SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gordon Hayward entered the season ready to raise his profile in the league. Things are off to a slower start than expected through three games.
Hayward has averaged 12 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists going into Wednesday’s home opener against the Trail Blazers. Those aren’t the numbers those around the organization – or Hayward – hoped for, but there’s certainly no panic from such a small sample size.
“Just a little bit of a slow start for me personally, but the team is playing well and that’s what I’m focused on,” Hayward said. “I’ll find a way to get it going and get back in the groove of things. Hopefully I can find it in this next game. But feeling good about where we’re at as a team.”
Hayward returned from the summer visibly stronger and said he worked on finishing during the offseason. He showed that late in a season-opening loss to Detroit after struggling much of the night. Shots just haven’t fallen, as Hayward is shooting what would be a career-low 35.3 percent from the field. The points, rebounds and assist averages would all be the lowest since 2011-12 for the sixth-year player.
Hayward finished last season with an average of 19.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
Coach Quin Snyder wasn’t interested in dissecting Hayward.
“I’m not in the evaluate Gordon business,” Snyder said. “At least not after every game. Gordon’s established himself as one of the best players in the league. Every game’s going to present different challenges.
“I thought he played really well against Indiana. He’s gotten some offensive fouls that, to me, are baskets. I like what he’s doing and where he’s going.”
There will be some developmental time for this Jazz (2-1) team. There’s a different dynamic with Dante Exum injured and rookie Raul Neto starting at point guard. Alec Burks is back from a shoulder injury that ended his 2014-15 season. He plays the same position as Hayward and is a creative player with the ball in his hands. Derrick Favors has been extremely aggressive with the new range on his jump shot and leads the team with 21.3 points per game. Second-year wing Rodney Hood has blossomed himself and has averaged 15.3 points.
“From the first week of practice (Hayward had) been really aggressive. That’s what we want,” Snyder said. “There’s different ways for him to be aggressive. Whether it’s shooting the ball, making plays defensively. I think we’ve seen a little bit of everything. At certain times too he’s going to put all that together.
“It’s an adjustment for him, too, with Rodney and Alec back and Dante not here. Everyone’s kind of finding where their shots come, what their role is. I think those roles will be dynamic. I think they’ll change as the season progresses. Not in a major ways, but we’ll see them evolve.”
Hayward explained that he’s not going out looking to get his offense. He’s just as involved in spacing the floor and making the extra pass, not to mention his defensive effort.
And that’s most important for an organization that led the league in defense after the All-Star game last year. The team just isn’t built to win shootouts.
“We’re a young team,” Hayward said. “We’re going to struggle sometimes offensively, but as long as we can maintain our defensive principles, I think we’ll be all right.”
The Jazz are currently No. 23 in the league in scoring (94.3 points) after an Eastern Conference swing that included the Pistons, 76ers and Pacers. Utah leads the league in defense after giving up just 79.7 points per game. The Spurs are No. 2 with an opponent’s average of 89.5 points.
The defensive effort is off to a fast start. Things are still developing on the other end of the floor, but there are few concerns about Hayward.
“Gordon’s one of the most unselfish superstars in the league,” Jazz forward Joe Ingles said. “He’ll take the shots that he gets. He doesn’t force much, either. … I think we’ll have a lot, this year, of different guys having big games each week.
“He’ll break out soon and you guys will leave him alone. He’s fine.”