How Gordon Hayward Can Live Up to Max Expectations with Utah Jazz

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How Gordon Hayward Can Live Up to Max Expectations with Utah Jazz
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

When Gordon Hayward signed a max contract with the Charlotte Hornets, and the Utah Jazz matched, he became subject to max expectations.

To meet them, he may have to do little more than continue to develop the point forward skills he showed last season and improve on career-low shooting percentages.

Hayward himself isn't worried about the pressure. According to The Salt Lake Tribune's Kurt Kragthorpe, Hayward said:

For me, I don’t think I have to live up to anything now. They paid me what they wanted to pay me, and let’s go from there...

No pressure now. The pressure is trying to win. That’s the pressure.

That's probably the right attitude from the player's perspective, especially if it helps him play looser than he did last season. But there's no doubt that fans will attach pressure and expectations to the new deal.

After all, Hayward now finds himself in pretty select company, and most max or near-max players in the league who are currently on their second deal carry a lot of weight:

Max or Near-Max Players Currently on Their Second Deal
2014-15 Salary 2013-14 PER 2013-14 Win Shares Win Shares as % of Team Wins
Gordon Hayward $14,746,000 16.2 3.6 14.4%
Brook Lopez $15,719,063 25.4 2.3 5.2%
Derrick Rose $18,862,876 9.7 -0.2 0%
James Harden $14,728,844 23.5 12.8 23.7%
Paul George $15,937,290 20.1 10.8 19.3%
Roy Hibbert $14,898,938 13.5 5.4 9.6%
Blake Griffin $17,674,613 23.9 12.2 21.4%
Kevin Love $15,719,063 26.9 14.3 35.8%
Eric Gordon $14,898,938 14.9 2.5 7.4%
Kevin Durant $18,995,624 29.8 19.2 32.5%
Russell Westbrook $15,719,063 24.7 5.2 8.8%
LaMarcus Aldridge $16,006,000 21.8 7.5 13.9%
DeMarcus Cousins $14,746,000 26.1 7.9 28.2%
Rudy Gay $19,317,326 18.3 4.5 19.5%
John Wall $14,746,000 19.5 7.9 18%
AVERAGE 21 7.7 17.2%

ShamSports.com

As you can see, Hayward's numbers from the last season on his rookie deal (2013-14) are slightly below average for max-level players, but he did account for a higher percentage of his team's wins than All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Roy Hibbert.

He's already more valuable than you think, and living up to his new deal may just be about sharpening what he already does well. 

Players Who Averaged 16, 5 & 5 on Fewer than 14 FGA
Seasons
Magic Johnson 1979-80, 1981-82, 1982-83, 1983-84, 1984-85, 1985-86, 1987-88, 1990-91
Andre Iguodala 2006-07, 2008-09, 2009-10
Anfernee Hardaway 1993-94, 1999-2000
Walt Frazier 1968-69
Anthony Mason 1996-97
Chris Paul 2005-06
Detlef Schrempf 1992-93
Paul Pressey 1984-85
Alvin Robertson 1985-86
Jason Kidd 1998-99
Bob Kauffman 1972-73
Lenny Wilkens 1966-67
Lamar Odom 2000-01
Norm Van Lier 1970-71
Gordon Hayward 2013-14

Basketball-Reference.com

As evidenced by the chart above, Hayward is clearly a team-first player. Despite being a wing, he's often looking to set up his teammates over creating shots for himself. On the season, he averaged nearly as many assist opportunities (11.2) as field-goal attempts (13.4).

Add that passing ability to the rebounding, defense and scoring, and you can see why Salt City Hoops' Dan Clayton has been OK with Hayward's new deal from the outset:

I’ve written and spoken already about how Hayward is probably underappreciated when you look at his skill set relative to other young wings around the league. Even in what was admittedly a rough year for him, he still put up 16-5-5. With a better cast, a more spread system and a quicker pace (meaning more possessions on both ends), it’s not a stretch to imagine him getting to 18-6-6 pretty quickly, which would put him in pretty elite company. Granted, a max offer to Hayward today is based on the hope of him filling out the top of his projected range as a prospect, but I like the chances. As Zach Lowe opined, 'The brains and skills are there, and they’re developing.'

Clayton's projection of "18-6-6" sounds even more attainable when you consider that Utah finished 26th in the league in pace last season, averaging just 93.6 possessions per 48 minutes.

An increase in tempo alone could bring Hayward's numbers closer to the averages in the table above, but it'll likely take a bounce-back season in terms of shooting numbers to truly make the deal worth it.

His career-low percentages from the field (41.3 percent) and three-point range (30.4 percent) have been discussed ad nauseam, so it's no surprise that Hayward himself is aware of the problem.

In a recent post on his personal website, Hayward said:

Working with Team USA is also helping me get ready for the upcoming season. There are a lot of adjustments I need to make to help the team succeed, and to succeed in what I’m trying to accomplish as a player.

First and foremost: I need to be a much better shooter than I was last year. I’m constantly working on shooting and continuing to develop my mid-range game. I have to get better these next couple of years.

If Hayward can get back to his previous shooting levels, he'll be well on the way to earning his money. If he averages the same number of attempts from the field, three-point range and the line as he did in 2013-14 while shooting as efficiently as he did in his first three years, he'd be at 17.5 points per game.

Add that to Clayton's theory on the increased pace and suddenly 19 to 20 points doesn't seem out of the question.

For evidence that that kind of bounce-back season is possible for a shooter, look no further than Arron Afflalo.

Shooting Woes of Afflalo and Hayward
Career FG% and 3P% Prior to the Down Year FG% and 3P% in the Down Year FG% and 3P% After the Down Year
Arron Afflalo 46.6%, 40.5% 43.9%, 30.0% 45.9%, 42.7%
Gordon Hayward 45.1%, 40.1% 41.3%, 30.4% TBD

Basketball-Reference.com

Like Hayward, Afflalo was adjusting to a new role in his "down year." It was his first season in Orlando and his first as a No. 1 option. But after adjusting, Afflalo's numbers bounced right back up, and he had a career year in 2013-14.

After having that same time period to adjust, Hayward's  shooting percentages should drift back up to the mean.

That, in addition to the versatility he displayed as one of the league's only point forwards last season, would make Hayward worth the four-year, $63 million deal he signed this summer.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him @AndrewDBailey.

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