Life Without Gordon

After all the hype, muscle gain, and adoration around Utah, Gordon Hayward was ready to cash in on his self proclaimed “best off season ever”. And to be fair it looked like he wasn’t wrong. Through 2 games, albeit they were preseason games, in 40 minutes he scored 32 points on 18 shots with 7 rebounds. That reads really well off the score sheet but what was really impressive was the ease with which he played. It looked as if he really had taken another step in the development of his game. I mean he made it look easy. That is the difference between the good players and the stars in the NBA. We expect Stephen Curry to score 30 every game because he makes scoring 30 look so easy and we grow to expect it from him.

While I wrote a week ago about how Hayward was the one component the Jazz were unlikely to survive without, this isn’t as bad as it could be. I’m sure its a huge bummer for the guy leading a team that has yet to catch a break, he can maintain his conditioning and shoot some. Now the issue at hand (pun intended) is replacing his production. For a frame of reference, last year even with all of the injuries to his teammates and his own plantar faciitis he averaged 36.2 minutes / 19.7 points / 5 rebounds / 3.7 assists / 1.2 steals. Hayward is 1 out of 5 players last season to have those numbers or better that hasn’t been selected to an All Star team. Utah is now left to cover 20% of their total scoring from last year.

While I am personally interested to see what Robyn Hayward picks out for Gordon to wear while sidelined, lets project on the players most likely filling in for the incredible hair shaped hole in the lineup.

  • George Hill 2015–16: 74 games / 12.1 points / 4 rebounds / 3.5 assists

The biggest impact on this years lineup is the GIANT leap up from varying levels of incompetence at PG last year to one of the most consistent and professional PG’s in the league. There aren’t many more PG’s as well rounded as Hill. Best case scenario is a repeat of the 2014–15 season where he filled in for the injured Paul George with an admirable 16.1 points / 4.2 rebounds / and 5 assists.

  • Joe Johnson 2015–16: 12.2 points / 3.9 rebounds / 3.9 assists

Based off of the 3rd preseason game, Quinn Snyder is going to start with replacing Hayward with Joe Johnson initially. Over the last 5 seasons, Johnson has lost around 1.5 points per game with roughly the same minutes and games played. With the start of his 16th season its hard to imagine that trend reversing.

  • Rodney Hood 2015–16: 14.5 points / 3.4 rebounds / 2.7 assists

Rodney started his sophomore season off slow due to an injury but caught fire through January and February (18 points per game). Given the natural progression of his game it was already assumed he would be several points better this year. Give him 4–5 additional shots during Hayward’s absence and it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario where he can average that same 18 points per game.

  • Alec Burks (last full season) 2013–14: 14 points / 3.3 rebounds / 2.7 assists

Alec has averaged these similar numbers in both of the last 2 injury plagued seasons and hasn’t made the next step up that once made Dwayne Wade name Burks one of the most underrated talents in the NBA. A *Healthy Burks can create serious flexibility in lineups offensively to a Utah team that ranked 30th in pace last year. Here’s hoping he can find a way to stay on both feet all year.

Given the incredible grouping of talent Utah has accumulated, the load will undoubtedly be spread throughout the group. Snyder has shown so far during the preseason that the offense is a heavy motion offense resulting in opportunities for a lot of layups and dunks. This fits as the majority of the ball handlers on the team excel around the rim (sorry Dante) and could lead to open jump shots as teams try to adjust. Golbert is also set up perfectly for a step forward with his offensive game and will be given plenty of opportunity at the free throw line to get a couple free points per game. So far (again, preseason) he is shooting a staggering 78% from the line (18/23) up from his abysmal 57% last year.

Earliest projections have Hayward missing the first 4 weeks of the regular season. 10 of the 17 games in the stretch are on the road and 9 of the 17 are against playoff teams from last year. After several of my own simulations (ok “hypothetical” simulations), it’s reasonable to put the Jazz at 9–8 or 10–7. Anything above .500 keeps the Jazz inline for the 47.5 wins that Vegas has them pegged for.

While I hope Zach Lowe’s prediction of 50+ wins isn’t that “Crazy” (see his annual 30 Crazy Prediction Column), it all depends on how Utah weathers this storm and avoids other injuries down the road. Even higher praise is coming from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton who forecasts the Jazz as the 3rd best team in the west using RPM (Real Plus Minus)while accounting for Hayward missing the first month. While a broken/dislocated finger is not the way anyone in Jazzland would like to start the season, it hasn’t dampened spirits yet. There is a lot of trust in Snyder and Co. to hold down the fort till Thanksgiving.