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Can Gordon Hayward carry the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals?

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Does Hayward deserve a max contract even though he’s not a top-30 player? No All-NBA accolades for him.

NBA: Miami Heat at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

One of the criteria in signing a player to a max contract is the expectation that he carries his team to victories in the NBA playoffs. Gordon Hayward's numbers in his 11 games for the Utah Jazz, versus the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, were underwhelming to say the least.

Basketball-refence.com breaks down game stats for when a player is on the court and when he is off the court. During the regular season, Hayward had a positive effect for the team's overall Net (Team-Opponent) Offense Rating, +6.6 on vs. +0.9 off, or a net difference of +5.7. The playoffs produced vastly different numbers: a net ORtg of -8.3 Hayward on-court, and +9.4 off-court, for a swing of -17.7.

The Jazz were better offensively with Hayward off the court, than on it. That could be reflection of playing the starters versus the bench. Is the Jazz bench that much better than the Clippers and Warriors benches?

In the Jazz's 7-game victory over the Clippers he produced +/- total of -10. In the last two blow-out losses against the Warriors, Hayward scored 29 points, with a +/- of -16, and 25 points. with a +/- of -32. Seems to me like the points were empty numbers in a blowout game, which only served to pad the stat sheet.

On the surface he posted elite numbers of a .441 FG%, .412 3P%, .516 eFG%, and 24.1 PPG during the series. Offensively he's among the elite players, but so are Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler, and they went home before the last dance.

The danger resides in nature of multi-year NBA guaranteed contracts. The consequences of signing a player at his peak value, much like the Heat acquiring Josh McRoberts after a career year, carries over what seems like forever. Hayward at $30 million per year for 4 years might be an excellent addition, but adding quality rotation players, not only for next season, but years down the road becomes costly.

Let’s compare him to James Johnson, which RealGM does with a host of numbers. Hayward's overall statistics are far superior due to his high usage rate. Surprisingly Johnson has a better lifetime FG% of 47.7% vs. 44.4%. In their head-to-head matchups, Johnson bested Hayward by a resounding 59% FG% to 39% FG%.

Hayward hangs his hat as an outside scoring threat who can make his own shot, yet what happens if a great defenses takes that away from him? How else can he contribute to the Heat at playoffs time, when the competition intensifies? In my opinion, James Johnson has more versatility, and at a fraction of the cost. He can play the 5 in small-ball lineups, guard people like LeBron James, act as a secondary facilitator, be the enforcer when situations demand it, and has the potential to be an All-NBA defense team member.

The Miami Heat are one All-NBA caliber away from contending for the NBA Finals next season. The jackpot question is whether will that player comes within or outside the Heat organization. Hayward was elected to the popularity contest known as the All-Star Game, but failed the season-ending All-NBA test, where the top 15 players in each conference are selected. That gives critics pause for thought.

Before committing $120 million dollars over several seasons on a single bet, other options for improvement need to be taken under consideration. An Indiana native and Pacer fan, Hayward was selected ninth in the NBA draft, while Justise Winslow was the tenth pick: pretty close call regarding raw talent.

Heat have other 25 year-old and younger prospects on the team, such as Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, who need playing time to break out. For example, If Richardson does succeed, will he walk away when his contract expires, because almost $60 million is tied up in just two players?

As always, Pat Riley has a keen eye for mutually beneficial trades at a fair price, to bring home the bacon to Miami, so to speak. In Riley we trust.