Hayward and Gobert: The new Stockton and Malone?

Hayward and Gobert: The new Stockton and Malone?

SALT LAKE CITY — Some things are just better together.

Peanut butter and jelly, for instance. Cookies and milk. Movies and popcorn.

Greg Ostertag and Fred Flintstone tattoos.

The short, feisty guy from Gonzaga and the tall, fierce man from Louisiana Tech.

As far as the Utah Jazz and their fans are concerned, there’s a new pair in the Beehive State that seems destined to team up as well as French fries and fry sauce.

Joe Ingles and wise cracks?

Fun, but not quite.

Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert.

One, Hayward, has elevated to an All-Star level since being drafted ninth overall in 2010 and has improved his all-around game and leadership skills while also increasing his scoring load for the seventh straight year.

The other, Gobert, has upped his game immensely since being a late first-round pick in 2013, has blossomed into a legitimate defensive player of the year and All-NBA candidate and just became the first player in league history to finish top three in both offensive and defensive rating, according to @HoopsStatistics.

Both players share traits that NBA coaches covet: talent, competitiveness, desire to improve, impressive work ethic, unique talents, teachability, versatility, leadership and drive.

It’s no wonder why Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey and Utah management are hoping to keep this dynamic duo together as foundation cornerstones to continue to build and thrive around as long as they can. This situation will be given top priority by the franchise this offseason when Hayward likely opts out of the final year of his contract and becomes an unrestricted free agent.

“Gordon knows that if we don’t mess things thing up and Rudy’s able to maintain good health, we should be able to build a top five defense perennially,” Lindsey told the Deseret News. “My hope is that it will be the modern day version of John and Karl — that Rudy and Gordon will be that synonymous with the Jazz as well in the next 8-10 years.”

First things, first.

Hayward and Gobert have helped reunite two other things that go so well together: the Jazz and the NBA playoffs.

Their complementary styles on the court are a major reason — if not the main reason — why the Jazz won the Northwest Division title, powered through an insane amount of injuries for a 51-win season and qualified for the postseason for the first time in five years after winning only 25 games in their first year together.

“I’m pinching myself,” Lindsey said. “My wife’s a basketball fan, but when I bring her to the game and she sees the chemistry (between Hayward and Gobert), it’s like it’s obvious.”

Lindsey lauded Hayward for the offensive component he provides, including joining Kevin Durant as one of only two players in the NBA to amass 1,500 points, 350 rebounds, 250 assists and fewer than 140 turnovers this season. Only James Worthy (1990-91) has had a similar year going back to 1983-84.

Hayward also averaged a career-best 5.4 rebounds and dished out 3.5 assists an outing, helping him pass Darrell Griffith for ninth all-time on the Jazz’s assists list.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder described Hayward’s season as being “a special one.” Hayward topped Utah in scoring with a career-high 22.0 points per game, surging past Deron Williams for the No. 8 spot on the Jazz’s all-time scoring list.

“I think people here know it. That’s why they’ve got billboards of him going up apparently,” Snyder said of Hayward’s special season and the fan-driven #STAYWARD billboard campaign. “He’s being rewarded for the investment. His whole heart is in it. He’s all in.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers acted surprised when a reporter asked him about Utah not having a star player earlier this season.

“You don’t think Gordon Hayward’s a star?” Rivers said. “I do.”

Rivers then smiled and reminded reporters about how much he admires the Jazz’s versatile small forward, who was later voted in an All-Star by NBA coaches.

“Last year I said I have a man crush on Gordon. I really like him,” Rivers said. “I do think he’s a star.”

Like Hayward, Gobert gets high praise around the league, too.

“That guy’s a winning basketball player,” Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said.

Durant recently called the 24-year-old “a load down there” in the paint.

“He covers up the rim. You can kind of see him. A lot of those big guys sometimes they drift on the rim a little bit, but it feels like he’s always trying to protect that rim,” Durant said. “It feels like that’s his home in the middle of the paint on the defensive end.”

The Warriors superstar went on to call Gobert “a great player” after the Jazz’s 101-95 win over Golden State in Oakland on Monday.

“He’s just grown so much as a player. When he first came into the league, I didn’t think he would be this good,” Durant said. “I knew he was long, but I thought his foot speed wasn’t where it should be, but man, he definitely changed my mind on that. He’s an exciting player, definitely tests your offense a lot. You don’t want to just run in there and shoot anything up, because that could be a fast break for him. But he’s changed their team. He’s a reason why they’re so good.”

Gobert deserves some of the credit for opening things up for Hayward because of his offensive improvement. Lindsey pointed out the French player’s improved rolling capability on pick-and-rolls, the vertical spacing Gobert provides and his center’s league-leading screen assists.

“You have to account for him,” Lindsey said of Gobert. “That frees Gordon, and then Rudy providing the defensive backbone allows Gordon to take a few more chances and be a little more aggressive (on defense).”

Hayward is appreciative of his teammate’s improvements and for the influence Gobert has had for him personally and for the Jazz’s success. The 7-foot-1 big man averaged career-bests of 14.0 points, 12.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks this season. He led the NBA in blocks, swats per game, block percentage, defensive win shares and defensive real plus/minus.

“Rudy has been so dynamic rolling this year, being a presence inside,” Hayward said. “It’s allowed me to attack from the outside — whether that’s threes, whether that’s mid-range pull-ups. He’s also so good at offensive rebounding that a lot of times the best pass is just a shot up at the rim for him to go get and put back.

“He’s a guy that’s really improved his game and helped us be where we’re at. We’re not where we’re at without him.”

The feeling is mutual.

In fact, Gobert recently said he plans on making a free-agency pitch this offseason to Hayward, who recorded more 30-plus points games (13) since Karl Malone (14) in 2001-02. The Stifle Tower’s massive four-year, $100-plus contract kicks in next season, and his friend from Brownsburg, Indiana, is set to make far more than that when he gets a max deal from Utah or another team this summer.

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“I’m just going to ask him, ‘Do you want to win a championship?'” Gobert told HoopsHype.com’s Alex Kennedy. “I feel like with the way we’ve improved the last few years, since Quin got here, I don’t think it’d be a great decision to leave now. … I’m going to remind him that I really want to win a championship and I think we can do it. If he stays, I think we’ll have chances.”

The process of growing together when it matters most and really becoming an inseparable partnership — surrounded by terrific and versatile pieces, of course — begins Saturday in Los Angeles.

Only time will tell if it ends with the Hayward and Gobert combo getting their own statues and street names next to the place they currently call home.

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Published at Fri, 14 Apr 2017 01:45:00 +0000