Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best performances in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: Gordon Hayward
On a chaotic evening of unpredictable television and awards, Gordon Hayward led Utah to its first victory in the Verizon Center since 2012. It was fitting, since earlier this month the Butler forward was voted into prestige himself, becoming an All-Star for the first time in his seven-year career with the Jazz.
The two games since the All-Star break — first against the Bucks, now the Wizards — have felt like an ongoing victory lap. On Friday in Milwaukee, he finished with 29 points in an array of dunks, jumpers, baptisms, and 3s. He stole all the vowels out of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s name then stared him down so viciously that “What did Giannis do to Gordon?” became one of Google’s suggested searches.
The same mercilessness overcame Hayward on Sunday, first making a victim of John Wall (maybe because Wall was back on defense, maybe because he’s nicknamed “Wall-Star,” we’ll never know), then shutting down a comeback.
Considering how well Washington has played at home this season, it’s no surprise that the Wizards flew during a 19–5 run late in the fourth quarter to trim the lead back to 8 after nearly an entire game sitting on a double-digit deficit. Enter Hayward, who scored 13 of his eventual 30 points in the final frame. With 2:42 remaining, he sank a jumper to push the lead back to 10. Then, he chased down new Wizard Bojan Bogdanovic for a block from behind (which was afterwards deemed a foul but looked suspiciously like a clean block) and padded the lead with an additional 3-pointer and another jumper.
This do-it-all ability on the court and Hayward’s potential unrestricted free agency next summer had teams reportedly eyeing him in January before the trade deadline. The Celtics were shopping (or that’s what Larry Bird, Gar Forman, and I thought, anyway), and Brad Stevens’s experience coaching Hayward in college planted a seed in Boston fans’ minds that’s been growing since 2013. Of course, it didn’t happen, but the wing’s never been in a better position to leverage his worth: He’s upped last year’s career-high 19.7 points per game to 22.5 this season, and had a career year for rebounds as well. It’s obvious why the Jazz didn’t make a change before the All-Star break, though. There is another (slightly larger than beating Washington at home) accomplishment the organization hasn’t done since 2012: make the playoffs.
Outstanding Achievement by a King of the Court in a Supporting Role: Rudy Gobert
At the Oscars (which, again, was the same night as Jazz-Wizards), Viola Davis won Best Supporting Actress for her (lead) role in Fences. Reportedly, the field was so dense that Paramount thought she’d have a better chance of winning in the supporting role. And she won! Viola’s great. I’m happy for her. This is also the perfect way to cherish Rudy Gobert’s night — 15 points, 20 rebounds, three assists, four blocks — as still a winner, just not the lead. Wait, does this make Gordon Hayward Emma Stone?