Gordon Hayward's new four-year, $63 million contract—offered first by the Charlotte Hornets and matched days later by the Utah Jazz—could very well be a harbinger of the versatile forward's future worth.
It absolutely wasn't, however, a referendum on last season.
Following three increasingly productive years, Hayward suffered a near-across-the-board drop in 2013-14.
From redoubled opponent attention to Ty Corbin's coaching style, explanations abounded as to the former Butler standout's year-four flop.
The question now becomes, can new head coach Quin Snyder help Hayward author a true bounceback year?
Judging by early accolades, Snyder's star is one with room enough for others to hitch a ride:
System-wise, it's not hard to see why Snyder and Hayward make for such an intriguing player-coach pairing. Back in June, Salt City Hoops' Andy Larsen synthesized some of the points posited by Snyder during his introductory press conference:
Snyder briefly explained his coaching philosophy in the press conference and media availability. In short, he wants to run a motion offense, with lots of reads, spacing, and unselfishness with the ball. The motion offense 'is a little bit random', which means it's 'harder to guard.' He also wants his offense to allow the players to run up and down the floor. In his words, 'Playing with pace really just gets easy baskets and lets players attack.'
Under Corbin's more traditional flex offense, the system borne out under the brilliant 23-year tutelage of Jerry Sloan, Hayward's versatility was too often stymied by the lane-clogging presences of Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
Above all else, Snyder's high-caliber motion scheme demands playmakers. And Hayward—recent slump notwithstanding—is nothing if not that.
Of the few stats that didn't suffer a hit last season, Hayward's assist rate (up from 16.7 percent in 2012-13 to 24.1 percent) may be the most encouraging. Indeed, it was this very versatility that first enticed the Hornets—lacking as they were in genuine playmakers—into extending that $63 million offer in the first place.
No one in his right mind would dare compare Hayward with LeBron James. But from a purely strategic perspective, Snyder's emphasis on pace and space is precisely what turned the Miami Heat from the Big Three into a well-oiled basketball machine under their head coach, Erik Spoelstra.
With his team's point guard position awash in unproven prospects, Snyder will doubtless be looking to Hayward as a prototypical point forward—someone with the ability to both break down the defense at the point of attack while remaining a go-to isolation option late in the shot clock.
Hayward's summer participation with Team USA, coupled with the once-wiry 6'8" forward's added bulk to 220 pounds, only add to the intrigue.
All this could certainly mean big numbers on Hayward's horizon. Racking them up more efficiently, though, could mean the difference between the Jazz commencing an under-the-radar assault on the Western Conference playoff race and yet another basement-bound finish.
In particular, Hayward's shooting (his true shooting percentage dipped to a pedestrian 52 percent a season ago), overall scoring (down a full 1.4 points per 36 minutes) and assists (an area where Hayward excelled but could improve even further) all stand to enjoy tangible benefits from Snyder's system.
While undoubtedly the most important piece to Utah's near-future fortunes, Hayward will by no means be Snyder's sole project. From 19-year-old rookie Dante Exum to the breakout-ready Favors and Trey Burke to Alec Burks, the Jazz are a team loaded with potential in need of effective actualization.
Beyond his well-noted on-court creativity, Snyder looks to have that base covered as well.
In his excellent introduction written shortly after Snyder's hiring, Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb zeroed in on the skipper's ability to develop talent as perhaps his most crucial trait—particularly at the helm of one of the league's youngest teams:
If you're distilling any takeaways thus far, here's one that should become abundantly obvious. Snyder has a history of molding young talent. He's done it at the college level, and he's done it in the Development League. That could pay huge dividends on a team led by the likes of Derrick Favors, Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter.
"This is the first year a coach really worked with me on my footwork, my shot, spent time with me," DeMarre Carroll, who played under Snyder with the Atlanta Hawks last season, told Larsen. "That's a credit to Coach Quin. That shows me that he cares about me as a person, cares about my career."
It's hard to say how much of a bearing all this will have on Hayward's development specifically. But if Snyder's track record of player development holds true, Utah's improvement should be one whereby a rising tide lifts all boats—especially the one now expected to be the team's clipper, recovering as it is from running briefly aground last season.
After decades of making hay with the two-man game, Utah's offense is, under Snyder, about to undergo a significant makeover. And Hayward, hype as he has to live up to, is about to become its focal point.
There are sure to be plenty who believe the heightened expectations Hayward faces might mean an even steeper road to stardom. Good thing, then, that he's about to tuck beneath the wings of someone for whom guiding players to ever-higher heights has been a coaching calling card.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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