Having spent his entire life in the state of Indiana, Gordon’s next step took him away from home for the first time.
On draft day, Gordon was a consensus first-round pick, and many believed he would be a lottery pick. As the first eight picks passed, he admitted that he was more nervous in that moment than he was for games at Butler.
“I was more nervous than I get for games,” he said. “They call your name and everyone is looking at you. Growing up, you watch the players get up there and shake the commissioner’s hand. To actually do it was weird but it was really fun.”
Then the Jazz swiped Gordon off the board with the ninth pick in the 2010 NBA draft, making him the first Butler Bulldog ever taken in the first round.
As Gordon shook David Stern’s hand, checking off the ultimate goal from the list he made before he could even write, he told reporters it was time to make a new list.
“I’m excited, I’m very excited,” he said. “I had that checklist growing up and now I need to make a new one. I’m excited to get to work.”
Gordon joined the Jazz for the 2010-11 season and went to work for a franchise that was poised to make a playoff run. However, that first season came with some turmoil, as Utah ended up trading its franchise point guard, Deron Williams midway through the season.
After parting ways with its veteran PG, Utah made it clear that it was putting stock in its young players, like Gordon. The Jazz eased No. 20 into the league. He appeared in 72 games, starting 17 and averaging 5.4 points and 1.9 rebounds.
Gordon recorded double figures for the first time in late December, when he dropped 17 with six boards against the Los Angeles Clippers. His role was limited for much of the year, but he exploded over the final stretch of the season, as he averaged 18 points over the last six games.
He capped his rookie campaign with a career-high 34-point eruption against the Denver Nuggets. His success late showed him that possessed the skills necessary to thrive in the league, but that first season mostly served as a learning experience, and No. 20 went to work at filling out his list of where he could improve.
“I knew I had to get better at handling the basketball, that was always going to be the big thing for me,” says Hayward. “If you can handle the ball and go where you want to go with it, it can really open up every part of your game. During my rookie year, I was really just a spot-up shooter and I wanted to become a lot more than that.”
UTAH’S RISING STAR
G-Time showed some signs of his versatility that first year, but knew he could do more. In Year 2, he took on a starting role in the lockout-shortened season. His minutes nearly doubled from 16.9 to 30.4 per game. The offseason work also paid off, as his output multiplied to 11.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
Meanwhile, the Jazz also made a great team turnaround.
After finishing 11th in the Western Conference in 2011, the Jazz nabbed the No. 8 seed in 2012, finishing six games above .500. However, Gordon’s first postseason berth was a short one. Utah was swept by top-seed San Antonio.
Even still, Gordon’s second year was a confidence builder. No. 20 broke double figures 42 times, including a 17-point output in his first playoff game against the Spurs.
Now finding his role with the Jazz, things only improved for Gordon. His role remained similar, but he only became more efficient. He scored 14.1 points per game, an increase of 2.3 points per contest, despite playing fewer minutes. Meanwhile, the Jazz were one of stronger offensive teams in the league.
However, in the stacked West, Utah fell short of the playoffs at ninth in the conference, despite winning 43 games.
While Gordon began to settle into his role with Utah during the 2012-13 season, the following year brought a new set of challenges. The Jazz parted ways with their top two scorers, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, leaving Gordon with the task of becoming Utah’s go-to scoring option.
But as he would soon prove, Gordon was ready for that role.
“You definitely have to have a swag,” Hayward said of being a team’s top scorer. “You have to play with confidence. You have to know that you’re one of the best guys on the court and play like it too. … It’s something that I embrace. It’s a challenge, but it’s something that I’m excited about.”
Gordon turned that swag on during his fourth year in the league and assumed the lead role for the Jazz. The guard skill set he developed as a child and the versatility he polished while at Butler has been on display.
No. 20 has started 75 games for Utah this season, leading the squad with 16.1 points per contest. He has also dished out 5.2 assists while pulling down five rebounds and1.5 steals per game, making four career highs.
The outstanding season for Gordon has also brought a new single-game career-high in scoring: a 37-point outburst against one of the West’s best teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
While Utah fell short of the 2014 playoffs, Memphis head coach Dave Joerger praised the Jazz star, describing the skill set that makes him a franchise player.
“He’s trying to be a franchise guy and, well, he should,” Joerger said of Gordon. “He’s a terrific player. He plays hard, he runs hard, he cuts hard. By and large, he makes open shots. He’s a tough cover. He plays the right way. He plays the way you would want your kids to play.”
