Detroit Pistons rookie Killian Hayes has a big offseason ahead: ‘I’ve got a lot of work’

Detroit Free Press

When asked about his biggest takeaway from his first NBA season, Killian Hayes’ response was succinct. The Pistons’ rookie point guard appeared in 19 of their final 24 games after missing three months of action with a torn hip labrum.

He showed flashes of the player he can potentially become, and his focus is on the future.

“That I’ve got a lot of work, especially going into the offseason,” Hayes said. “This is a big offseason awaiting for all of us, just getting right. We know what we gotta do, what we need to work on. It felt good just hitting the court, being out there with my teammates. But now it’s time to work for real. Big summer coming up and we’ll be ready for next season.”

This summer will be a big one for the Pistons, who are banking on internal development being their key to making the playoffs after winning 20 games this year.

It’ll also be an important offseason for Hayes, who showed that he can capably defend, pass and even call his own number on occasion in the 26 games he did play.

Hayes averaged 6.8 points, 5.3 assists, 2.7 rebounds and a steal in 25.8 minutes per game in his uneven season. He shot 35.3% overall, 27.8% from 3 and 82.4% at the line. It leaves plenty of room for growth as he enters his first real NBA offseason — an offseason that, unlike last year, will include a summer league and traditional workout regime with his teammates.

A big priority for Hayes will be improving as a shooter. He improved his overall efficiency as the season progressed and hit 34.8% of his 4.6 attempts per game during his final five games of the season. Hayes occasionally showcased a step-back 3-pointer that could eventually become part of his arsenal. For now, the Pistons want him to improve as a spot-up shooter.

“His work on his shooting, his balance on his shot, I think that’s one area,” Dwane Casey said on Monday. “The other area is now he’s felt the speed and the length and the physicality of the defense, so to make sure he does everything at a high speed, whether it’s his shooting drills, his workout drills, whatever it is, he has to do those at game speed to get used to the speed of the NBA game. And that’s going to help his shooting, his release on his shooting.”

A legit 3-point shot could help open the floor for Hayes, who isn’t the quickest athlete but has a size advantage over many opposing point guards. Casey also wants to see Hayes improve as a finisher. He took almost twice as many shots from the short midrange area (35% of his shot total) than at the rim (18%), according to Cleaning The Glass. 

Hayes shot 43% from short midrange, largely relying on his runner. The coaching staff wants to see him get all the way to the rim more, which would draw in the defense, position him to draw more fouls and potentially create more open shots for his teammates.

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“It starts with his shooting,” Casey said. “He has a great feel for passing, he sees the floor. He has an elite passing skill when it comes to that. But now the decisions when that pass is not there — do I shoot the runner? Do I take another dribble and get to the rim, or do I take another dribble and go under the basket and find out? All those things take time but those are the areas he has to work on this summer to go.”

After playing in Europe, it could take time for certain aspects of Hayes’ game to translate to the NBA. Other aspects of it already have, though. He often defended well, showing strong instincts and using his size to his advantage. He also passed well, particularly after returning from injury. He logged at least five assists in 14 consecutive games from April 14-May 14, the second-longest streak in franchise history among rookies.

Hayes’ season didn’t entirely go as planned. The Pistons handed him a lot of responsibility early, starting him during all four preseason games and during the first seven games of the season before his injury. Spending three months on the bench helped him acclimate to the NBA.

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The coaching staff isn’t promising him a similar level of responsibility going into next year, but he’s still the franchise point guard. The plan is to have Hayes work, work and work some more. Casey wants the rookie to maintain his momentum after closing the season stronger than he started it.

“He is the leader of the clubhouse but there’s nothing that’s going to be in concrete to keep guys working this summer and looking over their shoulder a little bit,” Casey said. “Not in a negative way, but to stay hungry. He’s not a rookie anymore, he’s got two feet in the NBA just starting out. All of the rookies know what to expect with the league, what they can do in the league so they can go into the summer now to work on those weaknesses and also improve their strengths as they go into next year. We want to keep everybody hungry. He’s the leader of the clubhouse but there’s nothing in concrete, if that makes sense.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at 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.

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