Four short years ago, Butler University basketball star Gordon Hayward was three inches away from producing one of the greatest moments in college basketball history. Unfortunately, as we all so vividly remember, the shot rimmed out, and soon thereafter, while eating dinner at Fazoli’s, Hayward informed his teammates that he was declaring for the NBA draft, after just two seasons with the Bulldogs. It was immediately reinforced as the the correct decision because he was made a lottery pick (9th overall) by the Utah Jazz. Hayward is now playing in his fifth season (on his second NBA contract), and he is doing exactly what we all thought he would be doing.
Eleven games into the 2014-2015 season, Hayward is averaging 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game, with a player efficiency rating (PER) of 23.43 (15th best in the entire NBA). Of those drafted ahead of Hayward, only DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall are averaging more points per game (22.4 PPG and 19.4 PPG, respectively), and only Cousins, Derrick Favors, and Greg Monroe average more rebounds per game (at 11.1, 8.3, and 10.8, respectively) than the 6’8″ winger. Cousins, with a player efficiency rating of 27.21, is also the only player from the entire 2010 draft class with a higher PER than Hayward at this point in the season.
Revisiting the draft class, Evan Turner (2nd overall, new team), Favors (3rd overall, new team), Wesley Johnson (4th overall, new team), Ekpe Udoh (6th overall, new team, plus zero games played this season), and Al-Farouq Aminu (8th overall, new team) were all picked ahead of Hayward back in 2010 and no longer provide value to the team that drafted them. Many of which because of their “upside” and the fact that they attended “big-time” college basketball programs that “better prepared” them for success in the NBA. What many scouts missed on Hayward is that he is one of the most naturally gifted athletes, who happens to also be really good at basketball. Hayward had grown, developed, and learned the game under one of the college game’s very best coaches, who, if you have not heard, is now the head coach of the legendary Boston Celtics.
Immediately after Hayward, Paul George was selected by the Indiana Pacers, and if he had not suffered such a gruesome leg injury while playing with Team USA this past offseason, he was destined to stake his claim as one of the top five players in the NBA this season. Thus, it is safe to say that George is a player drafted after Hayward that has ended up more valuable to his NBA team, but he is the only one. Other than George, other notable first rounders picked after Hayward are Larry Sanders (15th), Eric Bledsoe (18th), and Avery Bradley (19th), who have all had good starts to their careers but have not been nearly as effective as Hayward.
As Hayward wrote on his website after his buzzer beater against the Cleveland Cavaliers less than two weeks ago, “I’ve definitely noticed an all around difference in my game as a result of the work I put in this offseason. I can see and feel things on the court that are different. My ball handling has been a lot better, and I feel so much stronger. That was a big part being able to matchup up with LeBron.” He added, “[LeBron] can’t bully me as much as he used to, and I’m able to stand my ground against him.”
Most importantly, Hayward is having the time of his life as a 24-year-old in a league of professionals. His blog titled “THE BEST IN THE GAME” is a perfect representation of this. If you have not yet read it, I strongly suggest you checking it out as it is an article that nearly broke the Internet/Twitter when it was released.
— Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward) October 14, 2014
Most Butler fans knew Hayward was bound for success in the NBA, and just like his Bulldogs teams from 2008-2010, he flew under the national radar for quite some time before getting the attention he truly deserved. In the years to come, Hayward will continue to solidify his position as one of the best wing players in the league. Go Dawgs!
Until next time…
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