A team with perhaps the worst point guard depth in the NBA for several seasons running, the Detroit PIstons are now ready to turn the page completely. And page one of this new era will be written by Killian Hayes, a 6-foot-5, 19-year-old rookie point guard from France.
Reggie Jackson, his giant contract and unreliable health are gone. Non-point guard point guards like Bruce Brown, Brandon Knight and Langston Galloway have moved on. Ish Smith is winning hearts in D.C., and an impressive list of third-string point guards are leaving the Pistons and continuing to fall out of the NBA altogether.
Enter Hayes, and an entire franchise’s hopes on his young shoulders. His head coach says Hayes is no typical rookie and has penciled him in as the team’s likely starter to begin the year.
“We’ll start him there and see how it goes. Again, he’s not your typical rookie. He knows how to play,” Casey said, citing his overseas play against professional competition.
After years of Detroit’s fortunes being dictated almost entirely by Jackson’s effectiveness, you can be forgiven if fans think the only way for the Pistons to reach their potential is for Hayes to reach his.
Joining Hayes is ... well, essentially an entire new roster. Mason Plumlee is his pick-and-roll partner, Blake Griffin (for now) remains the focal point of the offense, Jerami Grant is the two-way player that can take a little bit of pressure off of everyone else on the floor.
And then there are his fellow point guards, and a level of point guard depth that Detroit hasn’t enjoyed in a long time. Derrick Rose returns as one of the best point guards coming off a bench in the NBA. Another edition might be the most underrated of the team’s offseason in Delon Wright.
The former Raptor and Maverick is an effective point guard and can also play off the ball. He could be Hayes’ security blanket.
For his part, Hayes is excited to simply be back on the floor.
“I wasn’t nervous, I was excited,” Hayes said about getting on the floor for the first time with his new teammates. “I haven’t had a team practice in eight, nine months.”
Casey is excited too — excited about Hayes’ size. At 6-foot-5 he’s larger than any point guard Casey has coached in Detroit, and he also has the best defensive tools. However, just because the Pistons are investing heavily in Hayes and acknowledge developing its crop of young players is a priority, Hayes won’t have an endless leash.
“He’s got the keys, but I can pull them back at any time,” Casey said.
That’s where the Wright acquisition comes into play. In an abbreviated offseason, Wright is familiar with Casey and his offense from their Toronto days, and he doesn’t make many mistakes on the floor. Casey wants to win, and it will be tempting for him to turn to Wright when the offense grinds to a halt under Hayes or, lord forbid, a defensive assignment is missed.
At the same time, Casey is not shy in praising Hayes’ decisionmaking and instincts as beyond what could be expected of a typical 19-year-old rookie, and his teammates are noticing too.
“Killian was making veteran plays,” said Wayne Ellington, highlighting a couple lobs to new big man Plumlee. For his part, Rose says he looks forward to being a mentor to Hayes and doing his best to ensure the rookie finds success on the floor.
“I told him he’s the future of the team. There’s no competing. We’re here. My job here is to push him and groom him into a great player,” Rose said. “I love his poise. He has great poise for a young guard.
Hayes is also showing that poise with the media, showing no signs he’s worried about the expectations or responsibility being placed in him.
“I need to prove myself ... earn my spot, earn my minutes and just work hard,” Hayes said. It’s a trait he says is shared by all the other rookies in camp. “We’re all here to work, we’re all here to learn. We’re hungry.”
In four days, he’ll get his first taste of NBA action with a preseason opener Friday against the New York Knicks.