Strengths and Weaknesses
In his fourth season in the NBA, Gordon Hayward is still showing signs of improvement. He averaged career highs across the board: 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.4 steals. This put him in a rare class of players (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Michael Carter-Williams) to average 16+ points, 5+ rebounds, 5+ assists, and 1+ steal in a season.
After the departures of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams during the offseason, Hayward was left to be the Utah Jazz's do it all player this season. He led the team in scoring and steals, was second in assists and third in rebounds, all while also generally being the team's go-to guy. By being responsible for carrying the young and rebuilding Jazz, we saw the type of player Hayward can be -- and the role he is best suited for.
Hayward's versatility makes him a fit on almost any team. Offensively he's able to get to the basket, whether it's on drives with the ball or off-ball cuts. He also has sneaky athletic ability, which makes him a much better finisher around the basket than some would expect: he shot 58.3 percent (141-242) in the restricted area this season.
Along with his ability to score, he is able to create for his teammates. After averaging three assists the previous two seasons, that number increased to five this season due to his increased responsibilities.
Standing at 6'8", he can guard both the shooting guard and small forward spots successfully; though he may struggle against bigger and physical forwards due to his smaller frame. Overall, Hayward is a much better defender than given credit for. With the above-mentioned athletic ability, he's able to come up with some weak side and chase down blocks. Along with defense, he's an excellent rebounder for a wing, especially if he's slotted at the shooting guard position.
With all that is right with Hayward, this season showed us that he isn't capable of being a team's number one option and may not even be best suited to be the second.
While Hayward's per-game averages were nice, the same can't be said about his percentages and turnovers. He shot career-lows of 41.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three. As he was responsible for getting his own shot and had defenses focused primarily on him, he was no longer able to get the same easy looks he has become accustomed to. What's more alarming is his field goal percentage has dropped every season he's been in the league. As a rookie he shot 48.5 percent overall and 47.3 percent from long range, though he did only play 16.9 minutes per game compared to the 36.4 he played this season. Like his percentages, his 2.8 turnovers per game were also a career worst.
At 24 years old, he has plenty of time to clean up and improve those two areas. Becoming a third option for a team may be the best route from him, as he is able to play to his strengths and won't have to carry the load and burden of the offense.
Fit with the Mavericks
With the starting small forward position presumably open due to Shawn Marion's expected departure and/or demotion, Hayward could be a great fit in the Mavs starting lineup. He slides right into that third option role he's best suited for while Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis carry the load.
His ability to play with and without the ball would be a natural fit for Rick Carlisle's free-flow offense. Though his 3-point percentages have dropped, you could expect that number to jump up a good amount with Jose Calderon, Ellis, and Nowitzki drawing the defense's attention away from him. Also, as Marion lived off of the occasional backdoor cut, Hayward would also benefit.
Hayward adds a dimension that Marion and the likes of Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza don't. As Ellis and Nowitzki can alleviate plenty of pressure from him, he in return can do the same. His ability to handle the ball and create for his teammates would allow the Mavs to rest their star tandem at a higher clip than they were able to this season, as he can be the Mavs primary play-maker for small spurts.
He isn't Marion on the defensive side and won't be able to guard bigger players as Marion did, but he offers plenty of length and athleticism; both areas of need.
As great as it sounds to have Hayward in a Dallas uniform, there is a dilemma. Unlike Deng and Ariza, he is a restricted free agent. The Jazz's rebuilding plan would take a big step back with the loss of him. For the Mavs to pry him away, they may have to pay him big time money.
Which raises the question: is he worth a max contract to be a third option?