Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and the upcoming Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter combine to form one of the most prominent, deep frontcourt rotations in the NBA. Although Millsap and Jefferson are the two most recognizable names on the roster, neither of them will be as important as the young Gordon Hayward if the Utah Jazz creep into the playoffs.
The Butler product is having the best season of his three-year career, posting 14.3 PPG on a PER of 17.0 (per Basketball Reference). He's gotten the chance to start during the Jazz's recent stretch of games, and he's made the most of his opportunity.
In the last six games, Hayward recorded averages of 14.7 PPG, 4.8 APG and 1.2 SPG on an efficient 52 percent shooting from the field, while contributing to the Jazz's recent five-game winning streak.
The regular season is quickly coming to a close, and Hayward's abilities would be crucial for the Jazz to make a final playoff push and compete in the first round.
Hayward has made a name for himself as one of the best overall defenders in the league. He could defend multiple positions, from point guard to small forward with relative success.
According to 82games.com, Hayward is holding opposing shooting guards to a PER of 14.3 and opposing small forwards to a PER of 13.3.
Assuming that the Jazz make the playoffs, their likely first-round opponents would be either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder, both of which possess premier perimeter players who will have to work hard to get around Hayward.
Matchup wise, the Jazz's loaded interior presence would be nullified by the likes of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter of the Spurs and Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins of the Thunder. This makes Hayward's presence even more important, as he will be the main defender on Kevin Durant or Manu Ginobili, or maybe even Tony Parker.
Known for his great all-around play, Hayward's touch from the outside doesn't get enough credit.
He shoots a career 39.8 percent from three-point land and is 41.1 percent this season. Although his field-goal percentage has decreased in each of the three seasons he's been in the league, that could be a result of his increase in usage rate.
Hayward's slowly developing into an offensive threat, and defenses will have to start shifting their attention to him. He has only shot 36 percent from 16-23 feet this season (per Hoop Data), but that number will surely increase if he continues to work on his shot.
Additionally, Hayward's ability to attack the basket, pass and shoot opens up the game for the rest of his teammates. His lethal outside shooting gives room for Jefferson and Millsap to operate on the low block, and his drive-and-kicks opens up the perimeter for Randy Foye and Mo Williams to get good looks, both of whom are proven shot-makers.
Hayward is becoming one of the most effective two-way players in the league. At 6'8", he has the necessary length to bother the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and the quickness to guard Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker.
Hayward, along with Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, represent a young breed of newer generation swingmen. He has superb all-around abilities that allow him to be effective in multiple ways but still specialize in certain aspects like defense and shooting.
He may not be a household name, especially when playing on a small-market team like the Jazz, but he's on his way to becoming a very special player in the future.
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