SALT LAKE CITY — Last spring, Utah Jazz bosses asked Gordon Hayward to return to his team in the fall ready to be more of a leader.
My how time has flown since a Jazz team leader was chucking an orange leather fastball at him in a game.
It’s early into training camp, but by all accounts, the fourth-year player is adjusting nicely to his new role.
Coach Tyrone Corbin appreciates the evolution.
Rookie Trey Burke and veteran Richard Jefferson admire him.
And, despite admitting it’s kind of a weird spot to be in after his previous follow-the-leader role, Hayward embraces the challenge and position.
“I’m expected to lead a little more,” Hayward said. “Vocally is where it’s a more of a challenge for me. Still, I like to lead by example and am making sure that I’m doing everything the right way because people are watching.”
Those who get to see him on a daily basis are impressed with what they’re seeing — and hearing.
“He has always been a guy (who leads) by example because he’s such a worker,” Corbin said. “(Now) he’s more open with his teammates. He’s starting to talk to them more. He’s starting to lead them more with his voice to let them know what he’s thinking, what he sees on the floor, and it’s all to help him and to help the team get better.”
Corbin credited Hayward for undergoing a maturation process as he's eagerly accepted more responsibilities.
"His maturity in his body, his mental state now. I think he’s comfortable where he is, understanding what he’s getting ready to face," Corbin said. "The experiences that he had the last few years is really starting to show in his performance."
Hayward said he’s being more cognizant about opening up. It doesn't always come natural. He's an interesting blend: competitive, composed, humble and anything but outspoken. In NBA seasons past, he's deferred to the leadership of guys who weren’t afraid to speak their minds: Deron Williams, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams.
There is not just one method for being a great leader, but in the NBA, players tend to follow guys who command respect and incite action by what they do and say. It worked for Hayward at Butler when he led the Bulldogs to the 2010 NCAA championship game, and the Jazz are hoping he can implement that scoring/defending/leading combination in the NBA.
“Gordon, absolutely, has been vocal,” Burke said. “He’s been doing a good job of leading the team.”
The rookie said he’s also trying to shoulder some leadership responsibilities. Knowing that he’ll have the ball in his hands a lot and will be directing traffic on court, that makes sense and is what the Jazz want and need. Interestingly, Burke also credited third-year shooting guard Alec Burks for being “vocal” so far at camp.
When it comes to Hayward, though, Burke has been impressed. The guy who’s been jokingly called the Baby Faced Assassin is growing and developing into a mature NBA player. That’s something the Jazz are in desperate need of in this rebuilding process.
“You can tell he has some experience under his belt, and that’s always good knowing that you have a guy like Gordon out there on the court,” Burke said. “If you don’t know what’s going on, he can tell you what’s going on. It’s definitely fun playing with him.”
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