The Utah Jazz just locked talented big man Derrick Favors into a four-year $49m+ deal, but they are not done. Next player in line to get a hefty pay raise could be Gordon Hayward.
If Marc Stein’s sources are accurate (which they almost always are) Hayward will likely get a huge extension in the next couple of days. According to Stein, Hayward is very popular among executives around the league, which is why the Jazz have made it a priority lock the 23-year-old now rather than letting him hit restricted free agency next summer.
If Hayward is getting a richer contract than Favors, he should be paid somewhere in the $13m+ range. Naturally, this has sparked a lot of opinions on whether Hayward is worth the money.
Hayward averaged 14.1 points, three assists and 3.1 rebounds per game last season, all while shooting 41.5% from beyond the arc. Hayward’s primary attribute is his ability to space the floor. Sure, he can put the ball on the floor, but there were only 21 players in the league who shot 41.5% or better from three-point range last season.
Looking at that production, it’s doubtful whether $13m a year is a fair price. Here are a couple of examples of small forwards and their 2013-14 salaries:
Danilo Gallinari ($10m/year)
Josh Smith ($14m/year)
Nicolas Batum ($10.9m/year)
Ersan Ilyasova ($7.9m/year)
Small forwards are very tricky. In terms of available talent, it’s one of the thinner positions in the league. Outside the top 10 or so, the player quality drop-off is quite significant.
If Hayward’s contract lands somewhere around $13m, only Smith would have a higher salary than him out of the above-mentioned players. Smith is an excellent defender, great rebounder, a terrific athlete and a borderline All-Star. Despite his shot selection, there is no doubt that Smith is a significantly better player than Hayward currently is.
Both Batum and Gallinari are also more productive than Hayward, yet would earn $2-3m less than Hayward’s projected contract.
Then we have Ilyasova. Some people thought he got overpaid after a good year, but his numbers were still solid last year: 13.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 44% from three-point range. Hayward is a significantly better playmaker than Ilyasova, but that’s about it.
Looking at all of the above numbers it’s clear that Hayward is not really worth $13m as of yet. However, he is still only 23 and has improved every single season he has been in the league. He played just under 30 minutes a game last year, and should play more this season while also having a more important role in the team’s offense.
So the question really isn’t whether Hayward is worth the money now, but is he worth the investment long-term? It’s very hard to project someone’s numbers, but what kind of production could the young wing provide in a year or two? It’s reasonable to assume that he could score somewhere around 18 points per game, perhaps even more. A lot of his game is perimeter based, so I wouldn’t expect to see a major boost in the rebounding category. However, with more minutes and touches he could definitely average somewhere in the vicinity of five assists per game. Hayward’s per-36 stats are solid, but with more minutes and a higher usage rate a drop-off in efficiency is almost inevitable.
Considering all these things, I still think that $13m (or maybe even more?) might be a little too much. It’s hard to determine just how much upside Hayward has. Can he become an All-Star, or will his development rate slow down this season? It’s all speculation at this point, but a price tag somewhere in the vicinity of $10-11m a year sounds a little more reasonable. Either way, even if Hayward gets a little more than he deserves at this point, it’s not going to be an outrageous overpay.
What do you think? How much is Hayward worth? Let us know in the comment section below.