After missing close to a week of practice due to an ankle sprain, the Detroit Pistons didn’t seem worried about Killian Hayes having an up-and-down preseason debut on Monday.
Hayes, who is entering his second season after a injury-marred rookie season, has been a bright spot for the Pistons through training camp. Both coaches and teammates have made a point to highlight his defensive effort and aggression. His first game back since his ankle sprain was a tough matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies, but two plays during the second half show early signs of growth between year one and year two.
Midway through the third quarter, Hayes knocked down an open catch-and-shoot 3. In the fourth quarter, Hayes got to the rim, finished a layup through contact and hit the ensuing free throw.
They were straightforward plays, but also the type of plays that could simplify the game for him. Outside shooting is a growth area for Hayes, he only knocked down 27.8% of his 3’s a year ago. Next to Cade Cunningham, Hayes will have to shoot the ball with regularity to maximize the upside of the pairing. Getting to the line more frequently is also a priority in his continued growth as a player. He took just 17 free throws through 26 games as a rookie, knocking down 14 of those attempts. With his size and strength, he can certainly average at least one trip to the line per game.
Hayes has already shown he can pass and defend, but scoring ball was one of his bigger weaknesses last season. He can make things easier for himself by getting to the line more, Pistons coach Dwane Casey said after the game.
“When you’re going against a big team like Memphis, you gotta go in with purpose, shoulder hit, create contact,” Casey said. “That’s one thing they do a good job of. And get to the line. But you gotta be aggressive, you gotta go in with purpose. And again, it’s difficult to do your first game back, been out for a while. That’s going to be, with his size and strength, that’s what he’s going to have to be able to do.”
The Grizzlies presented a test for Hayes. Ja Morant is one of the quickest players in the entire league, and Memphis added one of the NBA’s best screeners by trading for Steven Adams this offseason. It’s a formidable matchup for every guard in the league.
Hayes picked up two early fouls defending Morant, but finished the game with four. Hayes showed he can defend with physicality without excessively fouling last season, but outside of the opening two minutes of the game, he successfully did that for most of the night. He also hit a cutting Hamidou Diallo with a no-look pass in the fourth quarter.
“The fouls, you go against one of the quickest guys in the league,” Casey said. “That was the evidence. But again, you gotta cut him some slack. He’s been out. Just the conditioning factor. Can’t just miss that many days in a row and then bounce back in and be game-ready. That’s the good thing about having a couple more exhibition games, give him an opportunity to get out and compete and get some reps under his belt.”
Hayes finished with six points on 2-of-9 shooting with two rebounds, two assists and two steals in 22 minutes. It was a shaky return, but the Pistons had a rough night as a team and struggled to shoot and take care of the ball.
Like last season, Hayes showed he has the tools to be an all-around guard. The next step for him is doing everything with consistency.
“He was aggressive, which was good,” Cory Joseph said. “We’ll see if he continues to be aggressive and not let his confidence waver. We’re all behind him. And then just continuing to grow and keep continuing to get better. As long as his confidence doesn’t waver, that’s all we can ask from him. I think he’s a great player. He’s had some tough breaks in his career, it’s only his second year with injuries and what not, so still getting a feel for it.”
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