When the Pistons drafted Killian Hayes last year, the book on him was that he was a deft passer and strong defender, which fit what general manager Troy Weaver was looking for in a lead point guard.
The hip injury that sidelined Hayes delayed some of the opportunity to see what their top pick could do in his rookie season. Since his return, Hayes has started to put some of those skills on display. There have been several hints that the tools are there, but it became more apparent in Monday’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Hayes put together a splendid performance, with career highs of 12 points and nine assists. That might seem mediocre to most, but in the big scheme of things, Hayes hasn’t played 20 games yet and he’s already showing some of the skills that moved the Pistons to pick him, especially the court vision.
“He’s growing and he sees things that other people don’t see. Sometimes it may go in the 14th row right now, but we have to live with some of that and not take away his creativity,” coach Dwane Casey said. “The young man is big and strong and the more he gets in NBA condition where he can play huge minutes, that’s going to help him even more.”
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There aren’t big scoring numbers so far, but Hayes wasn’t a volume scorer when he played at Cholet in France. He’s more of a facilitator and he showed that Monday, with four assists on the first five field goals. Some were alley-oops, showing his touch on the ball, and others were pocket passes on the pick-and-roll that made it easier for the big men to score at the basket.
Defensively, Hayes is bringing the intensity as well, fighting through screens and staying with his man, which minimizes mismatches defensively. The next improvement will come as he logs more minutes and gets more accustomed to playing heavy minutes on a regular basis.
“His shooting will come with better conditioning, and not saying he’s out of shape, but there’s a different level of NBA conditioning, especially for a high-usage guy like himself who’s going to have the ball a lot and is guarding a lot of pick-and-rolls every game,” Casey said. “That takes a lot of energy and conditioning and strength to that. He’s growing. He’s not where he would have been if he would have had that time that he missed with the hip injury.
“He’s coming and he’ll be a different young man this time next year. We probably won’t realize how much he’s grown.”
Along with resting some of the veterans comes a look at the younger lineups, which means more of the rookies and more variations on offense. Where the Pistons usually look to Wayne Ellington on the first play of the game, they scrapped those plays and went to a different part of the playbook, based on the skill sets of the players they had available.
Those included some pick-and-roll plays and some other plays geared toward Tyler Cook and Isaiah Stewart, instead of Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee.
“You fit their skill set. Our identity is still the same; we still want to shoot the 3 and get to the rim,” Casey said. “(Monday) night, we took way too many midrange shots, but the play calls you adapt a little bit and if they present themselves and guys are there, (it’s okay).”
Pistons at Mavericks
►Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, American Airlines Center, Dallas
►Outlook: The Pistons (18-40) start a two-game Texas trip with the Mavericks (30-26). The Mavs are in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference, but they’ve lost four of their last five games, dropping to the seventh spot.