Gordon Hayward had an outstanding season for the Utah Jazz.
Averaging 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists for the playoff-bound squad, the 6’8” forward earned his first-ever All-Star appearance as a result.
It was Hayward’s seventh season as a member of the Jazz, and his path to stardom has been a long one.
During his rookie season, he averaged 16.9 minutes a game and put up 5.4 points over 72 contests.
In his fourth season in 2013-2014, he established himself as a legitimate scorer, but was far away from becoming an All-Star, putting up 16.2 points over 36.4 minutes per game.
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After nearly putting up 20 points a game in the 2015-2016 season, Hayward’s game drastically changed in the 2016-2017 campaign, as he posted a career-high 47.1 field goal percentage along with his career-high in points per game.
There might be a reason for the jump in production other than the fact that the 27-year-old forward is in his prime.
According to Jackie MacMullan of ESPN, Hayward called the newly-retired Kobe Bryant last summer and Bryant arranged for the two to meet and train together.
"I really love Gordon's game," Bryant said. "He's got versatility and size. He plays with great pace. You can't rush him into making a poor decision. He can shoot the long ball, he can hit midrange, he can take you in the post. I think he has a tremendous amount of potential.”
MacMullin also wrote that Bryant told her that he and Hayward focused mainly on footwork and positioning over the course of three days.
"We talked a lot about how to get to certain spots on the floor," Kobe noted. "How you can get to that place that makes you comfortable. I told him, 'You know what you like to do. Figure that out first, then figure out where you can do it best.'"
Hayward has an interesting decision ahead of him. Since he’s able to opt out of the final year of his current contract with the Jazz, he can become an unrestricted free agent and test what has proven to be a very lucrative market.
Or, he can remain in Utah in the hopes of contending again next season while the team builds around him this offseason.
"It's hard to think about right now, just because of the season we've had and everything we've gone through," he said at his end-of-season media session via ESPN. "Today it still feels like you're looking toward the next game, looking toward the next opponent. That's obviously over. But it's hard to shut that off right away.”
As you can imagine, coach Quin Snyder said he hopes the team is able to hold onto Hayward, who would undoubtedly become one of the most coveted players on the open market if he opts out.
"We certainly want him to continue here. There's certainly a lot of good things happening here," he said.
"It's been so much fun for me here in Utah. Kind of growing up here, starting a family," Hayward said, later adding, "I have nothing but love for everybody here in Utah.”
Hayward’s contract status will remain one of the hot topics heading into the summer. If he decides to re-connect with Kobe yet again, his game might continue to grow and grow into what should be another All-Star caliber year in the 2017-2018 season.