The Utah Jazz went into full transition mode last summer. They watched their longstanding frontcourt duo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap go their own ways, putting their faith in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to step up with the increased responsibility.
Utah has struggled in replacing their top two scorers, however, and sunk to cellar of the Western Conference. Gordon Hayward's shooting efficiency has suffered now that he's taken on a huge load of the team's offense. Their defense, however, is the major problem. They have the worst defensive efficiency in the NBA, allowing 107.3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.
There's no easy fix for Utah this season, and with a 19-33 record, they'll have to take the long-view at the trade deadline.
Defensive efficiency may be the team's worst enemy, but Hayward's drop in offensive efficiency should be second on that list.
Gordon Hayward's raw offensive output is at a career high with 16.3 points per game, but his percentages are down across the board. He's performing at a career-low level -- worse than his rookie season -- while having to hoist up shots at a career-high rate. Utah needs to lean on him to produce, but he's at his best when he's moving off-ball or spotting-up. Instead, he's having to shoulder the load more often in isolation, which isn't playing to his strengths.
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Hayward's unassisted field goals are up this year. Only 31.3 percent of his made field goals were unassisted last season, but through about half of the 2013-2014 season a full 49.4 percent of his made field goals are unassisted. That huge spike in Hayward creating his own shots is the likeliest reason his shooting numbers have seen such a dramatic spike.
He shot 43.5 percent from the field last season. That's down to 40.7 percent. Most alarming is his three-point percentage, though. Hayward shot a blistering 41.5 percent from three-point range last season. He's currently shooting 30.3 percent from long distance.
Utah will be facing a huge decision this summer. The sides have not agreed to an extension beyond his rookie contract. The Jazz will have to make a qualifying offer of $4.6 million to make him a restricted free agent this summer, but he will almost certainly be offered much more from other teams around the league. Utah is in a rebuilding stage and will likely have another top-10 pick in the upcoming draft.
It's worth wondering what Hayward will be worth for the Jazz, and whether his diminished numbers will affect his contract offers in the offseason. Alternatively, if the team knows they do not want to deal with his free agency and potentially paying $10 mill or more per season for the swing man, perhaps they'll quietly shop him around the league to see what the best offer available is.
The Jazz are in position for a bright future, though it may take time to reach their destination. The down season should have been expected with such a large personnel shift and Trey Burke missing a chunk of the early season.
This is ultimately what's best for Utah, though, as they deconstruct their roster and build from the bottom. Allowing Jefferson and Millsap to walk as unrestricted free agents was the first sign the franchise was ready to take a huge hit this season. Even if things don't turn around next year, the financial blow will be softened.
Utah has $56 million worth of salary to pay this season. It drops significantly next season -- down to $31 million -- which gives them space to re-sign Hayward if they choose to, along with trying their luck in the free agent market. The Jazz took on significant salary when they helped the Golden State Warriors clear the cap space they needed to sign Andre Iguodala, but that will open up once Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush expire.
Is it worth flipping any of their expiring contracts for help in the present? Probably not, but if the right long-term piece comes along it might be of interest to Utah. It's hard to gauge what Utah should be looking for, though, but another rotational frontcourt player could help ease the responsibility placed on the shoulders of Kanter and Favors.
Whether they're able to attract high-tier free agents this summer is the bigger question for Utah. They'll have the financial means to sign anyone they want. They have cap space to make significant offers to multiple players, and they'll likely have a highly-touted rookie once the smoke clears.