Gordon Hayward Accepts Reserve Role
Since most of us aren’t professional basketball players, we can only imagine how a young player must feel when he’s moved to a bench role after previously being a starter. It’s no stretch to think such action could result in feelings of resentment or compromise budding confidence. In the case of Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz, neither scenario has materialized.
“Whatever the team needs me to do is what I’m willing to do and just try to help us win games,” Hayward told HOOPSWORLD. “That’s the most important part. For us right now, it’s with me coming off the bench, so I’m willing and accepting that role.”
That’s a refreshing reaction from a player picked ninth in the 2010 NBA Draft and who started in 17-of-72 games in his rookie year, 58-of-66 last season and was moved to the bench after ten games this season.
“I think that it doesn’t necessarily matter who starts the game,” he added. “It more a lot of time matters who’s on the court at the end of the game.”
“He understands that coming off the bench…it’s not emotional for him,” said Jazz coach Ty Corbin, whose team has a 9-8 record. “It’s just going to give us an opportunity to get better as a team (and) give him an opportunity to get the ball in his hands more to be effective for us. He’s relishing the moment.”
Hayward began the first ten games of the 2012-13 season as a starter; in those games, he averaged 13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists. He also logged 0.9 steals, 1.0 three-pointers, 2.7 free throws at .794 percentage with 2.5 personal fouls at 30.9 minutes. In the past seven games off the bench, he’s averaged numbers remarkably similar to his starters’ numbers: 13.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.9 three-pointers at 24.6 minutes. Free throws have increased at 4.4 at .861 percentage and personal fouls decreased at 1.4 per game.
“I think he’s been more aggressive since he’s come off the bench,” noted Corbin. “It’s a group he can lead a little bit more and have the ball in his hands and not just make plays for himself but plays for his teammates as well.”
Corbin has made no secret of the fact he’s still searching for workable starting-five combinations, giving heavy consideration to what works best in opponent matchups while navigating through the logjam of bigs.
“We’re still trying to find who we are as a team,” said teammate Paul Millsap.
Al Jefferson believes moving Hayward to the bench is working and points to the number of shots now available to him.
“I think him coming off the bench is a big thing for him,” said Al Jefferson. “He’s the leader of that second unit.”
Hayward is a 22-year-old leader brimming with confidence. We asked him to expound on both topics, starting with leadership.
“I’ve never really been a vocal guy too much. I always try to lead by example. I just try to put in a lot of the work, play hard, compete and hopefully guys look up at that a little bit.”
He certainly ranks as one of the most quiet and humble players, but don’t underestimate his will. The determination and tenacity is evident on the court; off court, the dangling carrot is the need to get better at the game.
“Since I was little, I remember thinking to myself that if I’m not out there on the court, I know somebody is,” he explained. “Growing up in Indiana, Reggie Miller was the man. I heard that he had such a great work ethic and was a professional when he played. You just want to do that whenever you get a chance to step out on the court. You’ve just got to make sure you give it your all.
“In the end, I think we’re NBA players (and) only around for ten years, if you’re lucky, so you’ve got to make it your best”
Now for that confidence. How did he come by it at such a young age?
“I think preparation. I think by practicing, putting in the work, you can be confident,” he answered. “My dad always told me that when you’re taking a test that you’ve prepared for it, go in there with confidence and not stress about it or don’t worry about it because you’ve already put in the time to prepare, so it’s just the same type thing to me. It’s our job to get in there early and get shots up and practice game-like situations so when you get in the game, you’ve done it a thousand times.”
One player – who is a veteran leader himself – is firmly situated on Hayward’s side.
“Off the court, he’s a great person,” teammate Earl Watson told us. “He has the skills and everything to be an All-Star, to be a championship player on a championship team, and to be a leader most importantly. The future is going to be amazing for him as he continues to grow as a person and grow as a player. It doesn’t matter if you start him or bring him off the bench, he just goes out there and he plays hard.
“I think he’s doing amazing. He’s a unique basketball player; he has so many unique skill sets. He’s so unselfish, almost to the point where you want him to be more selfish. That’s not who he is. He’s not going to try to fill up the stat sheet.”
Some may recall how the two-year Butler product struggled with the decision to leave college for the NBA and how instrumental his dad was in guiding him during that time. It took some time, but Hayward finally came to terms with declaring early for the Draft.
“I was definitely resolved after the first year,” began Hayward. “It was definitely a difficult decision, but it’s one of those decisions, that once you make, I think you can’t look back and stress over if it was the right decision or not. I think you just go full blast. I strongly believe it was the right decision.”
Hayward has a long career ahead of him; whether he plays as a starter or reserve, he’s set to impact the game.