SLAM Top 50: Gordon Hayward, No. 33

Gordon Hayward will always be known by many people for one thing: missing that shot that one time. During the 2010 NCAA Tournament, Hayward was the leader for 5-seed Butler’s magical run to the national title game. The Bulldogs lost to Duke, 61-59. Hayward was so very close to being the hero when this happened:

No matter what, Hayward was going to be on the end of one of the most memorable shots in NCAA Tournament history. Make it, and he’s a legend. Miss it, and Butler was thisclose to doing the impossible. The latter happened. Oh well.

It’s unfair to Hayward for this to be the case, though, because the dude can straight up ball. He has gone from a wiry, dangerous scorer who ate up rebounds at Butler to one of the craftiest scorers in the NBA. There are few basketball players with a more well-rounded offensive game than the Jazz’s small forward. Looking at his shot charts are always a fun exercise, because Hayward is capable of getting the job done from every area of the court.

This video illustrates the versatility of Hayward’s offensive game. He can pull up and can a three in someone’s grill just as easily as he can drive by them and throw down. If he gets stuck, he’ll go deep into his bag of tricks and make a defender look silly.

Hayward put all of these skills on display in 2015-16, and in turn, he had his best scoring season as a pro. He dropped 19.7 points per game for the Jazz, who are everyone’s favorite young team this year thanks to guys like Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood.

The craziest part about this is that even though Hayward’s scoring numbers have gotten better every year, it’s not wild to think that he can get better. His shooting numbers weren’t too great last season—among players who had at least 500 field-goal attempts, Hayward’s effective field-goal percentage was 105th in the League. That put him behind dudes like Rajon Rondo, Arron Afflalo and Jeremy Lamb, among others. His true shooting percentage was a bit better (tied for 54th among dudes with 500-plus FGAs), but that’s mostly because Hayward hit just over 82 percent of his free throws.

Basically, once Hayward begins picking his spots better—which, considering Dante Exum is back from injury and the team acquired George Hill, is very possible—he can very easily become a more efficient scorer.

He has the potential to average 20-plus points a game. He has shown that he can average 5-plus assists and rebounds per game in the past. The list of 20-5-5 guys last year was Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

If Hayward reaches his ceiling, at least offensively, he’ll become one of the best players in the NBA. He’s absolutely capable of doing this, especially with the collection of young talent around him in Utah.

For now, he’s our 33rd-best player in the League. Not bad for a guy who’s most well-known for missing a shot once, right?

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2016-17—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

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