Has Lauri Markkanen surpassed Gordon Hayward as the ideal Jazz forward?

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Utah Jazz fans, let’s person a conversation.

In 2016-17, Gordon Hayward had what was by acold nan champion play of his career. The Jazz, pinch Hayward arsenic nan champion subordinate connected nan roster, were 1 of nan amended teams successful nan league, made nan playoffs, won a bid and precocious to nan Western Conference semifinals. It was an All-Star play for Hayward, who was 1 of nan champion mini forwards successful nan NBA. He played astatine an All-NBA level, though he wasn’t bestowed nan honor.

He averaged almost 22 points that play pinch 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists a night. He changeable 47 percent from nan section and 39.8 percent from 3-point range. He was successful nan mid-80s from nan free-throw line. He was astir apt nan champion perimeter defender connected nan squad arsenic well. It was nan play Hayward yet put it each together. It was nan play Jazz fans had been waiting for since Hayward was drafted successful 2009.

It besides was a play that Hayward would ne'er person again.

In my clip covering nan Jazz, I ever thought it was nan champion two-way play that I’ve seen from a Jazz player. Of course, Donovan Mitchell would person amended seasons connected offense. And of course, Rudy Gobert would person amended seasons connected defense. But, I don’t deliberation I’ve seen a play wherever a feline put connected a masterclass connected some ends of nan level arsenic Hayward did successful 2016-17. He was special. That’s why what happened successful July 2017 is still heartbreaking for Jazz fans. Hayward’s defection successful unrestricted free agency to nan Boston Celtics will stay 1 of nan darkest moments successful Jazz franchise history.

Hayward was bully capable that I clasp that play successful precocious regard. When Lauri Markkanen started basking past play and Jazz fans began this conversation, I was like, “Yo, let’s conscionable pump nan breaks.” Jazz fans will ne'er for illustration Hayward again. They person bully reasons for that. So, I understand that Jazz fans would emotion to spot a mini guardant aliases a operation guardant travel successful and beryllium amended than what Hayward was successful his All-Star season.

But I do deliberation nan mobility is adjacent arsenic to whether Markkanen has equaled Hayward’s 2016 level of play aliases if he’s eclipsed it. Markkanen was an All-Star past season. He’s been conscionable arsenic bully this play and nether much adverse circumstances. It’s adjacent to see that Markkanen has gotten to a constituent wherever we tin comparison nan two. And it’s adjacent to see whether Markkanen is tin of pushing past nan level Hayward reached successful 2016.

If he can, nan Utah Jazz will beryllium successful very bully hands. So, let’s compare, shall we?

Markkanen vs. Hayward: Offense

Hayward and Markkanen are different and spell astir their business successful different ways. Hayward was a batch much ball-in-hand that season, initiating a ton of discourtesy done prime and rolls and creating a batch done isolation. Hayward was a three-level monster arsenic he reached nan apex of his beingness spot that season. Between that and his shot skills disconnected nan dribble, he was capable to get to nan handbasket pinch ease.

Hayward besides developed a floater and a midrange jumper that he utilized erstwhile he couldn’t get into nan paint. He stretched his crippled to 3-point scope arsenic well. What stood retired was his economy. Hayward had very small wasted movement. The crippled had genuinely slowed down for him that season, and location wasn’t overmuch defenders could do pinch him. At 6 ft 8, his scoring yet caught up pinch his playmaking, his rebounding and nan different things he did that made him truthful enticing arsenic a mini guardant prospect.

Markkanen is different than Hayward. He’s not anyplace adjacent arsenic ball-in-hand. But he’s an awesome violative subordinate who tin wounded opponents successful galore ways. Markkanen and Hayward are some 40 percent shooters from 3-point range. But Markkanen does it connected 8 3s a night, while Hayward topped retired astatine 5 3s a night. Markkanen provides much volume.

Looking deeper, Markkanen is averaging 24 points and almost 9 rebounds per night. He’s shooting 50 percent from nan section and almost 85 percent from nan free-throw line. The spread successful nan statistic tin beryllium attributed successful portion to nan jump successful gait moreover successful nan past 7 years, and that nan Jazz successful 2023 person much possessions per crippled than nan Jazz successful 2016. But Markkanen conscionable does what he does without needing nan basketball, and that’s conscionable specified a monolithic advantage for his level of production.

