Gordon Hayward’s star has been on the rise for a while now, but with the often-overlooked Utah Jazz now in the playoffs, the swingman has a stage to show just how good he is.
Is Hayward good enough to give the Jazz any hope of upsetting the Golden State Warriors though? That’s the tall order facing the 27-year-old as Utah begin their second round series against the overwhelming title favourites tonight.
Hayward was fantastic in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers and flashed an efficient offensive game, averaging 23.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 46.9 per cent shooting, including 44.7 per cent from long range.
The Warriors, of course, are at a different level than the Clippers defensively and have given Hayward plenty of trouble recently. In his lone appearance against Golden State this season, Hayward managed just 6 points on 2-of-10 shooting. One game hardly makes a sufficient sample size, but even looking at Utah’s four meetings with the Warriors last season, Hayward shot just 33.3 per cent to average 17.3 points.
Much of those struggles, however, have been of Hayward’s own doing, with him converting 14-of-45 (31.1 per cent) uncontested shots in his past five games against Golden States. For comparison, Hayward shot 43.9 per cent on uncontested looks in 2015-16 and 49.4 per cent this season.
Aside from making open shots, Hayward will have his work cut out off the ball to find those clean looks as Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala are expected to shadow him. Both players are long, rangy and athletic enough to make life difficult for any offence’s top option, but Hayward will at least be somewhat prepared after dealing with a similar body type and defender in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in the previous round.
The Warriors would prefer not to use Durant on Hayward full-time to allow their own time to conserve his energy for offence. But when the two are matched up, Hayward has to make Durant work by running him through a maze of screens (granted it doesn’t draw a switch) and do his best to attack him with the ball without settling for tough shots. It’s a lot to put to Hayward’s shoulders, without even mentioning the test he’s in for on the other end when the match-up pits Durant on offence.
There’s no question the Warriors hold advantages at nearly every position against Utah, but if Hayward can play the duel with Durant closer to a draw than an outright loss, the Jazz have the potential to steal a game or even two.
Winning the series? That’s a whole different matter.
Know more about Sport360 Application