If the Chicago Bulls strike out in their attempt to land either Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love this summer, they shouldn’t hit the panic button and they certainly shouldn’t settle for overpaying Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson. Instead, their Plan C should be Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz who is set to become a restricted free agent.
Hayward has steadily improved in each of his four NBA seasons with the Jazz after his standout career at Butler. At just 24 years old, Hayward still has room to grow after being the ninth-overall pick in the first-round of the 2010 NBA Draft.
After averaging just 5.4 points in his rookie campaign, his average jumped up to 11.8 his sophomore season with an increase in minutes. His next season, he averaged 14.1 before averaging 16.2 this past season. At his young age, one would think he will continue to develop and hasn’t yet hit his ceiling. Last season he also averaged 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 41 percent from the field — his lowest shooting percentage in his career but still very solid. His 3-point percentage also plummeted to 30 percent after shooting 41 percent from behind the arc in his previous season.
Hayward would be a great addition to the Bulls lineup at either the small forward or shooting guard position alongside Jimmy Butler. At 6-foot-8, Hayward is athletic enough to play either position and would likely play most of his time at small forward, keeping Butler at the 2-guard.
Playing with Derrick Rose would allow Hayward to get more frequent open looks after playing on a young Jazz team that finished last in the Western Conference. Hayward was the leading scorer for the Jazz and the best player on the floor. If he played for the Bulls he wouldn’t need to worry about shouldering the load on a nightly basis but Chicago would benefit from his play-making and scoring abilities.
Hayward also possesses sneaky ball-handling and athletic abilities as well as an underrated defense. His defensive rating (DRtg), or number of points per 100 possessions that the team allows when an individual player is on the floor, hovers around 110 each season. The NBA’s elite defenders come in at under 100, but Hayward is a smart, capable defender that averaged 1.4 steals last season.
However, Hayward will be tough to pull away from Utah because he is an RFA, meaning any offer made to Hayward can be matched by Utah. He will be a hot commodity and likely be pricey — in the $9-10 million range per year or possibly more. If the Bulls do fail to land either Anthony or Love, they will have to make a strong push for a proven scorer.
The Bulls can little afford to let another summer go by without making a major free agency splash, and if they are able to land Hayward he could very well end up being the steal of the summer.