One of the biggest stars of the NCAA tournament thus far has been Butler’s Gordon Hayward. The versatile sophomore guard/forward has show his versatility, toughness and ability in the clutch while leading the Bulldogs to wins over UTEP, Murray State, Syracuse and Kansas State. He has also displayed impeccable poise while helping to navigate Butler to an improbably run to the Final Four in Indianapolis.
While Hayward is a nice player – a very nice player, in fact – people are now talking about him as a high lottery pick if he takes off for the NBA following this weekend’s Final Four.
We need to all just take a deep breath and slow down here. Seriously, take a deep breath with me.
OK, we good?
Hayward has a lot of things that will fit with the NBA game. He’s 6’9, would play on the perimeter, has the ability to get to the rim, draw contact and finish, and despite hitting just 29.5 percent from beyond the arc this season, scouts love his shot. He has nice touch, a good, high finish and gets great rotation on the ball. He’s also shown the ability to defend on the ball and off, rebound and get on the floor and be a scrappy, energy guy when he needs to. He’s tough and has great court vision and a high basketball IQ. Again, he’s a nice player.
Because of Butler’s run through some of the tournament’s best competition, scouts, agents and analysts are slobbering all over themselves about his future. That’s all well and good, and I wish the kid luck, but there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind he should return for his junior year.
There are two huge things missing in Hayward’s game: strength and athleticism.
He needs to add 15 to 25 pounds to his (listed) 207-pound frame if he wants to be able to take the beating a small forward absorbs in the NBA. He’ll need to play both the two and the three at the next level, so it would behoove him to prepare himself for that kind of punishment. Could you really see him going 1-on-1 with LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony right now?
Heyward also isn’t that athletic. He’s not particularly quick, but he’s able to mask that in the college game thanks to a great handle and the ability to find gaps in defenses due to his superb court-vision.
A summer spent improving his strength and quickness, while working on his 3-point shot could take Hayward from a back of the lottery/mid-first round guy to somewhere in the meat of the lottery.
Plus, everyone knows his name right now. If Hayward comes back next year Butler will be loaded (the Bulldogs have just three seniors on the roster) and he could be one of the favorites for National Player of the Year.
I know there is a benefit to striking while the iron is hot, but two similar players have done that recently and it hasn’t worked out for them on the court. Adam Morrison and Mike Dunleavy were guys without elite athleticism and strength who could mask that at the college level because of other attributes. Both have suffered because of it in the pros. They each could have used another year of seasoning and strength training.
Though, if Hayward could somehow convince someone to take him in the top three, then sign him to a ludicrous five-year, $44 million extension while being no better than an average player for his first few years like Dunleavy did, I couldn’t argue with his decision to leave early. To reiterate: Mike Dunleavy Jr. is a thief, but I digress.
Gordon Hayward has a lot of work to do to make himself NBA-ready. Let’s hope he gets good advice by people who don’t just have dollar signs in their eyes.