Profile of a Shooter: Gordon Hayward

Apr 6, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward (20) shoots the basketball against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Jazz 130-102. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward’s 2013-14 season was a divergence from his first three in the league. He underwent a large role change, becoming the primary creator for Utah’s mostly anemic offense after the departure of dual post threats Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. The results were less than ideal by nearly any metric available. One of the simplest ways to see the effect is his shot chart — forced to create his own shot far more frequently than he was used to and without much in the way of consistent support, Hayward’s shooting numbers dipped noticeably.

His numbers from the corners pop out immediately — he was abjectly terrible here from both sides, shooting just 26.7 percent on all corner 3’s for the year. He’s never been a knockdown guy from here per se (32.7 percent in 12-13, 36.5 percent in 11-12 on limited attempts), but such a decline while chucking more attempts than any previous season certainly isn’t promising. He was solid-to-excellent from the left elbow extended beyond the arc, frequently the stronger side for right-handed shooters, but the good news mostly stops there. He was lukewarm at best from the rest of midrange, and his numbers within three feet of the rim (excluding shots right below the basket) left something to be desired.

But how much of Hayward’s struggle shooting the ball can be traced back to both his stretched role and the absence of other shot creators? Pinning the types of large decreases he showcased over previous years entirely on such elements is never wise, but the answer might still be more than you think. For starters, check out his chart for the 2012-13 season, Jefferson and Millsap’s final one with Utah:

So…yeah, slightly different to say the least. Notice how much more concentrated his high-volume areas were compared with last season — a relatively wide distribution in both cases, but far more clustered around the areas he’s more efficient in. Mostly absent are groups of shorter mid-range looks, both inside the paint and slightly outside, shots Hayward is almost never getting as open spot-up looks. Rather, he’s typically shooting these on the run or fading away, more difficult shots often preempted by a rebuffed drive or the presence of a rim protector to wall him off. And as the charts show, he had far more of these types of shots last season, at least partially a result of his altered role. Further evidence here is in the percentage of his made field-goals that were assisted — Hayward had an assist on an even 50 percent of his made baskets last year, down markedly from 68.8 percent the previous year.

Said role alteration was, of course, at least somewhat forced by circumstance — in this case, departing personnel. Jefferson and Millsap, the former in particular, are strong post presences with real gravity felt by opposing defenses. Utah’s ability to play inside-out through those two was perfect for Hayward, who could thrive in any role — strong-side entry passer, weak-side shooting threat, even as a heady cutter with help defenders forced to keep one eye on the post when Al or Paul went to work. His numbers with Jefferson on and off the court for the 12-13 season contrast greatly – an effective field-goal percentage of 52.5 while sharing the floor with Big Al dropped to 47.2 when Jefferson hit the bench, per nbawowy.com. Unsurprisingly, this corresponded with a large uptick in usage, and the trend carried over into last season when Jefferson and, to a lesser extent, Millsap were no longer around to initiate things and free space for Hayward.

Again, apportioning full blame for Hayward’s shooting struggles last season on his role and the departure of key teammates would be foolish. He was a fourth-year player drafted in the lottery, and the general expectation for guys in that position is to take on an escalating role over their first several seasons while hopefully not sacrificing much in the way of efficiency. But it’s tough to fully ignore the effect these elements had, and it’ll be no surprise to anyone in Utah to see his chart start trending from blue to red over the next few seasons as his teammates grow and he’s utilized in more optimal ways.

The shot chart in this post is the work of our own Austin ClemensCheck out shot charts for any NBA player going back to the 1996-1997 season here.

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) is a general sports fanatic and jack-of-all trades analytics nerd. He also writes for ESPN TrueHoop affiliate Salt City Hoops and Beacon Reader, and enjoys the sound of his own voice even more than his own writing — he can also be found on the airwaves in Salt Lake City on ESPN Radio AM 700. If you don’t think Alec Burks is an All Star, the two of you likely won’t have much to talk about.