Detroit — Pistons rookie Killian Hayes is nearing a return to the court this season.
After sustaining a torn labrum in his right hip early in the season, Hayes was only able to play in the first seven games of the season before beginning rehabilitation.
That process has gone well, and the 19-year-old is ramping up his workload, and he could be back in the lineup in a couple of weeks.
“I was just talking with the doctors and it’s probably like two to three weeks,” Hayes said Tuesday. “That’s the date that we have.”
In a team statement, the Pistons said that the medical staff has seen “significant positive improvement and advancement towards recovery.” That’s a big step forward for Hayes, the No. 7 overall pick. There was some concern initially that he would need surgery to repair the injury, but after some additional consultation, that wasn’t needed.
“When it first happened, I thought it was something minor; I thought I was going to get back into second half of that game, actually, and when I tried running, I saw I couldn’t,” Hayes said. “I did an MRI the next day and they were telling me that it’s a serious injury, so in my mind, I thought I would be out for a while and they were talking about doing the surgery, so I got scared.
“Having a surgery, especially early in your career, nobody wants to be injured in your first year; you want to be out there and learn and play. I just took it as it was. I saw multiple doctors and they said I didn’t need the surgery, so that was a great thing.”
Hayes’ initial timetable was for an eight-week beginning rehab period and Tuesday’s update indicates that he’s still on pace to play this season, which still has 33 games and is scheduled to end on May 16.
The team announced Tuesday that Hayes is cleared for on-court basketball activities, but he’ll be in what the team is calling a “phased progression,” which will lead to full-contact practices and game action.
“The process will continue for another three weeks and he will be re-evaluated at the end of that period,” the team said in the statement.
If all goes well, the next three-week period would be around the first week of April, which could mean that he potentially would be available for the Pistons’ four-game western road trip, beginning April 6, with games at Denver, Sacramento, Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers.
While he’s been sidelined, Hayes has been able to participate in some team activities and to watch from the bench and get a sense of not only what the Pistons are doing, but what other teams are doing as well. That learning has proved valuable, because when he gets back on the court, he’ll still be working his way back to game shape physically, but mentally, he can still be on track.
The Pistons view Hayes as a foundational piece of their rebuild, and having started him from the first game this season, he may have been pushed too quickly into things. Coach Dwane Casey sees that in hindsight, but it was still worthwhile. Moving forward, though, they plan to be a bit more thoughtful and cautious about the approach to getting him re-acclimated.
“I probably put him at a disadvantage of starting him right off the bat. I wanted to throw him in the deep end, and he did, and it probably was the reason he didn’t play as well as he would think,” Casey said. “We want to bring him along slowly, whether it’s with the second unit or along with another point guard. We’ll see how we do with that, but the rest of the games are for development and for him to get the experience.
“We can’t replace (it) but we can get as many games and game situations in as we can with him because this is going to be a growth season. He missed it, so now we’ve got to make up for it, whether it’s these last 30-some games or Summer League or individual workouts, all summer and then the fall. That’s our goal for him, like everybody else, to make sure we get him up to speed going into the future.”
Hayes didn’t excel in his seven-game start, but the hope is to get him ready to succeed in the last few weeks of the season, where those games will be valuable to assess what his summer plan will be. He could still start at some point this season, but it’s not going to be the same focus as the beginning of the season.
“I would still stand by our decision to start him just because it did serve him well even though he faced adversity shooting the ball. I think he’s grown from that,” Casey said. “It’s sad to say but maybe — and you don’t want to have anyone injured — but he should learn from this too. He had a chance to slow down, observe everything, listen, watch what we do in shootaround and the games and watch film with us in the film sessions, so in a crazy way, he should benefit from that too.”
Pistons vs. Raptors
► Tipoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: FSD/97.1
► Outlook: The Pistons (10-29) have lost four straight games, but their last win was against the shorthanded Raptors on March 3. Toronto will have Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Patrick McCaw back from COVID health and safety protocols.