182 miles the other direction he could have at least gotten a famous Green River, Utah melon.

Hayward notes he added a floater to his game and was able to finish much better around the rim, a product of the extra seven or so pounds of muscle he put on in the summer of 2014, calling himself “a bully” coming into camp last fall.

"I can say pretty confidently that we watched more film than any team in the league, and it helped us out to a great extent. Individually, we were all better at the end of the season. Collectively, we were better as well. Film can’t lie. It holds people accountable. People can’t make excuses when you’re watching film. It’s right there in front of you."

Notable film junkies in the NBA include Kobe Bryant, who is notorious for studying film of likely match-ups for the night before games, to spot tendencies he can exploit. The more film the better, in this author’s opinion.

He also noted how well Rodney Hood played to finish the season for Utah, but singled out another Jazzman as their glue guy.

"One guy who was kind of unsung this year was Trevor Booker. He played really, really well for us. From my view, he was one of the most important guys we had — not just for the great things he did on the court, but the things he did off the court as well. He was the glue guy for us. He kept the team together. The other thing that struck me was his improved shooting. He had one career three-pointer made before this season, but he became a threat from the three-point line. That’s a testament not only to his work ethic and his constant self-improvement, but to the coaching staff as well."

Fitz the Destroyer” is a guy the Utah Jazz absolutely have to bring back (Booker’s contract is only partially guaranteed next season).

More from The J-Notes

Throughout both pieces, Gordon Hayward praises the coaching staff, specifically Quin Snyder, repeatedly. The player and coach have a strong bond already, clearly.

There had been some speculation about who exactly had sat Hayward at the end of the season. He laid those rumors to rest unequivocally.

"I don’t want to miss any games. But it’s one of those things where you have to take a look at the big picture. We knew we weren’t in the playoffs and so the front office and the coaching staff wanted me to take it easy.They pulled me aside with a few games left in the season, and talked to me about going into the offseason as healthy as possible. They wanted me to avoid an injury that required rehab. The goal was for me to be able to go straight from the season into recovery mode for a little bit and then jump right into training. The way they handled it, coming to me and explaining their thinking, was really great. It was important to me because the last thing I wanted was for the front office, the coaches, the staff, my teammates or the fans to think I was sitting out because I didn’t want to play, or I didn’t want to work."

But the best part of either offering was a man coming of age and seizing the reins and responsibility for the Utah Jazz.

As Dennis Lindsey said in exit interviews, flipping the usual script, showing he has a stake in the franchise,“Gordon came in with a couple things for us to think about, organizationally. Very well pointed, very well thought out, and we’ll share those with ownership.”

Gordon Hayward makes no bones about it. He wants that role that’s been missing from recent Jazz teams. And he’s seized the day.

"As the leader of the team, I think I speak for everyone when I say that we can’t wait to get back on the court next season. I hope that you are ready for us to take another huge stride next year."

Carpe diem, oh, leader. We can’t wait either.