A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

33pt Thursday: Why I see Gordon Hayward breaking out as an all-star this year

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I originally planned to post how I use the 33pt method to rank teams and my predictions for this season, but I will save that for next week and polish it up until then

Of the players I have tried to evaluate with the 33pt method, a player who’s score jumped out to me was Gordon Hayward.

To many NBA fans, Hayward is seen as a decent starting wing in the NBA. But it is presumed his upside is inconsequential. I have him ranked as an all-star talent. Here’s my 33pt breakdown

Physical tools: Hayward might be the most underrated athlete in the league. Many of us seem to have a block when it comes to associating the aesthetic look of a scrawny white guy who fathers everywhere would want to date their daughter as superior athletically, however he is legitimately explosive. I like this video to show some of his explosiveness:

I remember when it took until his 3rd season for people to realize Eric Gordon is an elite athlete for a 2 guard. It’s almost unthinkable with how awesomely explosive Gordon is now that we wouldn’t think that, but a couple things held him back. The biggest reason why is that he averaged 16.1 pts and 16.9 pts his first 2 seasons and took a lot of jumpshots, his explosiveness hadn’t translated to the game yet. (Eric) Gordon of course broke out to 22.3ppg in his 3rd season and everyone caught up to his freakish explosiveness. Hayward may “break out” as an athlete next year in the same way if his production skyrockets.

Hayward also has strong ballhandling skills. Ballhandling is an important part of my physical score in my method, because ballhandling allows a player to attack the rim and paint instead of settling for jumpshots, which is the easiest way for a perimeter player to get a high physical score. Hayward also not only has speed and ballhandling, but size. He’s one of the biggest 2 guards in the league and has finished well at the rim in his career as a result.

Hayward’s combination of the speed and ballhandling to get into the paint off the dribble and strong size, make him a friendly scoring player in physical tools. I give him a score of 7 (all scores are out of 11) because he is still jumpshot orientated right now, but he has the potential to bump that up.

Skill: Hayward is skilled player. He is a good 3pt shooter on the verge of becoming a great one. His career 3pt% is .386, but that includes 47.3% his rookie year but a lesser 34.6% his sophomore year.  However at the same time his FT% raised from 71.1% to 83.2% and he improved his midrange shooting game, going from 35.3% to 43.1% from 3-9 FT, 37.5% to 51.9% from 10-15 FT, while he dropped from 38.0% to 37.0% from 16-23 FT. College can also be a solid indicator of shooting talent, where Hayward shot 36.9% combined from 3 his 2 years and 82.4% from the FT line. Hayward’s overall resume in college and his first two years in the league indicate someone who should be a good/great shooter. His form also looks good.

As for the rest of his skill, he’s solid at creating shots off the dribble due to his ballhandling talents and is a good passer. Hayward is a player nobody would dispute as skilled. My score for him in skill is 7 compared to 2 guards but again it’s not hard to envision him pushing that upwards a spot.

Feel for the Game: This has always been one of Hayward’s strengths. Going back to college, he’s been a player who’s feel for playing on the ball and craftiness driving into the lane has looked good. He’s someone who looks like a natural playing basketball and has a strong awareness of his players around him, allowing him to post very good assist numbers. For a 2 guard I give Hayward an excellent score of 8 but could be convinced on a 9.

Total: My 33pt talent score for Hayward is thus Physical: 7, Skill: 7, Feel for the Game: 8. That adds up to 22, which on a scale designed to mimic PER’s (25 = superstar, 20 = all-star, 15 = average player), is a VERY strong number caliber in the range of all-stars and the top 20-25 players in the league. In fact it’s such a good number that even conservative rankings of Hayward in the categories of 5 in physical, 6 in skill and 7 in feel for the game would still put him at 18, which is still near all-star level. On the other hand, what’s my optimistic view of what Hayward can accomplish in the categories? I could be sold on a scenario who he hits an 8 physically, an 8 in skill and a 9 in feel for the game, which would be a score of 25. Wow!