Gordon has been happy with his output this season, and he’s fully enjoying the ride as he fulfills his dream of playing in the NBA. While he’s right where he wants to be right now, he’s always looking for ways to improve and new challenges to conquer throughout his journey.
“[I’m] playing basketball for a living, I’m engaged to a beautiful woman—I’m living the life right now. I’m trying to soak it all in and at the same time get better as a basketball player. I still think there’s a lot more room for me to grow and a lot more places to go.”
BACK TO WORK IN UTAH
During the 2014 offseason, Gordon faced a crossroads of his career as a restricted free agent. He received a max offer sheet from the Charlotte Hornets and looked bound for the East Coast—until the Jazz matched the offer to bring back their franchise swingman.
G-Time rewarded the Jazz with the best individual season thus far in his career. No. 20 averaged a career-high 19.3 points per game, adding 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists to that scoring tally. The young Utah club had a bit of a slow start, hitting just a 19-34 mark at the All-Star break, but they exploded in the second half.
By season’s end, the Jazz had battled their way into the playoff conversation in the stacked Western Conference. They ultimately fell short, finishing 38-44, but their post-ASB record was the sixth-best in the NBA, giving them high hopes going into the 2015 offseason.
“We finished this season so strong, winning so many games, it naturally gets you more excited. It gives you a boost in your work ethic and makes you want to work even harder,” G-Time said. “I’m looking forward to the offseason and looking forward to putting in the work.”
Gordon’s 2014-15 campaign was highlighted by a monster performance while going head-to-head with this generation’s best player: LeBron James. Gordon got the best of King James several times throughout the night, tallying 21 points and seven assists—and he splashed home the deciding bucket at the buzzer of the 102-100 win over the eventual Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Gordon started to heat up individually in February, posting back-to-back 30-point games in a pair of wins over the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans, boosting Utah into the All-Star break. When the Jazz returned from the break, they were a different team.
With the long-armed Rudy Gobert manning the post and protecting the rim, Utah became one of the most feared defensive squads in the NBA. The Jazz allowed triple-digit points just five times after the break and finished the season at No. 1 in the NBA defensively, allowing just 94.9 points per contest.
The Jazz logged back-to-back wins over playoff opponents in the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs right out of the break. In March, Utah reeled off a six-game win streak, highlighted by three 24-plus point performances by No. 20. In his final game of the season, Gordon totaled 27 points and seven rebounds against another playoff opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies. Fighting a litany of minor injuries, G-Time was shut down for the final three games—but he brought plenty of lessons along with him into the offseason.
“We had a lot of experiences this year, and I think that was a success,” Gordon said during his exit interview. “Whether we won or lost in those moments, it will only help us in the future. We had a lot of games that went down to the wire—we won some, we lost some, we hit some big shots, we missed some big shots, and that’s ultimately just going to help us out further down the road.”
A STEP FORWARD
The Jazz took another step forward in 2015-16, and they did it behind another year of progression from their star swingman.
Gordon again upped his scoring average, making it six straight years, tallying 19.7 points per game along with 5.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He also started and played in a career-high 80 games, leading Utah to a 40-42 record.
As their win total increased, the Jazz were right in the thick of the playoff race all year long in the extremely competitive Western Conference, though they ended up just one game back of the eighth spot in the West.
“I think just based off the experiences we’ve all gained individually and collectively as a team, we’ve been in a lot of big moments,” Hayward said. “We’re trending in the right way.”
The Jazz won four of their first six, despite playing their first three games on the road. G-Time took a few contests to settle in on an individual level but had a breakthrough 33-point game on Nov. 25 for his first career win over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. Gordon added seven rebounds and three steals on a tremendous night as the Jazz came through with a big 102-91 win.
No. 20 logged 10 20-point games in December and continued to play well as the winter rolled along. He torched the Miami Heat for 34 points and hit the Hornets with 36, both in January. Utah won seven of its last eight games leading up to the All-Star break, putting them firmly in the playoff fight out West.
The seventh of those eight wins came on a brilliant step-back buzzer beater by G-Time in a 121-119 win on the road over the Dallas Mavericks.
