When the Charlotte Hornets signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $120M contract, the organization was banking on Hayward reverting back to the All-Star he was with the Utah Jazz—he’s done that and more, leading the team in scoring and helping bring them towards playoff contention while the franchise delicately balances competitiveness and development.
All-Star voting closed at 11:59 PM EST on Feb. 16, and at the last update (we should get a third and final tally soon) Hayward was ninth in votes among frontcourt players. It’s not possible for him to leapfrog six players with millions more votes and become a starter, which means Hayward will have to be selected to the team by the coaches in the Eastern Conference.
Lakers’ LeBron James and Nets’ Kevin Durant continue to be leaders in second round of NBA All-Star Game fan voting. Warriors‘ Stephen Curry and Wizards‘ Bradley Beal leaders at their position too. pic.twitter.com/rCe7VBQp1z— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 11, 2021
Per-game averages of 22.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.1 steals on 48.6/42.2/86.4 shooting splits with a 59.8 true shooting percentage on the eighth-best team in the East are certainly “All-Star numbers,” but there are a ton of worthy players in the East, and given the fact that Bam Adebayo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bradley Beal, Jaylen Brown, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Domantas Sabonis and Jayson Tatum are essential locks to make the 12-player roster, there are about 10-12 guys (depending on one’s judgement of an “All-Star”) fighting for two spots.
Malcolm Brogdon, Jimmy Butler, Jerami Grant, Tobias Harris, Zach LaVine, Khris Middleton, Julius Randle, Collin Sexton, Ben Simmons, Fred VanVleet, Nikola Vučević, and Trae Young all have numbers similar to Hayward’s and play on teams of varying levels of success. Having to rely on the coach’s vote helps Hayward’s chances slightly as an impactful team-friendly forward on an upstart team, but there are reasons for others to get in over him as well in a crowded Eastern Conference. Let’s run through the cons of Hayward’s All-Star resume first and get the bad news out of the way:
There are a couple of things that hurt Hayward’s case for the All-Star team, but the biggest one is that his production has trailed off a bit in the last 11 contests. Hayward’s per-game scoring has fallen to 19.3 points per game and his true shooting percentage dropped to 54.6, and his overall impact on the Hornets’ success hasn’t been felt as strongly as it’s been for the majority of the season.
LaMelo Ball has also put a dent in Hayward’s chances, even though that’s objectively a good thing for the franchise. Hayward is the team’s best player as of right now, but Ball has made a strong argument for that title since being inserted into the starting lineup. Even Terry Rozier has been more productive than Hayward as of late, averaging 30.8 points per game on 71 percent true shooting over the past week. As James Plowright said in the latest ATH Live podcast, All-Star voting has a lot of recency bias to it, and Hayward is slipping at the worst possible time.
There’s also the idea that since Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons and Trae Young are unarguably better players than Hayward or any other candidate, they should be included on the team no matter their resume. Butler has missed 12 of Miami’s 27 games, but is posting 19.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists nightly while carrying the Heat out of the depths of the East standings after their rough start. Simmons has become one of the best, most versatile defenders in the NBA and is the second-best player on the No. 1 team in the conference, and Young’s game is tailor-made for All-Star weekend, he’s one of the best offensive players in the entire league and the Hawks are currently a play-in team. And, guess what—one of those guys is going to get snubbed because there are only two open spots left.
Alright, the bad news is out of the way. Let’s get to the fun stuff.
Hayward’s 22.3/5.5/3.8/1.2 line doesn’t jump off the page, but he’s done it with remarkable efficiency. The early-season hopes that he’d join the “50-40-90 Club” have faded (there’s still a chance!), but he is a member of the vaunted “48/40/85 While Averaging At Least Three Assists Per Game Club,” which includes a bevy of likely 2020-21 All-Stars:
Hayward is third in steals per game and seventh in usage rate among those players, and he’s only missed two games. With his injury history being a concern heading into the season, he deserves some credit for how consistent he’s been so far.
The Hornets would not be a top-eight team in the East without Hayward, simple and plain. His on/off rating per 100 possessions is +4.9 (70th percentile), third-best on the team while leading in minutes played (917). Ball’s rookie campaign has been so spectacular that the Hornets wouldn’t be awful without Hayward, but Hayward is the only one garnering All-Star consideration for a reason; he’s “the guy” in crunch time, and when the offense goes cold and Charlotte needs a bucket, head coach James Borrego calls a play for Hayward.
Lastly, the eighth-place Hornets would be one of the best teams in the conference to not have a player selected, and the NBA likes to have its better teams well-represented during All-Star weekend. If the coaches vote in Butler, Middleton, Simmons or Harris, the “elite” teams in the East would be represented with multiple players, but the Hornets and New York Knicks—both of whom are currently in the top-eight—would be left out of the festivities.
As I’ve said on record before, Hayward absolutely “deserves” to be an All-Star and has been playing like one all season long. Unfortunately, the NBA has an arbitrary restriction of 12 roster spots for the All-Star game, despite actual NBA rosters being required to field at least 13 players (12 or more active, one or more inactive). Billionaire team owners don’t want to add to the bonuses they pay some players for All-Star berths, so each year multiple players get unfairly snubbed despite there being an easy path to remedy that. If I had to place a bet on it, Hayward would be one of the first players left off the roster due to his recent slippage and the sheer number of worthy players in the East.
But just with that one extra spot, the All-Star teams would be more legitimate and representative of the best players in the league. Instead, fans/media/coaches are forced to split hairs between legacy All-Stars like Butler, and players who’ve had one of the dozen best starts to the season in each conference. It’s the little things, Adam Silver. They matter.