Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward morphing into a star

Published: Thursday, April 5 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

He also responded well when Corbin sent him to the second unit in early March — a move some might have considered a demotion, but one that allowed him to touch the basketball more often and to rekindle his inner fire while being The Man off the bench.

"I think it got his confidence back," Corbin said. "We were able to put the ball in his hands more, so he was able to come off and read situations more and he just took off from there. Because now he can see the different places he can get the ball, the timing of different cuts to get it and then (know) what he can get once he gets into different areas."

Sometimes, that's rim-rattling dunks as the 6-foot-8 athlete attacks through the air.

Sometimes, that's much-needed outside bombs to keep opposing defenses honest while packing the paint to hinder Jazz bigs Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.

Sometimes, it's the effective mid-range game, where he can make a living curling and shooting a la Hornacek if he continues to fine-tune that offensive weapon.

"He's getting more comfortable. He's getting more confidence," Jefferson said. "He's a great player who can do a lot of great things on both ends. He's still young. There ain't nothing but upside for him."

And, Hayward admitted, plenty of work to do.

On the offensive end, Corbin is confident his youngster will eventually get better at quick reads, seeing what's going on in the periphery before the ball gets to him, recognizing when and where screens are coming from and knowing what options in the Jazz system are next in line.

"He's getting better and more comfortable at that," Corbin said.

The player whose motto is "Improve Every Day" said he wants to work on "overall consistency," but the humble kid is even willing to admit to making strides in that area.

"Beginning of the season, I would have good games here or there, but then some bad games. It was kind of spotty," Hayward said. "These past couple of games, I've been doing a lot better with that, just making sure I'm doing whatever I can to help my team win."

That includes back-to-back 20-point games and a concerted effort to rebound more.

The Jazz are also impressed by Hayward's ever-improving grasp of playing NBA-level defense, which has been an adjustment.

"He's learning how to get stops," Corbin said. "He's learning how to play different guys at different times."

Corbin listed areas in which Hayward can improve: weakside and help defense, learning when to get in an offensive player's face and when to back off, for starters.

"But," Corbin said, "his effort is there. … He's rangy. He is really quick. He's focused on doing it. It's different from what they played in college and he's still trying to work some of that stuff out."

Hayward said it's been an important change to stop second-guessing himself and just play. Go with the flow. Play like the NBA version of the guy who led Butler to the NCAA championship game.

So does Hornacek.

"I think he looks like he's more confident in being one of the main guys," Hornacek said. "I thought early in the season he was still trying to defer plays to our veteran guys."

Teammates compared his bench potential to Manu Ginobili, but he's played even stronger since being reinstated into the starting lineup in injured Josh Howard's absence a couple of weeks ago.

"He plays hard every second," Hornacek added. "He's playing the all-around game. He can make passes. He can score. … His rebounding has jumped. He's blocking shots. He's doing it all. That's what we want out of everybody, but for him being a young guy, it's great."

Hayward knows there will continue to be bumps in his road. He'll make mistakes, miss shots, get burned. It's more important to him how he responds and learns from errors — an attitude that accompanies his reassured sense of belonging in the world's best basketball league.

"They drafted you for a reason," Hayward said, "so just go out there and play like it and not worry about anything else."

Hayward's quiet competitiveness and boosted belief have his team excited to see what happens as his bright future unfolds.

"He's playing with great confidence," Hornacek said. "When you do that and play hard, good things happen."

That's true no matter what the driver license or trash-talking fans happen to say.

Email: jody@desnews.com Twitter: DJJazzyJody GET="_blank">Jazzland.blogs.deseretnews.com

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