On Thursday, Killian Hayes will play his 30th NBA game.
The sophomore point guard has so dominated Detroit Pistons discussion on social media — and in real life — over the past 11 months that it’s easy to forget how few games he has played, dating back to his selection at No. 7overall on Nov. 18, 2020. His career thus far has been characterized by injuries and inconsistency, but also flashes of the all-around ability that made him a consensus lottery prospect.
When he takes on the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, he’ll be coming off of his best performance of the 2021-22 season, with 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday. That came after scoring two points on 1-for-11 shooting combined during his first two outings. But it wasn’t the improved scoring that stood out to Dwane Casey, it was hispace and the way he moved the ball.
HIGH HOPES: Why the Detroit Pistons are confident in their offense despite ugly numbers
2021’S NO. 1: Why Cade Cunningham will spend time in the G League before debut
PISTONS MAILBAG: How Saddiq Bey’s emergence impacts Jerami Grant status on roster
The Pistons are taking a patient approach with Hayes because Casey understands it can take time for rookies to adjust to the NBA. That’s especially true for point guards, who often are burdened with more responsibility early on. Hayes has struggled, but the Pistons see no reason to panic after three games this season.
Beyond shooting the ball, Casey wants to see Hayes work on every facet of the game. That includes defense. Star point guard Trae Young scored 32 points Monday, defended by Hayes during many of his possessions.
“I’m not worried about Killian’s shooting,” Casey said Monday night. “I’m worried about him running the team. I thought he did a good job point guard-wise. His shooting’s gonna come. We make so much about it. There’s so many other areas in the game that he’s gotta master. His man got 32 points. That end of the floor is so important, moreso than making a big deal about Killian’s shooting. Running the play, make sure guys are in the right spot, make sure we make the right decisions in the pick-and-rolls. Those things give our offense rhythm, give our shooters rhythm.”
Three games in, Hayes is averaging 4.7 points, 2.7 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 22 minutes a game. While his numbers are down from last season, it’s impossible to judge his performance outside of the context of how the Pistons have played. Detroit has been one of the NBA’s worst-shooting teams, and the team’s assists are suppressed across the board because of that. When their shots began to fall, Hayes should see his assist numbers increase.
Hayes hasn’t appeared in a fourth quarter yet, but Casey cautioned not to read too much into that . The Pistons were getting blown out during the fourth quarter on Monday, and Casey opted to give Saben Lee — third in the Pistons’ point guard rotation — some minutes instead.
“That was one of Killian’s best games,” Casey said Wednesday. “We were down 20. It was one of those things that we just wanted Saben to get those minutes.”
And while the Pistons aren’t publically calling for Hayes to score more, there have been nudges toward being more assertive. His 11 shots Monday matched his total in two games against the Bulls to open the season. He made a point to get into the paint more and attempt shots at, or near, the rim. He also knocked down a pair of catch-and-shoot 3’s, his first makes of the season from outside the arc.
Still, he only has five 3-point attempts so far — his 40% success rate doesn’t mean much yet. But if he can consistently knock 3s down, it could open up other aspects of his game — and make life easier for his teammates as well.
“That’s one thing I’ve been talking about with Killian,” Josh Jackson said on Monday. “When he gets open shots, he’s gotta shoot them. I noticed a little bit at the beginning of the year that he was hesitant when he caught the ball on the wing when he was wide-open. 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 gotta 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 today.
“It helps us a lot,” Jackson continued. “The defense has to collapse when guys attack the paint. When we get in there, that opens the floor for our shooters. Like you said, we didn’t knock down too many of them today. But we did get the right shots and shots that we wanted.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.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.