Entering the 2021-2022 season, the Detroit Piston faithful were hopeful for a strong sophomore campaign for second-year guard Killian Hayes. Since being selected with the number 7 overall selection, the 20 year-old has been subjected to his fair share of ups and downs through 91 NBA games. Although snakebitten by injury, for the most part, Hayes has struggled to live up to the “hype” of his draft position.
After a rough 33 outings to start the season, not even Hayes’ greatest believers could have felt confident about the prospect of him contributing to winning basketball. It appeared Hayes had made little offensive improvement and, even worse, his confidence seemed to be shot. His shaky start, combined with a 11-34 record, prompted the Detroit coaching staff to a line-up change, resulting in a move that saw the Frenchmen tasked with a reserve role.
While the counting stats remained similar, the move provided the former lottery pick with consistent on-ball reps, and a chance to create against a lesser tier of opponent. As the season has progressed, so has Hayes’ confidence within himself, to the point where he has recently strung together his best stretch of NBA basketball. Since returning from a head contusion on the 21st of February, the Florida native is averaging 11.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists on 52.1 TS%.
The question now becomes, can Hayes’ sustain this play heading into an extremely important third season? In this piece, I’ll delve into a few key improvement areas of the 20 year-olds game, while trying to assess the sustainability of this version of the second-year floor general.
In terms of pure physique, Killian Hayes fits the bill of your prototypical combo-guard. Standing at 6’5 with a 6’8 wingspan, Hayes also possesses the thick frame to compliment the desired length. While he somewhat lacks the fast twitch fiber to burst to the cup at will, the sophomore guard is built to shift bigs when attacking the painted area.
As a rookie, Hayes’ struggled immensely to finish at the rim (and pretty much everywhere else on the floor). After adding noticeable muscle during the offseason, the hope was Hayes could further develop his scoring in the restricted area. However, through two-thirds of his second season, progress in this area was scarce.
Since returning from the aforementioned injury, Hayes’ play has demonstrated that of a player in touch with his physical traits.
Hayes’ Drive Numbers
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Cleaning the Glass (Rim Stats) | NBA.com (Drive Stats) | 4.9.2022
Prior to Friday’s contest against the Milwaukee Bucks, the lefty-guard is averaging a shade under 10 (9.8) drives in his previous 9 games, a substantial increase from the 6.3 average on the season. Though he still has an over-reliance on his trusty left hand, Hayes has been able to boost his production and efficiency when penetrating within the arc. The 20 year-old is up to 4.9 points on 54.3 FG% when electing to score off drives. Considering where Hayes’ has ranked in efficiency metrics to this point of his career, these improvements shouldn’t be discounted, even if they are in the waning moments of an 82-game season.
A personal highlight of mine during this recent stretch has been watching Hayes score in the painted area using his lefty scoop finger-roll. The scoop layup caters for the second year guards lack of athleticism, while also capitalizing on his 6’8 wingspan. In pick and roll action, Hayes has shown the ability to patiently navigate through the teeth of the defense, probing the opposition with a series of hang dribbles, before pouncing on his desired shot window with a feathery floating finger-roll. Because he never touches the ball with his right hand on the way up, the interior defender loses a split second to rotate over and provide a heavy contest on the shot.
In his brief career, those who pay attention have never questioned the pure skill of the young guard. It’s the application of these skills which have raised concern. Hence, the most encouraging aspect of Hayes’ improved play, is a direct result of a gain in confidence to successfully complete different finishes when attacking the interior. Which transitions us to the next area of growth in the 20 year-olds game; the pull-up and floater game.
As previously mentioned, part of the appeal with Hayes’ as a prospect was his ability to score via an array of skillful moves. Entering the 2020 NBA Draft, the Florida-native was touted as having a ‘great pull up game…[with] excellent body control while driving to the basket’. 90 games into his NBA career, and the sophomore guard has began to show life as a pull-up shooter.
Per Cleaning the Glass, the former lottery pick has shot 44.4% on attempts between 4-14 feet, connecting on 16 of 36 tries since the 21st of March. While such shooting percentages still rank Hayes in the ‘below average’ spectrum with 35th percentile efficiency, the improvement from 39% shooting in the subject area can’t be dismissed. The increased efficiency in the short to midrange portion of the court extends beyond the numbers, Hayes has put together some nasty dribble combinations to get to his spots. Coach Casey deserves some credit as well, he’s provided Hayes drive opportunities via DHO plays.
He’s also mixed in numerous pick and roll possessions, showcasing his ability to switch speeds, keeping the opposing big guessing his next move, before finishing with a soft floater in the lane:
It was discussed by Ben Gulker and Laz Jackson, on the latest episode of the Detroit Bad Boys Podcast, but when Hayes’ plays the game with an attacking mindset, his playmaking attributes are unlocked. In the NBA, if you aren’t willing to shoot, teams will simply leave you open in order to create the 5 on 4 advantage on defense. Hence, in order for Killian Hayes to reach his peak, the use of his “in-between game” will need to feature heavily.
It’s no secret that Detroit are a poor team in transition, there have been numerous 3-on-1 opportunities squandered throughout the year. Per Cleaning the Glass, the young Pistons sit 28th in the league for points scored in transition per 100 possessions. Hence, it should come as no surprise that Hayes has been just as inferior when attacking in transition. The second year guard has converted only 44.7% of his shot attempts when running the fast-break.
However, in his past 10 games, we have seen a substantial rise in Hayes’ transition numbers across the board. Not only has he began converting at a higher clip (52 FG%) but, he’s also generating triple the amount of points, scoring 3.1 points up from 1.1 points, per Synergy Sports. While the numbers are encouraging, the true indicator of improvement can be seen in Hayes’ demeanor. He’s playing with little to no hesitation at the moment and that’s resulted in some beautiful outlet passes on the break:
To me, the outlet passes are a sign of Hayes’ deciding to take some risks. We’ve even seen an influx of Killian transition dunks, which up until recently, has not been a feature of his game. The 20ft bullet passes and highlight reel dunks are both indicators of increased confidence within the 20 year-olds ability to score on the counter-attack.
There are a variety of factors to consider when assessing whether or not this version of Killian Hayes is simply a flash, or the new reality. The first being; increased playing time against lesser opponents. In his past 10, the Frenchman has seen the floor an extra 5 minutes a night from his season norm, averaging 30.1 minutes a game.
The argument can be made that the increased production is a mere result of meaningless minutes in April. While theres some validity to this belief, we have seen Hayes’ alter his mindset as a scorer, he said as much after scoring a career-high 26 points vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder:
Asked Hayes about using his body more offensively: Said he was always a small guard growing up. Said he’s been making an effort to shoulder bump more and not fall away.
— James Edwards III (@JLEdwardsIII) April 2, 2022
It’s encouraging to hear Hayes discuss such deficiencies, it shows an important level of self-awareness. From a skill perspective, Hayes’ three ball is what will determine is positioning on the depth chart. Defensively, he’s the perfectly sized guard to pair with Cunningham. Offensively, Hayes’ has the secondary playmaking ability to play alongside Detroit’s franchise player. But, without a reliable jump shot, it’s hard to envision a playoff contending team with Hayes as a starting guard.
Secondly, with rumors of Detroit being increasingly interested in Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson, as well as the likes of Jaden Ivey, Shaedon Sharpe and Adrian Griffin Jr. all being available in this year’s draft crop. There’s every chance Hayes’ development lowers on the organisations priority list. Ultimately, the decisions made this offseason will determine whether or not, Hayes’ last 10 games were an aberration or a foundation of sustainability.