What Is Gordon Hayward's Ceiling for the Utah Jazz?

Denim MillwardContributor IIIMarch 23, 2013

Mar 4, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward (20) during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center.  Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

In the midst of a precipitous Jazz spiral that probably will knock them out of playoff contention, it gives Jazz fans some small measure of solace to look to the blindingly bright future of the franchise. 

With a young and talented core on the roster and two more first-round draft picks coming their way in June, there is plenty to get excited about.

Just not this year.

A key component of the so-called "Core Four" is former Butler Bulldog Gordon Hayward.  What better time to analyze Hayward's game and opine on his ceiling than today, his 23rd birthday? 

Hayward is a smart basketball player with a high motor.  He utilizes his length and speed to wreak havoc on the defensive end, deflecting passes at a rate maddening to opponents.  Hayward has also perfected the beautiful art of the chase down block. 

Offensively, Hayward is as or more impressive than on the defensive end. 

He could be the best passer Utah has, which may speak as much of Utah's pitiful point guard position as it does Hayward's skills.  Of course Hayward is a versatile scorer that can take it to the bucket, but is he also dangerous from long range.

Thanks to a Randy Foye shooting slump, Hayward leads the Jazz in three-point field goal percentage at 41 percent.  This season, Hayward is averaging a career-high 14.4 points-per-game and has been effective as a starter and in a bench role. 

With Hayward's diverse skill set, it's clear to see that Jazz fans' draft night disapproval of him has quickly turned into near-universal admiration.  It's clear Hayward's future with the Jazz is bright. 

But how bright can it be?  Is Hayward destined for multiple All-Star selections, or is his destiny to be a perennial complimentary player?

Call me an eternal optimist/unapologetic Jazz homer, but I think Hayward has All-Star games in his future. 

What brought me to this conclusion is not my obsessive love for Utah and for Hayward nor was it his many strengths. It was actually his weaknesses.

Despite what many young and female Jazz fans that swoon each time Hayward busts out his trademark shy smile will tell you, Hayward is not perfect.  At 6'8" and a svelte 207 pounds, he can run into trouble trying to defend a bigger, heavier small forward in the post.  Hayward could afford to add a moderate amount of muscle mass.  He also has a bad habit of blindly driving the lane and leaving his feet before having an escape plan if the basket is well defended.

Last but not least, Hayward sporadically appears to deal with confidence issues.  An off night or a streak of poor shooting can visibly unsettle Hayward to the point where he will pass up an open shot.  He can occasionally show a little bit of fire on the court, but this is inconsistent at best.

My optimism with Hayward becoming an All-Star lies in the relative ease in which each of these issues can be fixed, especially by someone with a high basketball IQ and a more than respectable work ethic. 

Hayward's blind-driving tendency has already been noticeably improved.  Hayward has added a mid-drive step back jumper to his repertoire and has seemed more confident as of late in his jumpers.  As these problems shrink and eventually disappear, his confidence level can't help but improve. 

As Hayward becomes more consistently productive, he will become more trusting of his instincts and more confident by proxy.

Gordon Hayward's basketball intelligence, consistent tenacity and well-rounded game make at least one All-Star appearance more than likely for the birthday boy.