As for player comparisons, who Hayward’s combination of scores reminds me a lot of is Joe Johnson and James Harden. Johnson and Harden aren’t worldbeating athletes, but they’re good ones – and with their strong size for 2 guards, are above average in physical talent for their position. Harden does a better job attacking the basket than Johnson. Both are skilled ballhandlers, shooters and passers, Johnson a bit moreso than Harden in that category. But what really makes both those players is elite feel for the game and awareness of players around them. My score for Johnson is Physical: 6, Skill: 9, Feel: 10 – Total: 25 and my score for Harden is Physical: 8, Skill: 8, Feel: 10, Total: 28. Both rank above the threshold for superstar talent. Neither are consensus superstars, but Harden may get there still and Johnson is somewhat of an enigma, it’s possible his talent was a superstar level but his production only an all-star’s, because of perhaps not having that hunger in him. It’s certainly plausible Joe Johnson could’ve had Paul Pierce’s Hall of Fame career with more personal drive and competitiveness for example.

A slightly poor man’s Joe Johnson is actually simply a great comparison for Gordon Hayward in general. His height and build resembles Johnson’s quite a bit and his combination of shooting, passing and ball handling craftiness is very Joe Johnson-like. Hayward may never get to Johnson’s level of shooting, but he has a chance to attack the basket more than Joe because of a greater competitiveness. The comparisons of Johnson and Harden help Hayward pass the all-star sniff test to me. There is not much Hayward is missing in comparison to them. Physical tools? He’s right there despite his reputation. Skill? It’s within his reach to get in their vicinity. And basketball IQ/feel for the game? Again, Hayward matches up.

The age comparison between Hayward and Johnson/Harden is also very interesting:

Gordon Hayward, 2nd season, 21 years old, 3300+ minutes by the end of the year: 30.5mpg, 11.8ppg, 3.5 RBs, 3.1 asts, .456 FG%, .346 3P%, .832 FT%

Joe Johnson, 2nd season, 21 years old, 4200+ minutes by the end of the year: 27.5mpg, 9.8ppg, 3.2 rebs, 2.6 asts, .397 FG%, .366 3P%, .744 FT%

James Harden, 2nd season, 21 years old, 4500+ minutes by the end of the year: 26.7mpg, 12.2ppg, 3.1 rebs, 2.1 asts, .436 FG%, .349 3P%, .843 FT%

Gordon through this point in his career, is matching Johnson and Harden stride for stride despite playing less minutes than them due to the lockout shortened 2nd season. Johnson in his 3rd season jumped up to 16.7ppg, 4.7 rebs, 4.4 asts in 40.6mpg on 43% FG/30.5% 3P/77.4% FT. Harden in his 3rd season jumped up to 16.8ppg, 4.1 rebs, 3.7 asts in on 49.1% FG/39% 3P/84.6% FT in 31.4 MPG. Like many players the 3rd year is when they really started to make their mark as impact, all-star talents, especially if they were brought in slowly minutes played wise and from a young age like Gordon.

So Gordon Hayward, future NBA all-star and top 30 player? You probably think I’m crazy. But we’ll see. After all, a clear trend in the NBA is players nobody thought would be all-stars because of lack of freakish physical tools, managing to pull it off. Kevin Love, Roy Hibbert, David West, Joe Johnson, James Harden, Danillo Gallinari, Stephen Curry, Marc Gasol are all examples of players that broke out to an all-star caliber of play despite little early fanfare towards their upside up to this point. The main reason is that all those players had a superb combination of skill and feel for the game for their position but weren’t the most dominant physical forces on the block, which is always what gets associated with upside moreso than skill and feel for the game. Gordon not only has a strong skill level and feel for the game but is indeed an above average physical talent for a SG. At the very least those players and the comparison of Hayward to Johnson and Harden, make me believe it’s plausible Hayward is indeed an all-star talent that will surprise people this year.

By Julien Rodger

Twitter: @ASFW_jrodger

Email: julienrodger@gmail.com (if I get enough emails, I’ll do a mailbag)

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Written by jr.

September 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm

One Response

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  1. Maybe, but still think the team will do bad!

    jumpingpolarbear

    September 27, 2012 at 5:16 pm


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