Pistons’ Killian Hayes finds scoring touch, but work remains on defense

Detroit News

Atlanta — Generally, there isn’t much to take from an 18-point loss. The Pistons followed their 15-point loss to the Chicago Bulls with another double-digit defeat on Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks.

It’s an 0-3 start to the season, they’re without Jerami Grant, their leading scorer, and they’ve shot the ball poorly in all three games. Even their defense, which was their silver lining in the first two games, withered with the warmer weather.

One solid takeaway from Monday’s game is the play of Killian Hayes, who broke out of his 1-of-11 shooting slump with his best game of the season: 12 points, three assists and a pair of 3-pointers. Hayes went 4-of-11 from the field in 26 minutes, and after they fell into a double-digit deficit in the first half, the second-year guard provided a spark.

“I always keep my head up. The past two games were hard, but I try to keep my head up, just keep on going forward,” Hayes said. “Some shots didn’t fall, but that’s the way it is. You’ve just got to keep working.”

Although 12 points doesn’t seem like much, it’s tied for the third-highest scoring total of Hayes’ 29 games. His career high is 21 points, and he had another game of 13 points.

Coach Dwane Casey tried to keep everything in perspective about Hayes’ improved offensive performance, noting the defense still lacked. Hayes guarded Trae Young, who had 32 points and nine assists, and he emphasized that having a balanced game on both ends of the court is more important than just scoring.

“I’m not worried about Killian’s shooting. I’m worried about his running the team, and I thought he did a good job at point guard,” Casey said Monday. “The shooting will come, and we make so much about it, but there are so many other areas of the game that he’s got to master.

“His man got 32 points and that end of the floor is so important, more so than just making a big deal about Killian’s shooting. Running the play, make sure guys are in the right spot. Make sure you make the right decisions and those things give our offense rhythm, give our shooters rhythm.”

Having Hayes be more aggressive with the ball in his hands — he had a season-best 11 field-goal attempts Monday — and attack the rim is a plus. He also got the free-throw line for the first time this season, which is an indicator of his ability to get to the rim and absorb contact.

Even taking open 3-point attempts is a step in the right direction, because if he can get in a good groove of helping the offense will be another improvement.

“That’s one thing I’ve been talking about what Killian. It’s just when he gets open shots, he’s got to shoot them. I kind of noticed a little bit in the beginning of the year that he was kind of hesitant when he caught the ball on the wing, and he was wide open,” veteran wing Josh Jackson said. “Any time that he catches it, I always tell him if you’re open, shoot it. If we move the ball and you get the ball and you’re open, you’ve got to take those shots because we might not get a better one. I was really happy to see him step up and take those shots with confidence.”

Warming up?

The Pistons’ shooting woes have continued, with a season-best 44% from the field. They made a season-best nine 3-pointers and though the score was lopsided, the Pistons are showing signs of climbing out of their shooting slump “Hopefully, we can start knocking some shots down soon, but that’s one thing that we do talk about — we’re getting the right ones. We get open shots,” Jackson said. “We move the ball so, we’ve got good shooters on our team. Every guy feels pretty confident stepping up there — every guy from our center to our point guards, everybody.

“So, if anybody gets an open shot out there, we all encourage them to take it. They haven’t been falling, but we’re going to continue to move the ball around and get those shots.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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