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Killian Hayes Player Preview: Is the point guard of the future finally the point guard of the present?

The young guard possess many skills to flourish in Dwane Casey’s system, but also enough shortcomings to strangle it

Killian Hayes
Killian Hayes
Christopher Daniels, Detroit Bad Boys

Even if we had other favorites, we need to admit that our Detroit Pistons and young American-French point guard, Killian Hayes, are close to a match made in heaven. Killian’s great size and length paired with point-guardy skills allow us to expect at least a solid playmaker to lead much of our offense. That is just what this franchise needed as it has lacked point-guardy point guards pretty much since Chauncey Billups was traded a decade ago. Troy Weaver already sees him as a “bigger version of [Goran] Dragić, and Killian adds to this significant potential on defense.

These two-way skills were already successfully deployed against professional competition as Killian, despite his young age at just 19 years old, debuted in French League when he was 16. He brings a brand of experience not typical of a young rookie, and as a son of a former proballer, he uses his abilities intelligently on the court.

All this prompted Dwane Casey to pencil him for the starting gig, at least for the beginning of the season. So let us look a little closer at what he brings to the table.

An advanced offensive creator with some shortcomings that need to be addressed

The first things that are conspicuous when you watch the young point guard on offense are his great vision, shifty dribble and high basketball IQ. These things are all on display in Killian’s P&R game. With them, he can do kinda everything there. He excels in passes, the variety of which is really striking. Bounce passes or various lobs to roller, kicks to shooter, dishes to popper, whichever you need.

If there isn’t anyone open, coming off of P&Rs, Killian can attack with a drive or shoot long or midrange jumpers.

Killian P&R, drives

Killian P&R, jumpers

To continue the scoring thread, although he isn’t overly explosive, due to his skills, craftiness and strength, Killian is able to successfully drive to the hoop even without a screen. He replaces lesser explosiveness with strength, a handsome dribble and good floater game and touch.

Killian drives through contact

Killian drives with nice dribble

Killian drives with floater and nice touch

During the pandemic, he apparently added some burst of speed as can be seen in below clip.

And if this is more suitable, instead of driving, he can pull up and make a jumper.

Killian also has the potential to be a versatile three-point threat, showing the ability to knock down catch-and-shoot or pull-up triples. Among the latter, we find many step backs.

Killian triples, catch and shoot

Killian triples, pullups

Killian triples, stepbacks

To round out his scoring arsenal, we need to mention that, if required, Killian can also play off the ball.

But primarily, he is a heck of a facilitator. Here’s where he uses his great vision, dribbling skills and smartness to the fullest. We saw many examples of his passing game in the P&R section, but there’s so much more. Killian always seeks an open teammate, he’s eager to make the extra pass and make nice and productive passes in transition.

Killian passes, sharing the ball

Killian extra passes

Killian passes in transition

But most of all, when he’s playmaking in the halfcourt, he can hit his men practically everywhere and in practically every possible way.

However, making full use of all those skills will require Killian to address three shortcomings. First, he needs to be able to rely more on his offhand. As Mike Schmitz emphasized, the point guard of the future showed a tendency to stop the dribble when he needs to turn to his right hand as defenders blitz his left.

Second, he never had better than 30,9 3P% in a season. His mechanics might need some tweaks as he’s shooting a little from his face.

It’d also be nice if he could add some more advanced off-movement triples. Third, he needs to make a better job protecting the ball, for his 1,68 Ast/TO ratio might not cut it for a lead playmaker in the NBA. Unfortunately, the Pistons couldn’t take care of the ball at all this preseason, and that includes Killian. Only six players had more turnovers in the preseason, one of them was teammate Derrick Rose.

How he’ll deal with those things will be crucial for his role in Dwane Casey’s offensive system. This system relies on players’ creativity in finding, within the realm of fixed “shot chart” and broadly sketched schemes, the best ways to score by constantly reading the defense and making quick decisions which require taking advantage of its holes (“.5 mentality”). As we can see on those clips, with his high BBIQ, Killian can read defensive breakdowns and failures perfectly and take advantage of them cold-bloodily.

As such, he’d ideal to be the main cog in DC’s offense. But without fixing the discussed shortcomings, Killian could struggle, and struggle mightily if he is given the keys to lead the offense. However, since this offense likes to have as many playmakers on the floor as possible, he could still serve as an ancillary playmaker and some of the pressure to perform could be taken off his shoulders.

A defender who can make it difficult for the opponent’s leading playmakers

In the preseason Killian made some mistakes on defense and looked a little tight and nervous, which often caught him off guard and led to blown defensive assignments. However, our young guard is far from being a bad defender. In fact, he seems to be close to a universal playmaker troublemaker. I’m aware that it’s a heavy presupposition, but when broken down into parts the pieces are all there.

In his on-ball defense, he has the whole package: nice stance, active hands, the ability to move his feet quickly, and the ability to get skinny on the screens. He also can be disruptive for the ball-handler in transition.

Killian on-ball D

Killian transition defense

It all should be enough to bother (super)star guards in today’s NBA. In addition, since he can provide his very good on-ball D and rotate to help defend on other positions, maybe someday we could even use him to singlehandedly dismantle (super)star guard duos like the Trail Blazers’ one.

When we add to the equation that he can do all this while being 6-foot-5 215-pound player with 6-foot-8 wingspan, we get someone who can potentially bother (super)star wings too.

Killian looks promising also as an off-ball defender. He likes to engage in help defense, shows not bad awareness, can play the passing lanes, and can rotate really quickly. He likes to hustle as well.

Killian off-ball D, helping

Killian off-ball D, awareness

Killian off-ball D, passing lanes

Killian off-ball D, rotations

He does have some shortcomings on the defensive end he needs to address. In on-ball defense, he needs to become more disciplined all the time and avoid making unnecessary gambles like this one.

In off-ball defense, he needs to get rid of a tendency to overhelping and leaving his man alone. He also needs to work on his closeouts and be more decided when picking his cover in transition defense. But all these are rather mental mistakes he should be able to eliminate as he’ll mature as a basketball player.

Killian bad off-ball D, overhelping

Killian bad off-ball D, closeouts

Killian bad off-ball D, transition

Thus we see that Killian Hayes is a very intriguing prospect. If he pans out in Dwane Casey’s system he can become a (borderline) star two-way player. Even if he won’t, he still should be a very useful baller. As Pistons fans we of course will root and expect the former, and time will tell the rest.