Tuesday , March 07, 2017 - 2:31 PM
SALT LAKE CITY — After an ugly home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Utah Jazz have won three straight to remain in fourth place in the Western Conference and on pace for a 50-win season.
Even with their status as the fourth-best team in the West, some still doubt Utah’s ability to make meaningful postseason noise. The Jazz have been injured more than they’ve been healthy this year — Rodney Hood can’t seem to stay on the court, Derrick Favors is just barely looking like his old, explosive self and George Hill’s full potential remains untapped.
Somehow, though, Utah has a 1 1/2-game lead on the Los Angeles Clippers for the coveted fourth spot. While the entire team deserves credit — including coach Quin Snyder, who should be in serious consideration for Coach of the Year for his deft handling of the injury situation — one man stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The first-time All-Star, seven-year veteran, gaming enthusiast and even-keeled locker room presence scores more per game than Golden State sharpshooter Klay Thompson, Indiana forward Paul George, and Cleveland forward Kevin Love.
Hayward’s player efficiency rating (PER) is 23.1, good for 21st in the NBA. He’s in front of Washington guard John Wall, Portland guard Damian Lillard, Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving and Memphis center Marc Gasol.
Hayward’s estimated wins added (how many wins he’s responsible for) also puts him ahead of Lillard, Gasol, and Irving, with 11.7 victories to his name.
Everyone says to win in the NBA, your team needs a superstar. Not just an All-Star, but a true All-NBA level talent who plays hard at both ends and single-handedly wins game. After the infamous Deron Williams trade, the Jazz have searched for their superstar. This season, Hayward has rightfully earned that title.
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote about the 15 most important players in each conference as the playoffs near. His remarks about Hayward were eyebrow-raising:
“Hayward’s efficiency has only risen with his increased role (from a 53.4 effective field goal percentage on the season to 58.8 in February). Once the playoffs roll around, you might hear a lot about how the Jazz are deep but lack a superstar,” O’Connor wrote.
“The thing is, they have one. His name is Gordon Hayward. Even deep, versatile teams need a high-usage superstar to lean on when the playoffs turn games into half-court battles.”
O’Connor is a widely-respected NBA writer, so his naming Hayward a superstar shouldn’t be taken lightly. We’ve seen Hayward, time and time again this season, win games.
From his dagger jumpers against the Wizards a week ago to dethroning LeBron James last season, Hayward isn’t the lanky kid from Butler anymore. He’s a full-fledged superstar, and the Jazz need to do one thing to convince him to stay after his contract expires this season:
Spencer is a novelist, outdoors/fly fishing columnist and sports writer from Utah. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram @Spencer_Durrant.
Sign up for e-mail news updates.