And though the Butler alum has continued to play well off the bench (his scoring has risen slightly, albeit with a drop in efficiency), his expulsion from the starting lineup begs the question: is Hayward a legitimate NBA starter?
As of right now, the question is not an easy one. Despite his undeniable skill, Hayward has struggled to produce on a consistent basis early in his career, and his shot remains far too streaky to be considered anything other than average.
At just 22 years of age, Hayward still lacks great polish to his game, and it’s surprising to see such a stellar athlete contribute so minimally in the rebounding department. Despite these flaws though, his apparent demotion to the bench should not suggest he is unworthy of a starting role.
Hayward’s move to the second unit actually makes a lot of sense when one considers Utah’s offensive focus. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap run the Jazz’s offense from the inside out, and therefore it makes sense to start a shooting specialist like Randy Foye at the 2 in order to maximize Jefferson’s post game and spread the floor early.
What Hayward lacks in outside shooting, he makes up for in versatility. Hayward’s rare combination of size, athleticism and skill allow him to play multiple positions, and his relentless motor allows him to produce effectively even when his shot isn’t falling.
Hayward’s never seems to stop sprinting on offense, as he excels at attacking hard in transition or via cuts and screens. At 6’8,” Hayward has the size to live above the rim, while his solid ball-handling and court vision enables him to take it all the way in transition or set up open teammates.
Ultimately, it is this versatility that makes Hayward worthy of a starting role for years to come. His outside shot still has room to improve, but Hayward’s knack for relentlessly attacking the rim lets him score even when the three-pointer fails him. Furthermore, his tremendous size for the shooting guard position indicates substantial defensive potential, potential that can already be glimpsed through his frequent chase-down blocks.
Hayward may be best suited as a sixth man for the time being, but that is more a product of Utah’s system than any deficiency on Hayward’s part, and he projects to be a major part of the future in Salt Lake City.