Player Capsules 2012, #76-78: Gordon Hayward, Grant Hill, Markieff Morris

Posted on Mon 06 August 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron's writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. Intent is to get you talking, thinking, and appreciating the myriad of wonderful folks who play in our favorite sports league. Today we continue with Gordon Hayward, Grant Hill, and Markieff Morris.

• • •

Follow Gordon Hayward on Twitter at @gordonhayward.

I'm not totally sure about Hayward, yet. This isn't meant to be a super negative comment on his game -- Hayward's got quite a few valuable skills, which we'll get into. But call it a looks thing, a hobbyist thing, a college thing -- I don't really know. I just don't know if I trust Hayward's game. I know many Jazz fans (bless their hearts) who think Hayward is some reincarnation of Manu Ginobili who is going to produce Manu-type numbers for the duration of his career. All due respect to Mr. Hayward, that's ridiculous. While Hayward's percentages are similar from three, there's a reason the Jazz need to pick up designated three point gunners -- whereas Manu tries to take 37-45% of his shots from behind the three point line (and hits extremely efficiently from that range), Hayward only takes about 20% of his shots from that range. They both have a pet skill that's good for their position -- Hayward his rebounding, Manu his passing -- but Manu is an impossibly better passer than Hayward is a rebounder, and with the current glut of developing rebounding guards/forwards (a la Kawhi Leonard), Hayward simply doesn't stand out that much for that alone.

What stands out with me, for Gordon Hayward, is the full package -- I'm not exactly sure what he can do to push his game to the next level, or if he really can do anything. But the whole is greater than the somewhat mediocre sum of its parts. Much like Lou Williams, actually -- where Lou adds value to his game simply by doing nothing wrong, Hayward adds value to his game by simply doing nothing terribly. He's not an awful defender, although I don't buy the overwhelming opinion from Jazz fans that he's a really positive defender. While he's super athletic and certainly has the tools, the numbers have indicated he's been absolutely terrible and re-watching him on defense you tend to find some less-than-salutatory trends regarding his patterns on the pick and roll, and how he chooses to defend the three point line. While he's very athletic (possibly the most athletic white dude in the history of the league), he oftentimes lets that determine his entire game plan, and lays off way too much assuming that his superior athleticism is going to save the play. Rarely does. Still, the point stands -- even if he isn't a fantastic defender, he isn't an awful defender. And other than that? Passable rebounder, decent passer, very low turnovers (especially for someone asked to handle the ball like he does), solid three point shooter, dependable free throw shooter (who gets to the line!), and extremely durable.

Still, even given all these positives, I just have this general distaste for the idea that Hayward is some reincarnation of Manu Ginobili. Partly because Manu is still, even after all these years, dreadfully underheralded. Partly it's because it feels like people are comparing Hayward and Manu simply because Hayward happens to be a white guy who can shoot the three and pass, and that's all most people see Manu as. Manu has a similarly wide-ranging skillset, with very few negatives. But he simply does everything better. He's a better three point shooter, in his prime he was a far better defender, he's better at controlling the ball, he's more efficient, he shoots more, he rebounds better, and comparing their passing is like assessing the sophistication of Dora the Explorer to that of Breaking Bad. This isn't to say Hayward is bad -- as you probably gathered from the last paragraph, I think people sleep on him a bit. It's worth noting I'm not sure he'll get that much better than he is now. He took a quantum leap forward last season in the eyes of many, but the per-minute numbers tend to indicate he didn't make tremendous steps. And it indicated he mostly just played more minutes. Well, Hayward's at 30 minutes per game, and assuming a linearly increase in his usage of talent -- already so effective -- is a bridge too far for me. I think he's effective, interesting, and a player that's going to be a little better when he reaches his prime. But I suppose where I differ from Jazz fans is the assertion that I'm simply not so sure he's got all that much room left to climb.

