Pistons’ Killian Hayes endures early growing pains in rookie season

Detroit News

Rod Beard
| The Detroit News

The NBA doesn’t always come easy. For a very few elite players, it’s almost a seamless transition from playing college ball to playing as a pro. Even experienced college players often have issues with adjusting to the speed of the game and the level of play.

For Pistons rookie Killian Hayes, it’s been predictably difficult. The 19-year-old has played in just four games and it’s been tough for him, both with the eye test and looking at the stat sheet. He’s averaging just five points, 1.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists and is shooting 23% on 3-pointers.

It’s not all on Hayes, though. He was thrown into difficult circumstances, with less than a month between being drafted and being thrust into his first game. There wasn’t time to get acclimated to even playing regular 5-on-5 basketball with his new teammates, much less getting the full rookie experience, which would have included a rookie mini-camp, summer league games and more time to get his feet wet.

There’s no such luxury during the pandemic.

Derrick Rose, a former league MVP who is now serving as his mentor and backup point guard, sees the difference as night and day. He was able to play in a regular Summer League and some other games with the Team USA select team, which gave him more experience against NBA veterans.

“I think it’s very, very tough for kids … it’s really not fair. I played Summer League, in which I did terrible in, but at least I was able to play those games,” Rose said Thursday. “On the Select Team, you’re just playing defense. It gave me confidence to play on those teams because I was able to get the ball up the court…

“You look at a kid like Killian and he didn’t have any of that. He’s thrown right in. He has a poker face. I’m talking to him as much as possible and texting him and letting him know he has to relax and play his game. He’s going to have to learn with experience.”

It’s been a bumpy ride in the first couple of weeks in the regular season, where the Pistons have lost their first four games, and Hayes, who suffered a sprained right ankle on Tuesday, didn’t play most of the second half.

 “If you look at his history over in Germany, it was similar,” Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said. “When he first went to Germany, there was a little learning curve and once he got through that, he took off. I’m not concerned.”

Hayes wasn’t regarded as a volume scorer in his season with Ratiopharm Ulm in Germany and in his first four games there, he scored 15, two, two and six points. After that, he seemingly got comfortable and averaged 16.7 points and 7.3 assists in the next three games. He finished the season with impressive averages: 24 points, six rebounds and 11 assists.

It might just take some time.

Casey said Hayes hasn’t shown any frustration in practice about things coming along slowly and that he’s taken coaching and mentorship well, as have all the rookies and young players in the opening stages of their rebuild. Hayes, though, is the epicenter of the reshaping of the roster as the No. 7 overall pick, having been thrust into a starting role, where he can sink or swim without fear of being benched.

“Any time you look around the league, a lot of the draftees are coming off the bench. As an organization, we put Killian in a position where he’s the point guard of the future,” Casey said. “We threw him in the fire — which was really unfair to him, because there’s no Summer League, there’s no August or September (workout time). You’re going right from working out in Florida to going against NBA players.

“It’s tough, but the only way he’s going to learn is to go through this and not get frustrated and fight through it. Human nature sets in sometimes, but it’s part of the growth.”

Part of the NBA transition is the mental side, where rookies have to learn from their mistakes each night and quickly turn that into meaningful lessons that minimize repeating those errors. There can be a lot of feedback coming from a lot of different directions, which can sometimes be too much to process.

It’s not an anomaly to have a rookie struggle in the league, especially at point guard.

“If you look at the history of starting rookie point guards, it’s always going to be tough on them,” guard Delon Wright said. “That’s the beauty of it. He’s young and at 19, he has a lot of potential. The more he can learn now, it’ll help him in Year 2 and Year 3, and moving further along in his career.”

Pistons vs. Celtics

Tipoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Pistons have led in the fourth quarter of all four games, but have come up short each time. The Celtics (3-2) have won two straight heading into the two-game weekend set for their only visit this season. Jaylen Brown had a career-best 42 points against the Grizzlies on Wednesday.


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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