Why Detroit Pistons’ Killian Hayes is playing like a ‘different kid’ after real offseason

Detroit Free Press

Every NBA training camp, has at least one player who gets consistent buzz from their teammates and coaches. Three days in, Killian Hayes appears to be that guy for the Detroit Pistons.

Hayes was a “different kid” when he reported to the Pistons’ practice facility at the beginning of September, head coach Dwane Casey said during media day on Monday. Hayes was inconsistent during the Las Vegas Summer League in August, but he flew home to France afterward and spent a few weeks with his trainers.

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He said he returned to Detroit with a different mindset, and it appears to be paying off. Casey and Hayes’ teammates have praised his aggression and faster pace with the ball. His defense, which stood out last season, continues to be strong.

And Hayes appears to be more confident — and more comfortable — after a tough rookie season. He has to prove that his camp performance will translate to the regular season, but the early reviews have been positive so far.

“Killian has done a heck of a job,” Casey said. “I think he’s leading the team in assists. Today he was pushing the ball and made the right basketball plays. In the scrimmage today he allowed the blue team to score easily. I love the way he’s pushing the pace.”

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“He’s confident,” Saddiq Bey added. “He’s playing very confident and playing very aggressive, so it’s good to see him do that. You can see the development and the growth that he’s had, and it’s good to see him be aggressive out there.”

Last year, Hayes had roughly a month between the draft and the first day of the regular season to acclimate to a new league, with a new playbook and new teammates. He had to adjust on-the-fly to the NBA’s quicker pace and more-physical play, as he had previously spent his entire professional career playing in Europe. Hayes also lost 46 games to a torn hip labrum, which happened just seven games into the season.

In 26 games, he averaged 6.8 points, 5.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds. He showed flashes of the playmaking and defensive ability that helped enable him to go seventh overall, but he largely struggled to score the ball and was indecisive with it.

With nearly a year in the NBA under his belt, the game is finally slowing down for him and he has gotten used to playing against bigger, faster and more-athletic players compared to the leagues who he played against in Europe.

“I would say the rhythm,” Hayes said of his toughest adjustment last year. “In Europe you play maybe maybe two games a week max. Here, sometimes you play five, sometimes you play four, and the pace of the game is much faster. I want to say it’s easier, but one thing that’s different from Europe is the spacing on the floor. In Europe, the court’s a lot smaller. There’s no three-seconds for defense, so basically you can just sit in the paint. I think that really opens up the floor.

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“This time around I know the pace, I know the sets, I know a lot of the guys were here last year so I know their tendencies and what they like to do. Everything is just clear and I’d say, more easier to adjust.”

It’s certainly helping Hayes that he’s much more familiar with his two fellow 2020 first-round picks, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey. They were named to the All-Rookie team and USA Olympic men’s basketball Select Team. By all indications, they’ve both picked up where they left off.

“Killian and Saddiq and Isaiah, you wouldn’t know that they’re just second-year players right now because of the speed and pace,” Casey said. “And that didn’t just start today. That’s been going on in September. And it’s not the scoring, you’re not going to see a lot of the stuff Killian is doing now in the scorebook. Pushing the pace, defensively he’s one of our best pick-and-roll defenders with his big body. What I like now is the speed he’s playing at. He’s playing at an NBA, high-level speed, where last year, and no disrespect to Europe, he was playing at more of a European speed. So now he’s gotten used to the NBA speed.”

Hayes will have to adapt to playing next to Cade Cunningham, who will also have the ball in his hands a lot. Casey referred to the lottery duo as being “1A and 1B” in the pecking order thus far. Hayes sees the partnership as mutually beneficial; they can make each other’s lives easier.

“We’re both really smart players,” Hayes said. “He has a really high basketball IQ. It’s not a hard adjustment, especially if you have multiple ballhandlers. You see a lot of teams having two ballhandlers and creators on the court at the same time. It’s harder to guard because you’ve got to keep an eye on Jerami (Grant), you’ve got to keep an eye on Saddiq, on Kelly (Olynyk). It gives us the freedom to drive and create for others as well.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.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.

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