(He’s) a guy that’s going to try to guard their best player and isn’t worried about his own game; he’s worried about the team. You’re seeing a great competitor right now. —Quin Snyder
SALT LAKE CITY — Before Monday’s game, the last thing Jazz coach Quin Snyder told his team before they left the locker room to face the Chicago Bulls was that he needed a guard to grab double-digit rebounds.
Gordon Hayward — call him a small forward or a shooting guard, same diff on this team — went out and grabbed 12 boards.
"I had a mindset to go in and try to get rebounds," he said.
On many nights, Snyder needs a player to match up against the opponent’s best player — maybe Carmelo Anthony, sometimes LeBron James, occasionally Jimmy Butler.
Hayward usually gets that assignment.
The past two seasons, the Jazz coach has asked for scoring, for leadership on the court and off, for somebody to do a variety of other things that don’t show up on the stat sheet and for personal improvement in a pressure-filled role.
More often than not, Hayward has been the man who’s stepped up.
If you don’t agree with any of the above — or you’re still upset that Hayward got a max contract (albeit one for a fourth-year player who signed an offer sheet with another team) — you’ll have to take it up with the rising star’s coach.
“I feel like I was there before everyone else,” Snyder said after Monday’s game when asked how good Hayward is. “He’s made a believer out of people that are around him.”
It’d be a long shot for Hayward to be named to the All-Star team at this point — it’d take an appointment as an injury replacement by NBA commissioner Adam Silver — but the sixth-year Jazzman is playing like he belongs in that crowd.
Hayward’s showing in Monday’s overtime win over the Bulls — 27 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists — provided the latest evidence in an increasingly more convincing case for the 25-year-old.
“I told him in November I felt like he can keep getting better. I think he believed it and he’s worked at it. That’s the biggest thing,” Snyder said. “He’s worked at it off the court with (assistant) Johnnie Bryant. He’s worked at watching film and he’s worked at it in the game by being willing to fail. He’s been willing to take hard shots. He’s been willing to put himself out there.
“Over time, when you’re as good as he is, you’re just going to succeed and you’re going to keep getting better — and that’s what we’re seeing.”
Snyder spent most of his postgame interview Monday heaping praise on Hayward, who can be a lightning rod for criticism amongst Jazz fans because of shortcomings such as late-game turnovers and inconsistent scoring.
Snyder isn’t buying the criticism — just as he didn’t early this season when Hayward was in a rough slump.
“(He’s) a guy that’s going to try to guard their best player and isn’t worried about his own game; he’s worried about the team,” Snyder said. “You’re seeing a great competitor right now.”
Hayward wants to be known as being among the best players in the NBA. He even repeated his claim of being “an elite player in the league” after Monday’s win. The best part for him is that the Jazz are learning to win as he’s progressing.
“For me,” he said, “it’s just all about winning.”
Snyder considers Hayward to be the glue guy on the Jazz team, which has been fractured by injuries to Dante Exum, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks.
“What he’s done when Fav and Rudy and Alec have been out is significant,” Snyder said, “because he has had to put a team on his back — and not just scoring, but the emotional part of it. I’ve asked even more of him defensively with those guys out.”
Snyder knows Hayward isn’t perfect. In fact, the coach called him out for falling asleep on the weak side a couple of times. However, there certainly have been signs of improvement in Hayward’s all-around game, including the fact that he’s increased his scoring average for the sixth year in a row — from 5.4 points a game as a rookie in 2010-11 to 19.9 points an outing in 2015-16.
“He’s had a lot of success. This isn’t just like Gordon showed up on the scene and arrived,” Snyder said. “Gordon’s been doing this for a couple of years now. He’s just gradually (improved). Sometimes you take two steps back, three steps forward, one step, five steps. I think he’s just dug in.”
JAZZ NOTES: Utah is looking to increase its first three-game winning streak of the season when it hosts Denver on Wednesday night. Like the Jazz, who beat Chicago 105-96 in OT on Monday, the Nuggets are coming off of an impressive win over an Eastern Conference power — 112-93 vs. Toronto. ... Jazz players received treatment for injuries on Tuesday but did not practice. ... Backup point guard Trey Burke has hit double figures 37 times this season. ... Hayward's game Monday marked the first time all season (47 games) in which a player from either team registered the most points, rebounds and assists.