Toward the end of the second quarter on Monday, Killian Hayes used a screen from Jerami Grant to attack the middle of the lane and get to the rim. He initially looked like he would go for a layup.
Instead, he floated a lob over Moses Brown’s outstretched hand to Isaiah Stewart, who completed the alley-oop.
Later in the fourth quarter, the Detroit Pistons‘ rookie point guard received a dribble hand-off from Hamidou Diallo and found him for an alley-oop dunk after Diallo darted to the rim. Hayes lobbed the pass from behind the 3-point arc with perfect accuracy.
Those were his two flashiest plays during the Pistons’ 24-point blowout of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, during which Hayes logged nine points, seven assists, four steals and a block. It might’ve been his best two-way performance of the season.
But it was his passing that impressed his teammates the most.
“To me, Killian, I’ve played with a lot of point guards so far this year,” Stewart said after the game. “To me, playing with him, his feel for the game is just different. It’s natural, he doesn’t try to force any passes, he sees the whole floor and makes the right reads. I can tell his feel for the game is totally different.”
Hayes returned to the lineup Saturday after three months of rehabbing a torn labrum in his right hip. In two games, he’s dished 10 assists, and that total should be higher, as the Pistons left more than a few assists on the floor during Hayes’ return game, a blowout loss to the New York Knicks.
The Pistons have played seven players at point guard this season — Hayes, Derrick Rose, Delon Wright, Saben Lee, Dennis Smith Jr., Cory Joseph and Rodney McGruder. Hayes is the youngest player in the group, and the most natural playmaker on the roster. On Saturday, he said the game has slowed down for him compared to his first seven games in December and January. He looks more comfortable compared to earlier in the season, even though he hasn’t played 10 NBA games yet.
Beyond his passing, Monday was a well-rounded performance for Hayes. He was disruptive on defense, deflecting opponents’ dribbles and shots. He also got involved as a scorer, putting up all nine of his points in the second half after shooting 0-for-3 in the first half. Hayes showed soft touch on a floater and pull-up jumper from midrange, knocked down a 3-pointer and finished a curl to the rim.
He’s still working himself into game shape after missing 41 straight games, coach Dwane Casey said. But Casey praised his defensive activity and playmaking.
“He’s gotta get into NBA condition and shape,” Casey said. “When you’re out that long, that’s why I was trying to get him in, get him out to give him a lull because it’s difficult. I don’t care how much you work in the training room and all that, but until you get in there and have to go up and down and get down in a stance and guard, handle the ball against pressure, it takes a while.
“He’ll get there, and I thought he got his second wind… When that happened I thought he was a little more efficient. He’s still not there, he’s coming along.”
Hayes is showing more of the potential that enabled him to be the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft after some ugly stat lines to start the season. While he’s still acclimating himself nine games into his rookie season, he’s already leaving a strong impression on his teammates.
“Killian can pass the basketball,” Diallo said when asked about Hayes’ lob to him. “I’m going to leave it at that. Killian can pass that ball.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.