Hayward’s hot hand helping Jazz during stretch run
He was booed on draft day, still gets teased about his Justin
Bieber hair and recently endured the strangest, most expensive
”Wet Willy” ever.
Utah Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward, however, has managed to rise
above it all, finally living up to the expectations Jazz brass had
when they made him a lottery pick in 2010.
His emergence this year, after being benched then reinserted
into the starting lineup because of injury, has helped the Jazz
remain in the mix for the final Western Conference playoff
”Hayward is starting to really feel his oats as far as playing
with confidence and feeling comfortable,” San Antonio coach Gregg
Popovich said April 9 when the Spurs visited Salt Lake City. ”He’s
really a great player, moving without the basketball, constant
motion, aggressive all the time, thinking the game.”
That night, the 6-foot-8 Hayward scored 16 points and added six
rebounds and two blocks in the Jazz win. Two days later, he scored
29 in Houston.
In the last five games he has averaged 20.2 points, 4.4.
assists, 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals and is shooting 64 percent (14 of
22) from 3-point range.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry has called Hayward ”one of the bright
young stars in the league.”
”He’s the whole package,” Gentry added. ”He can put it down.
He can shoot it from the perimeter. He is a slasher-and-cutter, and
on top of all of that, he is a really good defender.”
He also has a physical style that can irritate opponents,
perhaps because they don’t see past the boyish looks.
Consider his own little block party in Boston on March 28, when
he rejected two shots in the span of five seconds by Keyon Dooling
and Avery Bradley.
By then, Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson already was a
”You can make the case that he’s the most valuable player for
them against us,” Jackson said.
On Jan. 7, Hayward took over with 14 seconds left and the game
tied, sprinting up the court, splitting two defenders and drawing
the foul on a layup attempt. His free throw helped seal Utah’s
In that breakout effort, Hayward finished with 18 points, six
rebounds and four assists.
In a March 17 rematch, he showed flash at both ends, with the
Jazz down two.
Hayward tracked down 6-9 forward Dorell Wright on the fast break
and blocked him from behind. He then sprinted the other way, took
the pass at midcourt, drove left-handed through traffic and
delivered a crowd-pleasing two-handed jam.
”Those kind of energy plays for him … show tremendous growth
and determination, and it shows a lot of toughness about who you
are,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Who Hayward is may be evidenced by how he lives.
In a league of millionaires, Hayward included, he still puts
himself on a monthly budget, lives in a nice but modest two-bedroom
suburban apartment, and drives a car – a Honda Accord – known more
for its reliability than muscle.
Yet to know why he didn’t defend himself when Delonte West
jabbed a finger in his ear during the second quarter of Utah’s
triple-overtime win against Dallas last Monday – an act that earned
West a $25,000 fine – one must go back to his days playing tennis
in the Indianapolis suburb of Brownsburg.
”He’s always in control of his emotions,” said his father,
Gordon Scott Hayward. ”Tennis really taught him that. He’s had
guys throw rackets at him, lose their temper, and that’s when he
knew he had the other guy. He’s also smart enough to know the
person who retaliates is the one who gets caught.”
That’s not to say the younger Hayward isn’t fiercely
competitive, a trait he gets from dad, a high school tennis player
who grew up idolizing John McEnroe.
Hayward’s mom, Jody, also is competitive, and still holds an
annual New Year’s Eve ping pong tournament that she fights to win.
But she grew up idolizing Bjorn Borg, and insisted on
Jazz fans have been showing some sportsmanship of their own.
They haven’t been booing as they did during the 2010 draft when
Utah took Hayward with the No. 9 overall pick.
The elder Hayward, who agrees when fans seated nearby chide his
son for not shooting enough or missing a layup, understands why
they initially booed.
”(General manager) Kevin O’Connor plays everything close to the
vest and he led everyone to believe they would go big,” the elder
Hayward said. ”Then they pick a skinny, small wing instead of the
big man he advertised they needed.”
As a rookie, Hayward averaged just 5.4 points and 1.9 rebounds –
and was even deemed ”a typical rookie” by perennial All-Star
But Hayward, despite having to be told by Butler coaches that he
was good even as he was leading the Bulldogs to the 2010 NCAA title
game, said he’s known he belonged in the NBA since he was a rookie
taking on the Los Angeles Lakers in preseason.
He scored 26 points that night and realized ”I could play in
this league with any of these guys.”
It helped that Kobe Bryant told him, ”You’re gonna be a helluva
player,” while the two stood away from the ball awaiting a free
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said fans are seeing the
natural maturation of a player who is taking advantage of more
”Those types of situations are good for a young player like
him,” Carlisle said. ”Now he can just play the game. He knows
he’s going to be out there. He’s taking advantage of it, and he’s
going to keep getting better and better.”
The 22-year-old Hayward, with humble Midwestern roots, is quick
to acknowledge he hasn’t arrived.
”It’s an honor that they’re saying that, but I realize it’s a
long way to go, a lot of work to do,” he said.