From all appearances, the Pistons’ development plan had rookie Killian Hayes as the point guard of the future. They used the No. 7 overall pick to get Hayes and even through injury, he’s had the ball in his hands when he’s been on the court.
Hayes showed another facet of his game, with a strong showing on Sunday against the Chicago Bulls. Coach Dwane Casey played Hayes with fellow rookie Saben Lee in a lineup that featured two ball-handlers and let Hayes be more of a combo guard than simply a point guard.
That could be a harbinger of things to come for Hayes, who had a career-high 21 points and added seven rebounds and eight assists.
“I love it. That’s the second game I played at the same time with Saben and I love being able to play and be off the ball,” Hayes said. “It just makes the game more fun because when you always have the ball in your hands, the defense can read what you want to do.
“So, with me being off of it and Saben doing his thing, creating, I just like playing the combo guard.”
Hayes looked more fluid in the offense and was more aggressive in looking for his shot and fit the mold of a shooting guard when he was put in that role. Hayes admitted he’s gone through the season with growing pains through missing more than half of the season and trying to gete back into a rhythm.
“(He’s) learning to play off the ball a little bit and have another guy to bring it down and get him off the ball and (we’re trying to) rest him a little bit and let him catch it with a live dribble,” Casey said. “So both of those things will be beneficial for him and if he continues to shoot the ball with confidence like he shot it tonight, it’s going to be another big plus because now you can space the floor and he did a good job of knocking his shots down.
“That’s what he’s got to continue to work on, his shooting and getting in great NBA condition. It’s a speed game and your body got to be 100% in tip-top shape for this (NBA) game.”
Seeing the scoring element of Hayes’ game has been one of the better elements of the final stretch of the season. With so many veterans resting or injured, there has been more opportunity for the Pistons to tinker with lineup combinations and moving some of the pieces around to see how they’ll react.
Getting some more looks at the backcourt in different permutations will be a big help, especially if the Pistons end up in a position to take a guard such as Cade Cunningham, Jalen Suggs or Jalen Green with their draft pick. That would enable Hayes to be flexed in either guard position and show more of his versatility.
It’s also been good for Lee, who gets to slide in at point guard and play alongside Hayes.
“Oh, I love it. If I get it, I can push it and if he gets it, he can push it and if we get in transition, I feel like it’s a lot more up-pace and upbeat,” Lee said, “when both of us are out there and we can kind of play off of each other and read each other, so I like it a lot.”
Hayes said missing so many games was tough, but it enabled him to watch the game from a different vantagepoint and to find where he fits.
That’s been as important as anything in his success late in the season.
“I had a lot of time off, I was trying to find my game,” he said. “Guys like Saben and Saddiq had a lot of reps and a lot of games to play. I just need to find the way I want to play, what I feel comfortable in, and how I fit into the system.
“I just feel like by working out, playing hard and being in the game definitely helps me.”