Killian Hayes is Back: The good, the bad and the ugly

Detroit Bad Boys

The Detroit Pistons are doing great job with their rookies this year. Isaiah Stewart, taken with the 16th pick, is already a fan favorite and now looks like a foundational piece. Saddiq Bey, taken with 19th pick, already has an Eastern Conference Player of the Week honor, and he’s already schooling his former offseason workout partners, teammate and mentor, Blake Griffin.

Saben Lee, a second-rounder taken with 38th pick, is making an exceptionally smooth transformation to the next level.

We haven’t mentioned the Pistons most high-profile rookie — the one taken with a top-10 pick. That’s because there hasn’t been much to say about Killian Hayes, and what little there was, was largely negative after a rough first seven games before a hip injury sidelined him for months.

In his first seven games, he averaged 4.6 PPG on dreadful shooting splits of 27.7/25/50. He showed the ability to create separation for himself and shake off his defender, but also the inability to take advantage of it consistently, as not only his perimeter shooting, but also his shots from the lane were bad: 3-of-9 from the restricted area and 3-of-12 from the rest of the paint).

He also could be caught playing passively and making some lazy plays.

He averaged a decent 3.6 assists in limited minutes, but that benefit was blurred by too many turnovers (2.4).

On the other hand, he looked determined on the defensive end, showing constant willingness to disrupt opposite playmakers with deflections and relentless on-ball defense.

In his seventh game, Killian injured his hip, and there was a chance his rookie year was already over. Now, Killian is back, and he is showing some welcome improvements along with some regression.

The ability to create separation and shake his defender off the dribble is still there. But now it’s matched with much better finishing. In three games since coming back from injury, Hayes is 7-of-10 on shots from the lane.

The composition of these shots maybe could be better, as the young Florida-born Frenchman is 2-of-2 from restricted area and mostly relying on much more difficult shots elsewhere within the paint (5-of-8). But evaluators pointed to Killian’s floater and pull-up game as a salve for a player who many thought might struggle finishing at the rim — especially early in his career. And if the youngster is going to convert shots from the paint non-RA at the 62.5% clip, I think Pistons fans can live with this. What’s also noteworthy is that he can make such scores playing off-ball too.

He now also looks to be better creating for others. After returning from injury, he amassed 12 assists and turned the ball over only 6 times, cutting out a lot of indecision and passive plays. The 2/1 AST/TO ratio would put him in the middle of the pack of NBA guards. And that would be a good start for a rookie. His ability to hit his man in various situations will definitely be of great use for Motor City’s offense.

On defense, Killian still is excelling at disrupting plays including by deflecting the ball.

The 4.4 figure per 36 minutes, he averages since returning to play, is among the league’s best.

Hayes is also rebounding the ball much better now. Before injury he had a 5.2 DREB% and 2.7 REB%. Now, it is 14.7 and 8.1 respectively.

He still looks mostly good defending on-ball.

However, there are still some areas for improvement. When I discussed him as a future draft prospect for the Pistons more than a year ago, I indicated that he seemed to have the whole package there. Now, not all parts of that package are always in place. He struggles navigating through screens dating back to his first games of the season, and for the season, he’s in 3rd percentile.

But, at least in preseason, he was good in blitzing P&Rs.

Since his return, he has struggled.

Most worrisome since his return is that when Killian defends the ball handler, he does not move his feet well and fails to deny much space, allowing his man to fire an uncontested shot.

Yep, you see it correctly in the first clip, sometimes it gets to the point that even not overly shifty big can put him on skates. And this is ugly.

But as bad as it looks, it’s important to remember it’s only been three games and he’s still shaking the rust off. With so little playing time, his numbers will fluctuate greatly. But he’s already showing effectiveness and confidence on the offensive end, he failed to display at the beginning of the season. And that’s the most important development of all.

It gives Hayes a chance to join the rest of the members of the “core 4” Detroit Pistons rookies as having excellent inaugural seasons, and get fans even more excited for the future.

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