NBA

How Killian Hayes can (and will) carve out a role next season

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As the NBA Summer League draws to a close, the field will be filled with a slew of newcomers who joined the Detroit Pistons just weeks ago. The rookies got to show off their stuff, and now it’s up to the basketball drifters to get someone’s attention. The Pistons’ Summer League blue unis are a temporary stopover as they seek to develop in the G League or overseas. What’s not common for a Summer League team is to find a franchise’s longest-serving player.

Killian Hayes is entering a critical year with a team option looming and younger, more exciting names are now filling Detroit’s backyard. The Pistons gave the former seventh overall pick every chance to happen. Now it’s up to him to find a way to stay in third grade.

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Great things are falling into place for Hayes to play a more natural role heading into the 2022-23 season. Although the addition of Jaden Ivey may seem like competition for Hayes, their games could complement each other well. With Ivey’s athletic offense, Hayes won’t be relied upon as much as an off-ball scorer.

Assuming Ivey starts at the other guard position alongside Cade Cunningham, Hayes now has the opportunity to be a senior playmaker leading a second unit where he showed flashes last year. A full year of good health should also help him, as he has played just 92 games combined in two seasons.

Of course, you have higher hopes than a reliable backup for a former top-10 selection. But the Pistons picked by consensus the best players available to the No. 1 and No. 5 picks and walked away with Cunningham and Ivey, respectively. These players should count more. But every team relies on more than two guards, and these backups play an important role in determining a team’s success, let alone the backup playmaker.

Before we get to the good with the Frenchman, we can quickly summarize the well-known lesser areas of Hayes’ game. Without an improvement in his jump shot, it will be difficult for him to make a place for himself in the league. His free throw and three-point percentages both dipped slightly last season on similar attempts in his rookie campaign. Teams have been easy to crumble on his training and are able to play more physically. He is an average finisher and can run into issues that naturally create separation.

Hayes was thrown into the fire the first year, suffered an injury and when he returned towards the end of the year, it took time to look even slightly comfortable. To start the second year, he was forced into a whole new off-ball role he was unaccustomed to. It’s tough for a kid entering third grade who is still under the legal drinking age in America. Aside from a drop in turnovers, his offensive stats haven’t made the leap that many were hoping for. This was mainly due to Cunningham taking more control as the primary ball handler.

Hayes’ size stands out and you’d like to see him more physical with rim workouts. If the shooting issues continue, he will at least have to learn to draw fouls in the paint, and he seemed more focused on aggressive driving in the final month of the season. He uses his size well to defend and has become one of Detroit’s best perimeter defenders. If nothing else, Killian is solid on this side of the pitch and can be trusted.

As a passer, Hayes will show flashes of brilliance. In transition especially, he does a good job pushing the ball fast and finding guys in tight windows. For him to maximize his potential as a distributor, scoring will have to come first. Teams wait for the pass in most situations and often anticipate it. Becoming a more robust rating threat will open countless doors to find others.

There will be opportunities this year for Hayes to prove he can be more valuable than what is indicated on the stat sheet. He entered the league as the youngest player in his draft class and it shows. Now Detroit is counting on him to not only perform, but also to be a leader on and off the court.

The keys to the car that is the Pistons have been handed over to Cunningham, but that doesn’t mean Hayes can’t borrow it over the weekend. In a save point role, he will have the ability to play his style with much less pressure.

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