SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Hayward is a different person than the fresh-faced college poster boy who arrived in Utah from Brownsburg, Indiana, after his sophomore season at Butler, no doubt.
He’s now 24 years old, married, in a pretty darn secure financial situation.
He doesn’t play as many video games as he used to. Expectations and responsibilities are larger. He’s even sporting facial scruff and has a bulkier, toned-up physique.
Adding to the growing amount of evidence that Hayward continues to mature and transform as a person and player, the Jazz small forward used a word to describe himself that might come as a shock to outsiders not in the know.
That’s right. Bully. His word choice. (Beware Deron Williams and Delonte West.)
“It has been good. I’m more on balance and just stronger,” Hayward said about his offseason workouts, which improved his body composition. “I’m able to kind of just bully some people a little bit more than I was able to.”
Although it was a hot topic this offseason, especially when Hayward’s expanding upper body (good expansion) was visible during his Team USA experience, the fifth-year NBA player said he hasn’t beefed up quite as much as some people think. Hayward reported to camp weighing 230, up from 220 last year, and he guesstimates that he added 5-7 pounds of muscle since Utah finished the 2013-14 regular season last April.
Regardless of the actual amount of increased lbs., Hayward’s improved strength has been noticeable in his play this fall.
“Physically, you see he got a little stronger,” Jazz guard Alec Burks said.
Burks, who's been his teammate for three years, smiled when asked if Hayward had been able to impose his physical will on him yet on the court.
“Nah. He ain’t bullying me,” Burks said, smiling. “I’m going to leave that at that. He ain’t bullying me.”
The Butler Bully hopes to maintain his current weight of 225 — players naturally lose weight in two-a-days — during the upcoming season. That weight gives him a good mix of his maintained quickness and increased power, which he’ll need on a nightly basis while playing one of the most athletic positions in basketball.
“That’s the thing you’ve got to balance. This league is about speed more than weight. It’s not football,” Hayward said. “I wanted to make sure I was just as fast during the offseason (while gaining muscle). I made sure I was.”
New Jazz coach Quin Snyder has been impressed with Hayward, whom he admired from afar in previous NBA stints. Although reluctant to recognize individual performances, Snyder has specifically mentioned the 6-foot-8 swingman as being a player who's stood out early in training camp.
That’s what the Jazz need and expect from one of the more experienced players on the team, not to mention the highest-paid guy.
“(He’s) just more of a leader,” Burks said. “ … He’s just proving he’s one of the best players in the league.”
It’s no secret that Hayward struggled with his shot — and with getting frustrated, at times — in his first professional opportunity to be the go-to scorer last season. Sure, he scored 16 points a game to go with five rebounds and five assists, but his shooting percentage dipped for the fourth-consecutive season to 41.3 percent (and 30.4 percent from 3-point range).
The Jazz are optimistic the versatile Hayward will thrive in Snyder’s offensive system, which relies on pace, passing, pick-and-rolls, flow and spacing.
“I want him to be really efficient offensively, and I want him to be aggressive,” Snyder said. “I think if he is aggressive, he will be efficient.”
Hayward is hopeful this new offense will prevent the Jazz from falling into the habit of desperately trying to score late in the shot clock, which seemed to plague the team last year. He hopes to see less one-on-one play. And, despite some aim issues in the 25-57 season, Hayward will be one of the players the Jazz will rely on to score and make things happen offensively.
“I’m still going to be asked to be a playmaker. I think the difference is, with the spacing I think it just makes everything easier on us,” he said. “Things aren’t going to be as crowded. …
“I’m envisioning something where the ball is moving around so much that you’re getting a shot or attack, and if you don’t have that you pass. It’s going to make the decision-making easier.”
Not surprisingly for someone who just secured a huge contract ($63 million over four years), Hayward has high expectations for himself and for the Jazz. The only pressure he said he has is to succeed and grow with his team.
“I feel like one of the elite players in the NBA,” Hayward said. “I have the confidence in myself that I should be one of those players.”
That includes, he admitted, a goal of becoming an All-Star.
“I think the way to become an All-Star in this league," he said, "is help your team do great things.”
More than ever, Hayward believes he’s in a position to make all that happen.
He’s got the talent, the maturity, the diverse hoops portfolio, the developing physique, the athleticism, and even a bit of a mean streak with his new bully attitude.
“I think the individual accolades will fall into place,” he said, “if we’re continuing to get better as a team and continue to go in the direction we want to go, which is building toward a championship-building team.”
Something else that’s changed for Hayward in recent months?
His video-game time has been cut into now that he’s a happily married man.
“I had to sit (my wife) down and say, ‘Listen. This is who I am and you’re not going to change that.’”
Hayward laughed about the conversation.
“That backfired a little bit,” he said. “In retrospect, it might not have been the best of decisions. In marriage, you’ve got to work things out.”
“I’m still playing a little bit.”