Hey, Utah Jazz Fans, Gordon Hayward Deserves Better

Mar 4, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) dribbles in the first quarter against Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) dribbles in the first quarter against Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

Few seasons have been more disappointing than the 2015-2016 campaign the Utah Jazz have put together. But if you think Gordon Hayward is to blame, you’re sorely mistaken.

I remember sitting in my car in a church parking lot in the Avenues neighborhood of Salt Lake City on the night of the 2010 NBA Draft. Courtesy of the New York Knicks, the Jazz had the No. 9 pick. I adjusted my radio volume as the announcers mentioned that the Jazz were ready to make their selection.

NBA Commissioner David Stern cleared his throat and uttered, “With the ninth pick in the 2000 and 10 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz select Gordon Hayward from Butler University.”

“Oh what the hell?!?!” I blurted out; not enthused in the least. I desperately wanted the Jazz to draft Paul George — the now Indiana Pacers star — not some milky-white square who looked like he’d never been outside of his own neighborhood.

That same sentiment was shared throughout Jazz Nation when the team signed Hayward (after parting ways with both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson) to a max deal in 2013. Even after Hayward had shown signs of both stardom and team leadership while tallying 16-5-5 per contest.

Swarms of people were none too pleased to hear that Hayward would be making $63 million over the next four years (I think it had more to do with losing two solid big men than it did with Hayward making all that cash).

Since then, all Hayward has done is prove me (and others) wrong. He’s quite literally improved every season he’s been in the league. Chronologically, he’s matured from being a timid rookie who got a ball thrown at him by Deron Williams, to a star who hits game winners against Deron Williams’ team.

Gordon Hayward made me a believer; the guy is a special talent.

The best part about Hayward’s rise: He’s undoubtedly earning the max money he signed for.

This is especially true when you consider the salary cap increase that’s going to happen in 2017. Even more so when you see a guy like Chandler Parsons (who Hayward is clearly and statistically better than) earns roughly the same amount of money.

So why are Utah Jazz fans so quick to tear him down? A quick perusing of the comment section on YouTube and Facebook, or a Twitter search, and you’ll find a treasure trove of Hayward hate being spewed by “Jazz fans.”

There are only two explanations for people who think like this:
1) You haven’t watched the Utah Jazz play basketball this year.
2) You don’t have eyes. Which means you’re a mutant who can read without eyes. In that case, wow, you are amazing.

Unfortunately, Hayward has become the scape goat for all of Jazz fan’s frustrations. If he’s not stuffing the stat sheet and winning games, he’s a failure, bum, garbage player, etc. The expectations heaped onto him are incredibly lofty and if they aren’t met, all hell is unleashed.

Late for work? Blame Hayward. The dog got into the trash? Blame Hayward. Woke up with a weird rash? Blame Hayward. The finger pointing has gotten out of hand.

This is nothing new, however. Jazz fans have always needed a whipping boy. We did it to Malone. We did it to Boozer. We did it to a lesser extent with Al Jefferson. Now it’s Hayward’s turn to wear this hallowed crown of thorns.

On a team that’s taken the roller-coaster route this season, plagued throughout by injuries, poor point guard play and a weak bench, Hayward has been the one consistent, reliable guy. In fact, before yesterday’s game, Jazz coach Quin Snyder sung the praises of Hayward, calling him an Ironman.

Ironically enough, before being ruled out tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Hayward had started each of the Jazz’s 66 games this season — the only Jazzman to do so. He’s been a rock.

Zach Lowe, Senior Writer for ESPN, recently released his annual Marc Gasol All-Stars — his homage to the dozen players in the league he loves watching the most. His starting small forward? Yup, Gordon Hayward.

Here’s a little of what Zach had to say about Gordon–

"Paul Millsap just appeared in his third All-Star game, so it’s official: Hayward has seized the mantle of Most Underappreciated NBA Player. He does everything well, with the same combination of change-of-pace craft and straight-line explosiveness that makes [Kemba] Walker so magnetic — only Hayward has perhaps the league’s most stylish hair. Seriously, the guy is like a gelled-up, modernized Don Draper out there."

In baseball, the most coveted guy on the field is the five-tool player. Someone who can field, throw, run, hit and hit for power. Hayward has become the NBA equivalent of the five-tool player. He finishes on the break, he creates and runs the offense, he shoots from all over the floor, he rebounds, he passes, he defends extremely well and he plays his guts out.

He’s also a guy any team in the league would happily take. And much more often than not, he’d make that team better. A lot better.

To put into perspective just how good Gordon has been for the Jazz this year, consider that he’s one of four players in the league who currently leads his team in points, assists and steals. The others? LeBron James, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe.

Hmmmm… Two All-Stars and a fringe All-Star. Not bad.

On the season, Gordon is averaging 20 points, five boards and four assists. He’s the only non All-Star in the league who’s putting up those numbers. Statistically, it puts him in a category with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, John Wall and James Harden.

In fifteen years, most of those guys will have already made their Hall of Fame speeches. That’s rarified air.

If that’s not enough, then consider that in the month of March, with the playoffs on the line, Hayward has upped his averages to 23-5-5 per game. All while almost always guarding the opposing team’s best player. Those are numbers only stars put up. Those are numbers you can’t argue with.

If you examine this season beyond mere casual observation, then you should be able to grasp just how valuable Hayward is. He’s second on the team in win shares (trailing only Rudy Gobert), but his responsibilities far outweigh anyone else on the Jazz.

I don’t mean this hyperbolically and it’s not intended to be a hot take, but there is hardly a player in the NBA who is asked to do more on a nightly basis for his team than Gordon Hayward.

With Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert all missing significant time throughout the season, Gordon has been asked over and over to pick up the pieces and get a W.

It’s a good thing he’s spent so much time building up his shoulders. A weaker pair couldn’t handle the weight.

Next: Gordon Hayward Injury Threatens Jazz Playoff Hopes

On the nights he hasn’t been able to produce his averages, the Jazz almost lose. The result is a tongue lashing by a spoiled fan base (a byproduct of the consistency of the Stockton and Malone years). It’s an unfair and thankless task.

Yes, this season has been a punch in the gut. All of Jazz Nation were brimming at the thought of the playoffs and a winning record. Unfortunately, life has its fair share of torn ACLs, broken legs and month-long back spasms.

But to think that the Jazz’s failures are a direct result of Gordon Hayward’s play is hogwash. If so, consider what this team would be without him.

I’ve been there, folks. It was 2004 and the Jazz went 26-56. I don’t want to ever have to think about Carlos Arroyo playing point guard ever again.