Off the court? Hilarious. He's this generation's Tim Duncan -- not in basketball talents but in nerdy off-court gaming pursuits. Hayward is a very good Starcraft player, having played competitively during the lockout. He also got a tiny bit of flack for saying -- in the same link -- that the stress of playing in the NBA is similar to the stress of playing video games competitively. Not quite what you're going for, Gordon. Preeeeeetty sure Kobe would disagree with you there. Pretty sure basically everyone in the known universe would disagree with you there. But good try. He also is a level 60 monk in Diablo 3. Before you ask what that means, I must reveal that I am a level 60 wizard in that particular game. It's plodding, and I've stopped having all that much fun playing it because the worlds don't vary enough (or, well, virtually at all) for my taste and getting through the final difficulty level is bloody impossible without gearing up to ridiculous levels. But anyway. It took me about 30 hours of playing time to get my character to level 60 (the max level you can reach in the game), if I remember right, and I'm betting that if he got his character to 60 he's probably made it his goal to get through the game in full. So he's probably pretty damn far in that game. Also, for the record, if you took all the animals of the world and put them in a no-holds-barred deathmatch, Hayward believes the noble gorilla would win it all. Personally, I'd say the hippopotamus. Sure, they have a funny names, but they've got heads like sledgehammers, feet that can crush ANYTHING, and they're faster than humans on land. They also have very few weak spots. Barring that, I'd go with the big cats -- Tigers, Panthers, Jaguars, et cetera. Those guys are vicious, cunning, and durable. And they're natural hunters. Hey, Blizzard? Are you listening to this? Let's make this a video game. I've even got a title for it. "Gordon Hayward's Apocalypse Farm: The Reckoning." Let's get this done, fellas.

• • •

_Follow Grant Hill on Twitter at __@realgranthill33.___

I'm going to try and make this one quick, because Grant Hill makes me sad. All things considered, there's very little reason for Grant Hill to sadden me -- he's made over $140,000,000 playing the game of basketball, and he's made probably double that through his golden smile and his advertising chops. He's a 40-year-old who is still technically playing the game he loves, and his popularity intersects multiple NBA generations. He's got culpable excuses for his lack of a ring, having only been on one remotely contending team in his 17 year (yes, it's really been that long) NBA career. He's on a team with the best point guard in the game once again, and a team with a legitimate shot at winning the West (albeit I'm using legitimate to mean "at all existent", as I don't REALLY think the Clippers can beat the Thunder, the Spurs, or the Lakers -- but we'll see). He probably won't play much, if at all, but if the Clippers shock the world and win a title he'll have his ring and can ride off into the sunset to become a coach or a business owner or, honestly, whatever the hell he wants to do. He could even take the advice of another Duke guy and open a cream puff shop.

But it's a cold comfort. Because Hill's career will always leave me wanting. Grant Hill is eighth on the all-time triple-double leaderboard. That's ahead of Jordan and Clyde Drexler, which is rather impressive, because Hill hasn't had a triple double since Clinton was president. Seriously. His last triple double occurred in the 1999 lockout-shortened season, against the Stockton-Malone Jazz. This isn't some kind of fluke, either -- Hill was phenomenal in his first six years, while he was with Detroit. His career averages as a Piston are 22-8-6, with 47% shooting from the field and 75% from behind the line. With, again, 29 triple doubles. Make no mistake -- those are star numbers. The once-in-a-generation sort. He was also a really solid defender, in my view, though we obviously don't have synergy statistics or per-possession defensive stats for his time with the Pistons. Despite all this, Hill's career was derailed when (in his 6th season) Hill played through a bad ankle injury and stayed on the court until the ankle utterly gave out on him, breaking badly. But he wasn't totally to blame for it. Reportedly, the Detroit organization openly wondered whether he was "playing soft," and just funneled him stronger and stronger painkillers to keep him on the court.

I don't want to sugarcoat it -- if Hill is telling the truth (and we have no reason to believe he's not), anyone who remains from that Detroit training staff should be fired. This league is about the players. It's not about running them into the ground like that, or making them feel forced to play hurt. The ankle ended up destroying his career, as everyone knows. He was barely able to play at all in Orlando, and spent the next six years as low-down awful as he was amazing in the first six. And as he's slowly revived his career in the same way Antonio McDyess has (and as Brandon Roy may), there's this sense of surreal separation between the Grant Hill of then and the Grant Hill of now. It's like invasion of the body snatchers, in reverse -- the mind's the same as it always was, and the body's form is as it's always been. But the talent, the vitality, the strength -- it's gone, long stolen by his ankle and infections. It's not just the health -- it feels like the soul of Grant's game was wrenched from his person long ago.

