Gordon Hayward has taken the next step.
When the Jazz drafted Hayward last June with the No. 9 overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft, some of Utah's devoted fans booed. Less than 10 months later, Hayward has put together back-to-back games that have given the risky pick serious credence.
The 21-year-old rookie forward poured in a season-high 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting, grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists during the Jazz's 86-85 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
Strong and confident from the second he entered the game, Hayward was at times the best player on Utah's injury-depleted roster. He was easily the most aggressive. Hayward held his own defending Los Angeles' Kobe Bryant, who was limited to 20 points on just 6-of-18 shooting. The former Butler standout mixed long-range jump shots and slicing drives with a throwdown slam dunk on the offensive end. And Hayward scored 14 points after halftime, allowing him to eclipse a previous season-high of 18 that he set Sunday during a loss to Sacramento.
Hayward grew up idolizing Bryant. He outscored, outworked and outplayed the former NBA Most Valuable Player on Tuesday.
"I'm getting better day by day," said Hayward, who is a combined 17 of 28 from the field for 41 points during his last two games.
The rookie did his best work when the game was on the line. Hayward scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting during the fourth quarter, playing all 12 minutes and teaming with fellow 2010 lottery pick Derrick Favors to pick apart the Lakers (55-22).
"We all did a good job," said Favors, who recorded a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds. "Me and Gordon and Jeremy [Evans] - Jeremy came in and gave us some good minutes off the bench. It was just playing hard."
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin has preached hard work since taking over midseason for Jerry Sloan, asking his team to fight on even though the season is technically over. After speaking with Utah on Monday prior to practice - reminding his players that they still have pride and progress to play for - Corbin finally got what he wanted.
The Jazz (37-41) entered the game with only eight healthy and nine active players - one above the league minimum. But Utah performed like it was still fighting for a playoff spot. The Jazz knocked off the two-time defending NBA champions, snapped an eight-game losing streak, and won on the road against the Lakers for the first time in 18 games - a streak that dated back to January 2006.
Gordon Hayward shines as Jazz shock Lakers
Salt Lake Tribune | Apr 6