We are barely over half a season (45 games) into Killian Hayes’ young NBA career. Injuries derailed his rookie season and left a small sample of ineffective games to judge (too quickly) Hayes’ NBA future. He’s already played nearly as many games this season as he did all of last season, and I think we are starting to see the foundation for the offensive player that Hayes can be going forward.
Interestingly, it is not necessarily the player that I was expecting. My understanding (and I will stand corrected if proven wrong) was a player that would be most successful on the ball, orchestrating pick and rolls. With that said, he is still VERY young and I am NOT saying that we may not still see that be a major aspect of his game moving forward throughout his career. What we have seen develop is a player that I believe is going to be more than capable of using those skills in another role and be a very good contributor as an off-the-ball player.
There were many conversations going into and coming out of the 2021 NBA draft about whether Cade Cunningham could “fit” together when both were such ball-dominant players. I never worried as much about this because I felt like Cade would be just fine playing off the ball with his ability to shoot (something FINALLY starting to come around in his young career). To my surprise, the player that has taken those off-the-ball responsibilities more is actually Hayes and……to be completely honest, to my surprise, he has been just fine in that role.
For the video breakdowns on Hayes, I will focus solely on the offensive end of the court BUT I can’t do a Killian Hayes article without at least mentioning how much I enjoy his defense and the potential for a very good defender he has shown. I also will not highlight his passing as much, although the transition portion will do that a little. I wanted to keep the attention on scoring for Hayes and where I think he is starting to get comfortable and of course, some areas where I wouldn’t mind seeing some improvement.
I want to start this portion of the breakdown off with the emphasis on Hayes playing off the ball. The catch-and-shoot numbers have been the biggest development for his game this year, and as I will highlight in the video portion when his feet are set and ready he is pretty darn good. The area for improvement? He either has to get more comfortable shooting when not completely set OR do a better job of getting to his spot quicker so they are set and ready before the defense can recover. I also highlight a sneaky nice development with his off-the-ball movement that will help advance his effectiveness in this role.
As we continue to look at just the scoring aspect of his game, I wanted to take a look at him finishing in the paint and at the rim. These clips will not be exclusively off the ball, although some are. Moreso, these are a couple of areas to keep an eye on moving forward that I noticed as I was doing my breakdown.
The one area of the Pistons offense I would like to see Hayes get his hands on the ball just a little bit more is in transition. I think it would be fair to say that Killian is the best on the team at getting his eyes up as soon as he gets the ball and putting pressure on the defense by kicking the ball ahead. I also like his understanding of sending the ball across the court and the amount of pressure that can put on a defensive transition as well.
I wouldn’t mind if he kept the ball in his hands a little longer at times and continued to attack. This year, we have started to see some speed/explosion from Hayes, in particular, in these transition situations and an ability to condense a defense to get a teammate a shot (sometimes via “hockey assist”) OR go ahead and get to the rim himself.
I want to emphasize again that this breakdown was just trying to look at the role we are seeing from Hayes right now and what we have seen him do in that role. I am not saying that he is resigned to being “just” this player for the rest of his career. Along with others, I would love to see him in more PnR situations and possibly with a role man that can put a little more pressure on the rim. Until then, I am comfortable seeing him continue to work on the skills necessary to be successful without those situations because that is something a backcourt mate of Cade Cunningham is always going to have to be able to do.