“He’s made a believer out of people that are around him,” Snyder said of Gordon. “I think he’s just dug in. He has had to put a team on his back. Not just the scoring, the emotional part of it. I’ve asked even more of him defensively with those guys out.”
The Jazz didn’t stop there. They another OT win against a fellow playoff contender, the Houston Rockets, behind 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists by No. 20 on Feb. 23.
However, Utah stumbled a bit in late February and early March, dropping seven of eight games. Gordon was fighting an individual battle with plantar fasciitis, which forced him to miss his only two games of the season. But the Jazz rallied, winning eight of 11 to close out the month and grab the No. 7 slot in the West.
But with seven games remaining, the Jazz’s youth showed. Utah went head-to-head with a some of the West’s top veteran squads, not only in the playoff race, but also on the court in the month of April. The Jazz dropped key contests to the Spurs, the Clippers and the Dallas Mavericks, causing them to fall just shy of the postseason.
Gordon left the season disappointed with the ending, but looking forward to what the Jazz can do in 2016-17.
“It’s frustrating. We felt like we could have been in the playoffs, and probably should have been,” Gordon said. “That was the goal for us coming into the season. But we dealt with a lot. We had four of our main guys go down this year, and still, guys stepped up. Even through all the adversity that we had, we gave ourselves a shot, and even though we fell short, I’m proud of the way that we battled and competed. We played some of the best teams to ever play, and with one of the least experienced teams in the league, we took them down to the wire. We did a lot of things that will help us in the future.”
Gordon Hayward’s 2016-17 season was highlighted by a major career milestone: the Butler product’s first NBA All-Star nod, and it ended in an impressive playoff run by the Jazz.
The 2016-17 NBA season opened strong for Gordon as he put up 28 points, five rebounds and shot 14-for-14 from the line in a Utah win over the Knicks. In late November into mid-December, the Jazz won 13 of 15 games to establish themselves as a legitimate team in the wild Western Conference. G-Time played big during that stretch for Utah scoring 20-plus points 10 times, including three 30-point games. He had 31 points, seven assists and five rebounds in a 120-101 win over a good Houston team and followed that up with 32 in back-to-back games against Miami and Denver.
Just 10 days before the All-Star Game in New Orleans, Gordon dropped 36 points on the Mavs to put the finishing touches on an outstanding first half that earned him his first career All-Star bid in the stacked Western Conference. In the All-Star Game, No. 20 scored eight points, had four steals, and tallied two assists and a rebound as the West won 192-182 in the latest installment of the no-defense classic.
“I was nervous the first time I went out there,” G-Time said. “It’s almost like you don’t know what to do. Am I playing defense, do I run back, do I not run back? But it’s all just good fun. It was just cool being out there, hanging with everybody.”
After the break, the Jazz found themselves in a seeding battle with the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and thus home court in the series against one another. Gordon fought hard down the stretch, putting 38 points on Indiana on March 20 and a season-high 39 on the Timberwolves on April 7 as the Jazz went 7-3 in their last ten games. Unfortunately for Utah, the Clippers went 8-2 in their last 10 games and snagged the fourth seed via a head-to-head tiebreaker as both teams finished 51-31.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Jazz and Clippers played a seven-game series that went down to the wire in nearly every game. Gordon’s teammate Joe Johnson hit a buzzer-beater in Game 1 to give the Jazz home-court advantage back, but Utah lost the next two games by just eight and five points to fall behind in the series. G-Time scored 40 points in Game 3, but it was not enough to pull out the win. In Game 4, he came down with food poisoning and was limited to just nine minutes, but the team rallied around the home crowd to tie the series heading back to LA. The Jazz went to LA and took home-court advantage back again with a four-point victory but then squandered a chance to advance on their home floor as they lost Game 6. Game 7 brought out the best in the team and Gordon led the way to a victory with 26 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
“We’ve been through some pretty hard downs,” G-Time said after the Game 7 win. “It definitely feels really good to go from 25 wins to where we were this year making the playoffs, winning a series.”
In the West’s semifinal round, the Jazz met the Golden State Warriors who were on a redemption tour through the entire NBA all season. They would not be denied and swept the Jazz in quick order, however, Gordon played well averaging 24.8 points, four rebounds and 4.3 assists in the four games.
Those would be the last games Gordon would play for the Utah Jazz. He became an unrestricted free agent the following summer and after agonizing over his decision for days, he chose to leave Utah and head East, to be reunited with an old mentor.