Following Butler’s miracle run through the NCAA Tournament, Gordon Hayward started popping up all over the draft board, moving as high as a top six pick, and dipping as low as the end of the first round. Just today, ESPN’s Chad Ford said in a chat that the he’s “heard Hayward may have the nod in LA” at pick number eight. The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the more polarizing players in the entire draft — it seems as though scouts are either bullish on him, or they think he’s a potential bust that’s capitalizing on tournament success and exposure. As is usually the case, the truth likely lies somewhere in between.
Hayward saw his shooting percentages drop from 44.8 percent from three-point land as a freshman to just 29.4 percent in his sophomore season, which may be the result of defenses honing in on him. Hayward has been praised for his solid shooting mechanics, but there’s a definite flaw worth pointing out. When a closeout comes hard and fast, Hayward’s shot changes in that he short-arms his release and doesn’t follow all the way through, almost shot-putting the ball instead of stroking it. The main adjustment great collegiate shooters have when moving on to the pro game is the speed of the defense on their rotations and closeouts. With that said, it doesn’t help Hayward’s cause that he was often matched up against opposing teams’ power forwards, who won’t nearly have the quickness that NBA small forwards possess. While Hayward certainly won’t be a number one option in the pros and, as such, will have less attention focused solely on him, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that his percentages, with a moved back line, will lean more towards his sophomore campaign than his freshman year.
Off the Bounce
Part of Hayward’s appeal is his ability to handle the ball and act as a point-forward. Hayward is particularly impressive in this category off defensive rebounds, where he immediately flies up the center of the court and starts the break himself. Hayward is a tough cover off the dribble because he’s a right-handed player who drives to his left about 70 percent of the time, which is unconventional to say the least. Hayward doesn’t blow by defenders at all, but he uses a good pivot off the catch to create space and better angles for himself. One of the huge problems he has off the dribble however is that he stays extremely upright — there’s little explosiveness to his dribble-drive game because his center of gravity is so high. Hayward’s go- to move is a ridiculously high crossover that any decent NBA defender should be able to take away from him. While he can bring the ball up the court for you and protect it, he’s not going to be breaking down perimeter defenders and getting to the tin.
This is where Hayward really stands out. Rebounding is a skill that usually translates well from college to the NBA, and Hayward is a guy who just seems to have a nose for the ball. If you don’t get a body on him, he’ll fly to the rim every single time, and from there he’s pretty solid with putbacks and tip-ins. Hayward should be able to hold his own on the defensive glass, as he’s had plenty of experience at Butler with covering bigger, stronger power forwards and keeping them off the boards. There are concerns that Hayward might not be athletic enough to grab boards at the NBA level, but his recent combine performances proved that shouldn’t be an issue. Hayward registered a no-step vertical of 30.5 inches, a number that bested both John Wall and Evan Turner. He’s not going to soar over the competition, but Hayward is a quick straight up and down jumper who can pull down rebounds in a crowd.
Part of what makes Hayward such a versatile player is his passing ability. Hayward’s best attribute in this regard is his ability to make really good dump-off passes to the baseline once the defense draws to his penetration. His ability to work high-low action and make good post entry passes is a plus as well. Like most players not named Steve Nash, Hayward gets himself into a ton of trouble when he leaves his feet to pass, which he does far too often. When Hayward stays under control with his dribble and stays on the ground, he’s an excellent distributor.
Hayward draws a ton of contact on his drives, but he struggles finishing through contact against defenses that are already set and waiting for him, as we witnessed against Duke in the title game. Help should be quicker to arrive on the pro level and Hayward will absolutely have to bulk up to finish among the trees, if he can even get by his guy to find himself in that position. The upside is that he’s good moving without the ball, making good cuts and reading his defender very well coming off screens. With the right coach, Hayward can be utilized well as a shooter on a second unit.
Parents of young basketball players take note — have your kid play tennis at a young age. Hayward was a budding tennis star as a youngster, and non-coincidentally he’s actually pretty solid on his feet defensively. He shows decent lateral quickness and he never gives up on the play if someone gets around him. He’s not a stopper and he’s not a liability, but he’s passable and will only improve as he bulks up a bit. Most importantly, and something you can’t really teach, Hayward plays hard on the defensive end and really focuses on being solid. He was a big reason why Butler was so good defensively the last two seasons.
Best Case Player Analogy: Hedo Turkoglu
What made Turkoglu so valuable in Orlando was his playmaking ability as the ball handler on pick and rolls and his outside shooting. When people look at Hayward, they hope that his ballhandling, distributing, and shooting abilities could help him morph into a similar player. More likely than not Hayward will be a role player and a complementary piece, but if he were given some time and enough opportunities there’s a chance he could do a lot of the things Turkoglu can. He’ll need to work on getting lower on his drives and becoming a more consistent outside shooter, but the foundation is there. Keep in mind that it took Turkoglu six seasons in the league to become a regular starter. It’s not difficult to see Hayward following a similar path.
Worst Case Player Analogy: Jiri Welsch
Tall, with a decent handle and the ability to occasionally hit threes. That was the book on Jiri Welsch. Unfortunately Welsch was mostly terrible at everything else, couldn’t cover anyone and didn’t really bring a whole lot to the table other than being a point-forward type novelty. Here’s the thing — scouts, GM’s, coaches… they all love the idea of a point-forward. Everyone wants their shot at a Toni Kukoc type guy, but very rarely do those guys come around. Hayward is garnering interest as a point-forward type, which in of itself should serve as a warning.
Who he’s not: Adam Morrison
Detractors of Hayward will bring up Adam Morrison’s name in the next few weeks, but those comparisons are way off-base. Morrison was a terrible athlete in college but an incredible high-volume scorer who took and regularly made shots with guys drenched all over him. He had absolutely maximized his athletic ability, and once the athletes were far superior to him in the pros, it took away his ability to rise up over anyone and get off his shot. Hayward isn’t nearly as one-dimensional or as limited athletically as Morrison. Morrison was a scorer while Hayward is very versatile, good at a lot of things but not great at anything.
How he fits
Hayward doesn’t project to be a top offensive option for any team, including the Clippers, so it’s important to look at him in the context of a role player. One of Hayward’s biggest strengths is his rebounding, something that could definitely be used on the wing considering Eric Gordon’s height deficiencies. Hayward is intriguing as the ball-handler on a 3/4 or 3/5 pick and roll with Griffin and Kaman, although his inability to really blow by people and turn the corner may hamper the potential for great things there. Hayward would make the most sense on the Clippers as a guy who could hide out in the right corner and stretch the defense, or drive to the middle of the defense with his left hand and work his in-between game should the defense closeout quickly.
How you feel about Hayward at pick 8 is likely proportional to how you feel about Hayward as a shooter. If you think he’s a knockdown, dead-eye distance shooter, you probably like him at pick 8. But if you think his sophomore campaign was more than just a prolonged shooting slump, you’re probably hoping the Clippers look elsewhere.