Markkanen is simply a activity shooter arsenic a 7-footer. He tin drawback and shoot. His size allows him to play 3 positions, depending connected nan matchup. He moves good without nan hoops for his size. And he’s much vertical than Hayward was successful 2016, making him a amended finisher astatine nan rim.

This is what gives Markkanen nan separator offensively. He and 2016 Hayward are/were some nan No. 2 guys connected championship-level teams. It’s easier to get a No. 1 feline to brace pinch Markkanen than pinch Hayward because by meaning No. 1 options are ball-in-hand. When Hayward sewage patient from his horrific ft wounded and joined nan Celtics, it took a agelong clip for him and Kyrie Irving to fig it out, and by nan clip they did Jayson Tatum was established astatine nan apical of nan rotation.

Let’s put it this way. Markkanen would person paired a batch amended pinch Mitchell than Hayward because Markkanen would person been capable to fig it retired without taking touches distant from Mitchell.

Edge: Markkanen

Markkanen vs. Hayward: Defense

Hayward was terrific connected that broadside of nan shot that play arsenic he was 1 of Utah’s champion on-ball defenders that season. He guarded aggregate positions. His defense was 1 of nan reasons nan Jazz were 1 of nan champion teams successful nan convention defensively.

It shows really conditioned Hayward was that season. He played astatine a precocious usage connected discourtesy and yet recovered nan clip to return protect assignments that he knew would put him successful nan action defensively. It’s 1 of nan reasons why I thought he deserved to make an All-NBA squad that season. He was genuinely a two-way unit and it propelled nan Jazz to heights not antecedently attained successful nan Quin Snyder era.

Markkanen is passable defensively. He useful astatine it, tries difficult and is an fantabulous rebounder. But there’s a existent spread betwixt his defense and what Hayward’s defense was that season. Markkanen’s spot defensively is that he’s a 7-footer and tin play connected nan perimeter. His size allows nan Jazz to shrink nan level erstwhile location is akin size connected nan level pinch him.

It’s why I would emotion to spot him, Walker Kessler and Taylor Hendricks connected nan level astatine nan aforesaid clip pinch immoderate size successful nan backcourt. It would springiness nan Jazz existent size and mobility defensively which would beryllium difficult to woody pinch from an violative perspective.

But Hayward successful 2016 is nan clear victor here.

Edge: Hayward

Markkanen vs. Hayward: Intangibles

I thought Hayward was bully successful nan locker room that season, but he wasn’t nan leader of that roster. That was 1 of nan strongest locker rooms I’ve ever covered by a agelong shot. That squad had Joe Johnson, 1 of nan champion OG’s nan convention has seen. That man utilized to person half nan roster successful basking yoga pinch him astatine 6 a.m. That squad had Boris Diaw, Joe Ingles, George Hill, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks. There wasn’t a batch of room for immaturity connected that roster, and that meant Hayward could conscionable spell retired location and hoop. That contributed to nan benignant of twelvemonth he had.

Markkanen isn’t a earthy leader either. But he has to beryllium 1 of nan leaders of this group. There are veterans connected this team, but location are truthful galore different personalities, truthful overmuch younker and guys who person thing to prove. It’s harder for Markkanen than it was for Hayward.

But here’s wherever Hayward isn’t going to measurement up to Markkanen. All signs constituent to Markkanen wanting to beryllium successful Utah for a agelong time. And if he isn’t, let’s opportunity he leaves successful free agency. He’s ne'er going to rustle up nan span successful nan mode that Hayward near nan Jazz. Hayward’s exit for Boston was an all-timer that can’t beryllium easy duplicated. Markkanen’s not going to do that. When Mitchell left, (the Jazz wanted to support him until they realized they had to waste and acquisition him), he was master capable to fto nan process play itself out, which gave nan Jazz nan chance to get adjacent worth for him.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

What I’m proceeding connected Zach Lavine, Kings' adjacent steps; Lauri Markkanen unplugged

Markkanen precocious told The Athletic that he powerfully believes successful what nan Jazz are building. Behind nan scenes, nan statement is assured Markkanen will beryllium pinch nan franchise for a agelong time.

And if Markkanen remains pinch nan Jazz done his premier seasons, he whitethorn find himself creeping up nan franchise’s all-time list.

He’s disconnected to a awesome start.

(Photo of Lauri Markkanen and Gordon Hayward: Jacob Kupferman / Getty Images)

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