Extension Candidate: Gordon Hayward

Over the weekend, I examined the chances that the Jazz and Derrick Favors would reach agreement on an extension. Teammate Gordon Hayward is eligible for one, too, and he may be just as valuable a part of Utah's future. He's certainly played a more prominent role in the team's recent past, showing steady progress and averaging 29.8 minutes per game the past two seasons. He, unlike Favors, has been a full-time starter for the team, but Hayward spent most of last season as a reserve, rejoining the starting lineup for the final month of the season. It seems certain that he'll start for this season's stripped-down Jazz team, but Utah's front office has to determine whether he's likely to continue to do so when there's more talent on the roster.

Hayward was the team's third leading scorer last season, at 14.1 points per game. He's the only one of the team's top-five scorers to return, and without much offensive talent coming in, he has as strong a chance as anyone to lead the Jazz in scoring this year. The former Butler University star's calling card is long-range shooting, and last season he demonstrated for the first time an ability to hit from just about every spot behind the three-point arc, as his Basketball-Reference heat map shows. He made 41.5% of his three-pointers last season, and even though he played slightly fewer minutes than in 2011/12, he upped the number of threes he took per game to 3.4 from 2.4.

He made nearly as many shots at the rim this past season as the year before, so the fact that his overall shooting percentage declined for the second year in a row is simply a reflection of Hayward's willingness to eschew mid-range jumpers. That's a choice that Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin and his staff probably encouraged Hayward to make, as the NBA increasingly values three-pointers and attempts from point-blank range over all other shots.

Hayward is evolving into the modern ideal of an offensive threat, and he's also a markedly better defender than when he came into the league. The Jazz gave up a whopping 110.8 points per 100 possessions with Hayward on the court during his rookie season, a rate worse than the league's worst defensive team that season. That number went down to 104.6 in 2011/12 and 104.0 in 2012/13. It's still a rate that would rank among the bottom half of teams, but Hayward wasn't exactly surrounded by top-flight defenders last season, and more minutes for Favors along with the departure of the sieve-like Al Jefferson figures to help mask any of Hayward's shortcomings. 

The Jazz possess two of the top 10 picks in the 2010 draft in Hayward and Favors, but unlike the offensively challenged Favors, the No. 3 overall selection, Hayward is more of a two-way player. That doesn't mean the team doesn't see him as more valuable. There's always been a premium on big men in the NBA, and quality wing players like Hayward are usually in much greater supply. However, the league is experiencing an ebb in shooting guard talent these days, and while the 6'8" Hayward is much better suited as a small forward, he's played enough at the two that I suspect he'd draw interest from a few teams with holes at the two-guard position if he hits restricted free agency next summer. He'd probably be the best option under the age of 30 at that position. The Jazz would have the right to match, of course, but an inflated offer from another team would drive up Hayward's price.

Hayward scored 17.4 points per 36 minutes last season, a number virtually identical to the 17.2 points per 36 minutes that DeMar DeRozan put up in 2011/12, right before he and the Raptors agreed to a four-year, $38MM extension. Hayward was probably a better player overall in his third season than DeRozan was in his third year, as witnessed by Hayward's 16.8 PER, much preferable to DeRozan's 12.8 PER. Few saw DeRozan's extension coming, and though he showed improvement last season, his inclusion in trade rumors this summer suggests Toronto's new regime thinks their predecessors overpaid him. That means such a deal could be just right for a superior player like Hayward.

Agent Mark Bartelstein reps Hayward, and he also helped Taj Gibson get his extension from the Bulls last fall. Bartelstein is the agent for Nick Young, who didn't get a rookie-scale extension, signed his qualifying offer, and is now making the minimum salary. Bartelstein client David Lee didn't get a rookie-scale extension either, but he signed a one-year deal in restricted free agency and cashed in with a six-year, $80MM contract the next summer. So, Bartelstein understands all of the possibilities at play. I imagine he envisions a deal slightly larger than the one DeRozan got — perhaps four years, $40MM.

Doing that kind of deal, along with the $42MM to $44MM four-year extension I figure Favors will get, would tie up about $38MM or $38.5MM worth of Utah's cap space for next summer, leaving plenty of room for a maximum-salary free agent. The Jazz so far have only about $4MM in salary committed for 2015/16, when an extension or new contract for Enes Kanter would kick in, so locking up Favors and Hayward with extensions this fall wouldn't hamstring the team long-term. Paying a little bit more for them as restricted free agents next summer probably wouldn't hurt the Jazz either, but I don't think executive VP of basketball ops Kevin O'Connor and GM Dennis Lindsey want to pay any more than they have to.

Hayward has shown enough promise for the team to expect that he'll continue to blossom, particularly in the expanded role he'll see this year. The Jazz reportedly are comfortable with letting him play out the season and coming to the negotiating table next summer with another year of evidence on Hayward's game, but they've already begun talks with him and Favors, and ultimately I think they'll see the wisdom of an extension for both. In Hayward's case, that four year, $40MM extension, perhaps with some incentives built into that total, would probably get it done.

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