With the injury to Indiana Pacers star Paul George still fresh in the minds of fans, players and coaches alike, Mike Krzyzewski and USA Basketball did their best to get back to business in preparation for the FIBA World Cup.
This past Monday, the team announced its first round of cuts, reducing the team’s roster to 16; John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Millsap were all released. Notably absent among cuts was Utah Jazz F Gordon Hayward. Much of the media had pegged Hayward as a longshot to make it, but with George’s injury, Hayward’s participation could be crucial for the team.
Even before the unfortunate circumstances surrounding George, Hayward’s versatility lends itself well to the U.S. roster. With a lack of big men in camp, Hayward was one of the few players who had the size and rebounding ability to slide down to the four spot. His overall game is also more impressive than some of the wing players he has been slotted against. He showed as much during the intrasquad scrimmage that ended the team’s week in Las Vegas. In 15 minutes of play, he totaled seven points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals.
He may not be the shooter that Klay Thompson or Kyle Korver are. He’s probably a notch below DeMar DeRozan athletically. But he is solid in both of those areas and he sets himself apart from the others with his ability to handle the ball, see the floor and distribute. Team USA was already in a position where it was going to have to mix and match lineups and put players in multiple positions. Now, with George out of commission, Hayward is a jack of all trades with the skill and size to come in and fill some of that void created by his absence.
Despite the perception of Hayward in the media and among fans outside of Utah, Coach K is fully aware of Hayward’s value as relates to the national team.
“With Paul’s injury, you’re losing a guy that’s an All-Star and is 6-foot-8,” he said. “Gordon also is 6-foot-8. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have gone forward, but you look at him closer. We really like his versatility and toughness.”
With the final round of cuts not expected to take place until after the team’s exhibition games in New York, expect Hayward to solidify himself as a vital member of Coach K’s World Cup rotation.