After an extended absence due to a hip injury, Killian Hayes made his long-awaited return to the rotation on Saturday. The No. 7 overall pick in 2020 spent three months rehabbing after tearing his labrum in his right hip on Jan. 4.
Unfortunately, his return coincided with the Detroit Pistons‘ worst loss of the season. The New York Knicks blew out the Pistons (14-35) at Little Caesars Arena, 125-81. (In fact, it was the franchise’s worst loss since a 141-97 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 7, 1994.) The Knicks opened the game with aa 14-0 run and never looked back.
Jerami Grant led the Pistons with 16 points, and Hamidou Diallo added 14. Hayes went scoreless but tallied five rebounds and dished out three assists.
Julius Randle led the Knicks with 29 points, and former Piston Reggie Bullock added 22. The Pistons shot just 35.4% overall and 32.1% from 3. Randle and Bullock combined for 34 points — and knocked down eight of 12 3-point attempts —during a dominant first quarter for New York.
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Killian Hayes returns
It had been 89 days since Hayes last played a game for the Pistons. It’s a long period of time — nearly three months — that feels even longer when considering how much the Pistons have changed in that span. It’s a stretch that includes two trades, Blake Griffin’s buyout and the emergence of several players on the roster, including Hayes’ fellow rookies, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Saben Lee.
His first game after returning from a torn hip labrum was similar to his first seven games. He struggled to score himself, but was impactful as a defender, rebounder and particularly as a passer. Although his assist total wasn’t notable, he gave Detroit’s offense a jolt it hasn’t consistently had this season.
Hayes is the best passer on the roster. He can whip one-handed passes with ease and can see plays several steps ahead. He was able to stretch the Knicks’ defense and find angles for his teammates, over and over. If the NBA counted hockey-style assists — the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the shot — he would’ve had more than a few.
In fact, Hayes should’ve had more than the three assists he finished with. The Pistons lack shooting beyond Grant, Bay and Wayne Ellington. Diallo has been solid as a shooter since arriving in Detroit, which has provided an additional lift. Expect Dwane Casey to continue to tinker with lineups to maximize Hayes’ impact.
Hamidou Diallo: Shooter?
When he arrived, Diallo was only shooting 29.3% from 3. That was a career-high mark for him. Diallo’s shooting has been his biggest weakness since arriving in the NBA, though his athleticism, finishing ability and defense has enabled him to become an effective rotation player anyway.
Since joining the Pistons, Diallo has knocked down five of nine 3-point attempts in four games, including going 2-for-4 from beyond the arc on Saturday night. It’s a small sample size, but a positive development nonetheless.
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.