SALT LAKE CITY – In Gordon Hayward’s mind, starting is one thing and finishing is something else.
But nothing beats helping the team.
The third-year Jazzman has flourished as Utah’s sixth man this season, averaging 14 points, three rebounds and 2.6 points this season. There’s no doubt he’s an emerging talent in the league and some would argue the Jazz might be better served with him in the starting lineup.
But he is averaging slightly over 27 minutes a game, which puts him in the top five among active Jazz players.
Amid a great deal of speculation from Jazz fans and media alike, coach Tyrone Corbin said he feels no pressure to make Hayward a starter and Hayward said he’s comfortable doing what he’s asked to do.
“I’m comfortable with the role doing whatever coach needs me to do to help us win,” Hayward said last week. “That’s what I try and do each and every game.”
Before last month’s All-Star break, Hayward, 22, missed 10 consecutive games with a shoulder sprain. He was clearly unhappy not being able to play and frustrated at not being able to help, even as the Jazz went 6-4 in his absence.
In the five games since coming back, the Butler product has averaged 18.2 points per game and the Jazz have gone 2-3.
Corbin has juggled his starting lineup, partly because of injury and partly to get a spark at point guard, but Hayward has remained Utah’s best offensive weapon coming off the bench.
For that reason, Corbin has been resistant to moving Hayward into the starting lineup, even through starting small forward Marvin Williams has struggled of late.
Even so, Hayward is averaging two more minutes a game than Williams and he’s finishing them, even if he’s not starting.
Going into tonight’s game at Milwaukee (29-28), the Jazz (32-27) are coming off a victory over the Charlotte Bobcats. Before that, however, they dropped two home games to better competition (Boston on Feb. 25 and Atlanta on Feb. 27).
“I try to be effective as I can vs. whoever,” Hayward said. “You try not to worry about who’s guarding you, especially with the way we work. If we execute the offense, everyone’s moving and we make sharp cuts, we really play Utah Jazz basketball and it doesn’t really matter who’s guarding us.”
Corbin flatly said he would not consider starting Hayward at small forward and second-year guard Alec Burks at the point, at least not based on statistical data only.
“Not on plus-minus,” he said.
The plus-minus stat tracks the team’s point differential when a player is on the floor.
This season the Jazz have scored 50 more points (2,758-2,708) with Hayward on the court. By comparison, they’ve scored 135 points more when reserve DeMarre Carroll is on the court.
The Jazz are 107 points in the negative when Al Jefferson – their leading scorer – in on the court.
While the plus-minus stat can be interesting to consider, it doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s hardly a clear indication of a player’s effectiveness because there are other variables at play, such as what other players are on the floor, what opponents are on defense and what’s the score of the game.
Corbin refuses to be beholden to statistical data, not when, as a former player, he feels he has a better understanding of the game’s nuances and its ebbs and flows.
“Feel and who we are and what’s working,” Corbin said, explaining part of his decision-making process.
“They all thing they can play the whole 48 minutes, which is great,” he added. “But you try to figure out what gives us the best chance to win.”