Utah Jazz look to future without injured Gordon Hayward
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz began life without Gordon Hayward on Saturday with the first practice since the franchise player broke a finger on his non-shooting hand. There is no set timetable for his return.
Hayward went down Friday when his finger got caught in another player’s jersey during practice. Coach Quin Snyder was already tinkering with lineups with the addition of veterans George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw and now must be even more creative.
Snyder explained that everyone and everything can be impacted, from Rodney Hood to Johnson to Dante Exum. How Snyder can put together situation-specific lineups, such as small-ball, will also be affected.
“You don’t want to wallow over things you can’t control,” Snyder said. “More than anything I feel bad for Gordon. It’s not a pity part for the team. Guys have to step up. We’ve got good players and they’re capable of picking up the slack collectively and individually.
“But that doesn’t change the fact that Gordon’s been our best player.”
The ninth overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft led the team with a 19.7-point average and 3.7 assists last season. Hayward also averaged 5.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 2015-16.
The 26-year old missed just two games in 2015-16 and total of 13 in the last three seasons combined. Hood may be most affected as the team’s second-best perimeter scorer. He could slide to small forward in the starting lineup with Hill and Exum starting at the guard positions. Johnson could start at small forward with Hood remaining at shooting guard. Either way, Hood will likely need to pick up some of the offensive load.
“I’ve got to be more aggressive, I think that’s obvious for our team,” said Hood, who averaged 14.5 points in his second season. “Everybody’s got to do more on both ends. We’ve got some time to figure out before the actual season hits.
“Scoring is not really the focus. ... It’s about defense and scoring off our defense and doing the little things.”
Injuries are nothing new to the Jazz in the last 12 months. The team lost starters Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Exum and top wing reserve Alec Burks for long stretches last season. Favors is currently dealing with knee soreness and missed the last preseason game. Burks still hasn’t returned from arthroscopic surgery to his knee and ankle in June.
Fortunately for the organization, the Jazz have four more preseason games and don’t start the regular season until a road game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Oct. 25.
Hill played the last five seasons with the Indiana Pacers and was on the roster when their franchise player, Paul George, missed most of the 2014-15 season with a broken leg. Hill averaged a career-high 16.1 points that season.
“It’s just a feel thing,” Hill said. “You don’t try to come in and say, hey, I’m going to do this or that because someone went down. You take what’s there. If the feeling’s there that they need you to step up and score some more points, then that’s what you have to do.
“But it gives everybody a good opportunity to come out and improve their game a little bit more and expect a lot out of other players. ... It’s going to take a group effort.”