So I look at Grant Hill and I watch him play and I feel glad that he's had a long, profitable career. I like Grant Hill, and other than Kyrie Irving and Gerald Henderson, there's not a single player from my alma mater I've ever liked more. But there's an element of sadness, this nagging sense that Grant Hill's ankle stole from us a once-in-a-generation talent. Some would say we can't miss what we've never seen, but that's simply not true. When Hill was a Piston, he showed himself to be exactly that. I miss the years he's never had for the years the world forgot. That's Grant Hill for you. A shadow, a shade, and a pressing and present reminder of the things fate takes away.

• • •

Follow Markieff Morris on Twitter at @T3.__

Markieff Morris looked really good to start the year. Most people don't remember this, because honestly, it didn't last long. But he totally did. Morris shot a silky-smooth 48% from three point range in December and January. He's not a great defensive player -- he fouls too much, letting his hands stay on the offensive player well after they've received the ball and gotten position. He also gets beaten on the pick and roll with startling regularity. But his three point shot -- while clearly cooler than 50% -- is relatively solid and even though his finishing isn't remarkable he's got post offense that one can imagine someday being an asset. Suns fans didn't particularly like the number of spot-up shots Morris took, and indeed, he went a little too hard on those. In some sense, this year's hot start from three point range doomed him -- same with Brandon Jennings' rookie year, when he started the year making an insane number of threes and has continued from then on shooting as though his "true" talent level would be that of a 40% three point shooter. In that sense, Morris' over-focus on his three-ball and spot up shots was exactly what we all should've expected. Hot hand theory doesn't just apply in a possession-only or game-by-game level -- it also exists in the macro level, where a player with a prolonged "hot hand" often inadvertently torpedoes most of a season trying desperately to return to a level of shooting they'll never reach again. Sometimes, in fact... it lasts entire careers. (Shout out to J.R. Smith! Whoa buddy!)

I do have my doubts about the Suns as a team that develops players well, though, and that's a problem going forward. While I understand that their last few drafts have been somewhat disastrous, what was the last Suns draft pick that the Suns really developed well? In 2010, you had Gani Lawal, an athletic talent from Georgetown -- he proceeded to play two minutes in a single game in the league, and is currently playing in France. You have Earl Clark the year before, a player the Suns gave up essentially as a throw-in to the Magic... only to have Clark develop (finally) into a decent defensive player and a very useful cog. You have Robin Lopez, who stagnated for years with the exception of a solid run in the 2010 playoffs, and who the Suns gave up for virtually nothing. You have Rudy Fernandez, who -- despite being the kind of shooter the Suns longed for years to put around Nash -- they gave up for actually nothing, as Sarver traded Fernandez and James Jones away for cash alone. (By the way, that's classic Sarver! Can't wait for him to trade the draft picks he gave up for Nash away to random teams for "cash considerations.") Beyond that, the Suns haven't really had any notable hits from a player development standpoint in the last while, and that's a problem.

It makes me wonder about the development of Morris, because he's easily the highest upside young player they've had in their organization for a long, long time. They really need to do a good job with him -- if he develops right, he could be their next linchpin. A Morris-Gortat core with Kendall Marshall as a tertiary piece doesn't sound all that bad to me, but only if Morris lives up to every inkling of his potential. What evidence do we have that he'll even live up to a modicum of it, with the Suns (and by extension, Alvin Gentry's) record of player development ? Virtually none. Hence the worry. Especially since his biggest issues are on the defensive end, where he gives up 60% shooting and 1.2 PPP when he's defending the post, per Synergy. Seriously, what? That's incredibly bad. According to Sebastien Pruiti, that's in the bottom 7% of NBA players. Ridiculous. Morris simply needs some time to develop and some work in the weight room. I trust the Phoenix training staff to keep players healthy and maximize the physical gifts of Markieff Morris to keep him on the court. But I sure as hell don't trust them to develop defense where none now exists, or to develop his offense to a better distribution of post-ups and spot-ups. And that's the problem that worries me about Markieff. It's okay, though. No worries. This is Sarver we're talking about. He'll probably get picked up by the Boston Celtics for "cash considerations" within the hour.

• • •

At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. We had several 2/3 guesses last Friday, but nothing more. Shout out to Adam Johnson, J, and W -- all of whom got 2/3.

  • There are busts that aren't really busts, and are a lot better than they get credit for. Then there's Player #79. Heh.
  • You know how I hate Mike Bibby more than any player ever? I might've been lying. As a Cavs fan, Player #80 was worse.
  • He'd make a bad fashionista, but Player #81 is a good NBA player. Will be a Hardwood Paroxysm crosspost.

See you tomorrow!