Utah reacted to missing out on the playoffs in the last game of the 2015-2016 regular season by acquiring George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw, and are now an early favorite to rise in the Western Conference playoff rankings.
The team’s biggest constant last year was small forward Gordon Hayward. Hayward, who has missed 13 starts in the last 3 seasons combined, led the team in scoring, assists and steals. Hayward has a player option for the 2017-2018 season, and many expect him to opt out of that deal to chase a bigger contract on the free market.
Some would suggest that Utah should trade Hayward so they won't be in danger of losing him for nothing. However, Hayward is incredibly valuable and is especially valuable to the Jazz's offense. Unless Utah hears that Hayward will refuse to come back, or receives a godfather offer, the Jazz would be wise to hold onto Hayward for the foreseeable future.
Gordon Hayward is not only a very efficient offensive player, but a key creator for a Jazz offense that lacked strong point guard play last year. While the addition of George Hill and the return of Dante Exum will help the Jazz in that department, neither player is an exceptional passer or pick-and-roll wizard. Hayward sported an Offensive Rating (a measure of points created per 100 possessions) of 110 last year, a significant jump over the team’s 105.9 overall Offensive Rating. Hayward is an efficient scorer on his own, with a solid 55.9% True Shooting Percentage, and an ability to score from pretty much any area on the floor:
Hayward does a good job out of the pick-and-roll for a small forward, and his height and driving ability allows him to tilt the floor in his direction to create open looks for his teammates, and himself. Hayward was assisted on 46% of his made baskets last year and just 32% of his shots inside the arc. His ability to be effective on the offensive end without much help from his teammates makes him an important contributor for the Jazz, even as his touches are likely to go down somewhat with stronger point guard play around him.
Hayward was not only efficient with his own offense, but also helped create offense for his Jazz teammates. Rudy Gobert shot 1.7% better from the floor with Hayward on the court, according to nbawowy.com, and Derrick Favors shot an astounding 12.6% better from the floor with Hayward in the game. Hayward attempted 7.5 three-pointers per game last season, and while he only made 34.9% of them, he opened up the paint for Favors and Gobert to go to work.
For Utah, trading Hayward is unlikely to net a strong enough return for any sort of deal to be worthwhile.
Hayward is not only a strong offensive piece for a team starved for strong offensive players, but he's the perfect fit for Utah’s offense, who now boast a point guard rotation of Hill and Exum; two strong defenders who are both below-average shot creators. They would be wise to refuse all but the most outlandish trade offers as they make a run at the Western Conference playoffs.