If the world hadn’t heard of Gordon Hayward before Butler’s remarkable NCAA Tournament run, they surely do now.
Hayward emerged as the leader of the Bulldogs during the Dance, and while his stats were anything but mind-blowing, it’s just further evidence that stats don’t tell the entire story of a basketball game.
He made clutch shots down the stretch (except for one 45-footer that missed by a quarter of an inch vs. Duke, which would have made been the greatest ending in any championship game). He got key rebounds. He kept possessions alive by deflecting loose balls.
Whatever it takes to win, Gordon Hayward will do it. That’s something that can’t be taught to someone will all the talent and athleticism in the world, nor is it something that will appear in a stat sheet.
NBA Position: SF
Weight: 210 lbs.
First and foremost, Hayward is a gamer. He’s an extremely intelligent player that has a throwback game; he doesn’t have a lot of flash or excitement, but when he’s on the floor, he does a lot of different things very well.
Start with his shooting. He averaged 15.5 points this season (nearly 16 in the Tournament) on 46.4 percent shooting. He struggled with his outside shot, going just 29.4 percent from behind the line; however, during his freshman year he nearly hit 45 percent.
He’s also an 82.4 percent career free throw shooter, and he got to the line almost six times a game last season, so it’s not like he lives on the perimeter.
He’s got a high release on jump shot, similar to someone like Dirk Nowitzki or Rashard Lewis. At 6’9”, it makes his shot difficult to defend; all it takes is a sliver of light, and Hayward can get his shot off.
While he’s not going to blow you away with his athleticism, he’s still a sneaky-good rebounder. He grabbed over eight a game as a sophomore, including nearly two on the offensive end. Again, this is a testament to his high IQ; while he’s not relentless in his attack, or simply overpowering defenders with his size, he knows little things like when to go to the glass, what angles to take, and where the ball will bounce.
He also understands how to efficiently move and get open without the ball. He knows how to set up defenders and properly run off screens, which is an underrated virtue in today’s games.
He facilitates ball movement well and isn’t always looking for his shot, but simply the best shot available in the offense. If that’s for someone else, he’s more than willing to make the extra pass. He won’t get a lot of assists, but he’ll have a fair amount of hockey assists – the pass leading to the pass that gets the bucket.
Defensively, he understands the team concept. Playing at a school like Butler where the unstated motto would have to be “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, he knows his assignments, along with where and when to give help.
He’s well-coached, well-schooled, and ready to step in and play.
At just 210 pounds, he’s going to be physically overmatched by several NBA forwards. Notably, he’s going to have to adjust his game and get a lot stronger in order to defend guys like Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and even Kevin Durant.
With that in mind, the question becomes, what position is he going to guard in the NBA? Does he get overpowered by the aforementioned small forwards?
Or does he try to chase shooting guards around and use his size to bother them (keep in mind, he doesn’t have great foot speed or athleticism, meaning it’d be just as difficult to try to keep up with someone that can attack off the dribble)?
In one-on-one situations, he’s not much of a playmaker. He doesn’t have the ability to get to the rim off the bounce, nor is he likely to command double-teams at the next level. Since he’s not a great passer, there’s fear that opposing defenses will be able to turn him into a stationary perimeter player.
Some people have questioned his aggressiveness at the college level, thinking that he didn’t take over games when he could (or should) have, and was at times too passive on offense. But in the pros, he’s not going to be asked to be a dominant scorer; he’s a great fit as a role player, so those concerns should be partially nullified.
NBA Comparison: Mike Miller (with a higher ceiling)
Draft Projection: Mid-to-late First Round