Trending Hornets: Gordon Hayward needs to reverse the arrow of his career trajectory

Trending Hornets: Gordon Hayward needs to reverse the arrow of his career trajectory

The Trending Hornets Series rates the career trajectories of Charlotte players based on two advanced statistics – Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Player Value Over Replacement (VORP) – provided by Basketball Reference.

PER measures output per standardized minute, so the league average is 15. A PER above 15 means a player has contributed above the league average. As a frame of reference, among last season’s PER leadersthe top 20 players had 21.8 and above while the numbers 21 to 40 ranged from 18.9 to 21.6.

VORP is an estimate of the box score of points per 100 team possessions a player has contributed above a replacement level player. A VORP of 1.2 means the team was 1.2 points better off per 100 possessions with this player on the ground compared to an average player in the league. Among last season’s VORP leadersthe Top 20 was 3.5 and above and the numbers 21 to 40 ranged from 2.2 to 3.4.

This week, we are going to focus on the trajectory of Gordon Hayward. (Note: Gordon’s 2017-18 stats are not included as he only played five minutes after suffering a horrific foot injury in the first game of the year.)

Mick Smiley, To the Beehive

2021-22 league results and standings

BY: 15.1; ranked T-86th overall

VORP: 0.5; ranked T-181st overall

Overview of career trends

Hayward spent his first seven seasons with the Utah Jazz and became one of the best small forwards in the league. In 2016-17, he made the All-Star team after hitting a career-high 21.9 points with 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists. His advanced stats graph tended to skyrocket at this time. In 2017, he signed a huge free agent contract with the Boston Celtics but suffered a horrific foot injury in Boston’s opener that year and missed the rest of the season.

In 2018-19 – the year after his injury – he essentially got back into shape averaging 25.9 minutes in 72 games. The following season he performed well for the Celtics, averaging 17.5 points and a career-high 6.7 rebounds per game, but it would be his last year in Boston.

In 2020, he signed a 4-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets. His first season in Charlotte (2020-21) was a little derailed by injuries, but over 44 games he averaged 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game with a decent PER of 17.6 and 1.4 VORP. Those aren’t quite All-Star numbers, but Hayward’s first season with the Hornets was a success, injuries aside.

However, this past season has been a disappointment for Hayward. He was again limited by injuries and only played 49 games. His PER of 15.1 was basically the league average while his VORP of 0.5 wasn’t much higher than that of a replacement player.

After 12 seasons in the NBA, Gordon’s advanced stats clearly illustrate his declining performance. He peaked in 2017, got injured the following year and couldn’t regain his pre-injury form. Although he’s “older” at 32, he’s still not “old” in NBA terms. Hayward is still the same age as guys like James Harden, DeMar DeRozan and Jimmy Butler who continue to play at the All-Star level. Despite this, it feels like Father Time is much more present in Hayward’s life than some of his high-earning veteran peers.

What this means for the Hornets

Gordon Hayward’s declining game, shown by his advanced stats, is becoming a growing source of concern for the Hornets. He just can’t stay healthy, and when he’s on the court his game doesn’t live up to his average salary of $30 million a year.

Averaging his league rankings for PER (T-86th overall) and VORP (T-181st overall), Hayward ranks 133rd among the best players in the NBA. In a league of 30 teams with 150 starters, that’s far from enough given his contract.

In his two seasons in Charlotte, Gordon Hayward only played 93 out of 154 games. Last year his PER and VORP weren’t great and they’re down. The Hornets need Hayward to punch Father Time in the face, take back at least one measure of his former All-Star self, and stay on the field.

Despite his dwindling advanced stat chart, I’m still a Gordon Hayward optimist. With Miles Bridges’ situation so up in the air right now, Hayward can step in and fill some of the scoring void created if Bridges signs elsewhere or potentially faces a lengthy suspension. At 6-foot-7, Hayward has always been a good wing rebounder and excellent passer. His ball handling and distribution skills aren’t as important anymore given LaMelo Ball’s control of the attack, but Gordon can create shots for his teammates.

And sometimes Hayward’s exterior shoot gets overlooked. Over the past two seasons, he has made 40.2 percent of his 3-point shots on 4.6 attempts per game, making him the team’s leading 3-point shooter over that span. This ability to space the ground is important and keeps defenders honest.

Few things can help the Hornets go from the perennial No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference to a legitimate playoff team than a healthy and productive Gordon Hayward. He will have a lot to do on his shoulders this coming season.

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