Is Gordon Hayward an elite player? The short answer is yes. The long answer is much more complicated.
This year, Hayward will play in his first All-Star game, and will be the only player to represent the surprisingly good Utah Jazz. Although not a starter, it was not a hard choice for the coaches in the Western Conference to make. In the crowded Western Conference, he even managed to win player of the week in mid-January.
As of right now, the Jazz are 34-21, and are sitting in the fourth seed in the deep Western Conference. Many fans expected Utah to be contending for the top seeds in upcoming years, but this year was somewhat of a revelation. Most of the workload has been placed on the backs of small forward Hayward and point guard George Hill.
It is worth mentioning that the supporting cast has played well, with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors both averaging over 13 points per game. It’s not as if the Jazz wouldn’t have a winning record without Hayward, but the huge moments in the upcoming playoffs will come from him.
At 26 years old, Hayward is coming out as a star, averaging a career high 22.5 points per game and a staggering 23.3 PER. The PER rating is the player efficiency rating, with 15 supposedly being the average in the NBA. Shooting almost 40 percent from three-point range, if a defender goes under a screen, they will pay. On average, he bangs in two shots from behind the arc every game.
Gordon Hayward this month:
86.5 FT% pic.twitter.com/drAOmEwRwD
— Dwight 𓅓 (@dwightworld) February 12, 2017
It is odd for the small forward of a team to be the leader; typically the point guard manages the team and runs the plays. Although George Hill is having a career year at the point, Hayward often takes control and dishes out assists more often than the typical small forward does.
One big reason he may not quite be considered “elite” yet is his defensive ability. Compared to the likes of James Harden or Nick Young, Hayward may seem like a superb defender, but in actuality, he is subpar. Defense is a dying art in all professional sports, but it also continues to be one of the most integral parts of the game. With Hayward’s less than eye-appealing talent on the defensive end of the court, he may not yet be considered elite to some fans.
James Harden has never played defense a day of his life 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂
— yuung g$$ (@ohgoditsgagan) February 9, 2017
Do I consider Hayward to be an elite player? Yes. Does most of the NBA agree that Gordon is elite? Yes. Is he truly quite an elite player? That’s up to you to decide.