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3 observations from Killian Hayes’ play off the bench

In three games since returning from injury, Hayes’ has played well as Detroit’s sixth man.

Detroit Pistons v Denver Nuggets Photo by Ethan Mito/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images

On Jan. 18 against the Golden State Warriors, Detroit Pistons point guard Killian Hayes suffered a hip injury in a collision with a baseline camera man. To make matters worse, this was the same right hip he had surgery on during his rookie campaign. Fortunately, the second-year guard was only sidelined for a couple of games with a right hip contusion. Injuries are nothing new to the career of the French playmaker, in fact, Hayes has only played 10 consecutive games in his career once.

Upon his return to the line-up from his most recent absence, Dwane Casey and staff made the decision to reinstate Hayes back into the rotation as the first guard off the bench. As a rookie, Hayes started eight games on the bench, fetching mixed results. Since being reintegrated into the lineup as a reserve this season, we have seen Hayes put together arguably his best stretch of play as a sophomore.

In three games Hayes is averaging; 8.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists to only 1.0 turnover. Not to mention, he’s kept up his usual defensive production, disrupting opponents with a steal and a block each night. While the the shooting statistics are still painful to digest, it’s been encouraging to see the former lottery pick get back to his free flowing, playmaking ways.

In this piece, I’ll dive into three components of Hayes’ game which we have seen positively impacted by the recent change in role; from starting guard to sixth-man.

Hayes Decisive Passing

2021-2022 Season Assists avg. Usage % Dribbles per touch Passes Made Potential Assits Assist Points Created
2021-2022 Season Assists avg. Usage % Dribbles per touch Passes Made Potential Assits Assist Points Created
Last 3 games 6.3 15.4 3.26 45.7 13.0 16.3
Season (35 games) 3.9 14.3 2.94 40.4 7.0 7.5
Per Second Spectrum Tracking NBA.com

Decision Making

The most notable change we have seen from Hayes’ as a reserve, has come in the form of his quick decision making. When the Frenchman has been checking into the game around the 3-minute mark of the first quarter, Cunningham is either; out of the game or close to his first substitution of the night. With Cunningham off the floor, we have seen Hayes play with a renewed sense of freedom as the primary initiator on offense.

The passing ability of Hayes has been on full display through transition opportunities and decisive plays in the half-court. As previously mentioned, the 20-year old is averaging 6.3 assists in three games off the bench, up from 3.9 in 35 games as a starter. Interestingly, his uptick in production isn’t a result of a large increase in usage or possessions (refer to table above). Instead, Hayes has been aggressive in his passing selection, particularly when bringing the ball up the court.

While it’s not considered a transition opportunity, Hayes’ has reminded folks of his ability to make plays when charged with dribbling the rock up the court. Piston fan’s have been privy to a variety of precise lead passes in recent games, which have resulted in quality looks for his teammates:

Perhaps the best indicator of Hayes’ recent impact as a playmaker is in the amount of points his assists have been generating. Per NBA.com, in his past three games, the former seventh overall selection’s assists are generating 16.3 points per game. Thats a 54% increase in production from his season average of 7.5 points from his assists. It should also be noted that the increase in assist value has coincided with just an additional 5.1 passes a game. In his three-game span as a reserve, Hayes’ passes per game are up to 45.7, a slight increase from his season average of 40.4. Put simply, Hayes has been more damaging with his passes.

Floor Spacing Unlocks Hayes

The spacing issues a player of Isaiah Stewart’s current skillset presents has been a common topic of discussion amongst Detroit fans in recent months. Particularly, as it pertains to the play-style of their young backcourt duo in Hayes and Cunningham.

Both, Hayes and Cunningham have the ability to dissect a defense out of a pick and roll set. However, due to a combination of their lack of athletic burst and Stewart’s lack of a jumper or lob threat, the pick and roll has been one of Detroit’s worst play call options.

With Hayes now coming off the bench, his pick and roll partner alternates from the offensively challenged Stewart to the floor spacing Trey Lyles. Per Synergy, when Lyles is the pick and roll man, he elects to ‘pop’ out to the perimeter 63% of the time. While he has struggled to connect from distance to this point of the season, Lyles has the reputation of a stretch big, garnering constant attention beyond the arc.

Lyles threat to score from the perimeter, opens up the paint for Hayes, allowing the sophomore guard to either; drive to the rim, penetrate and kick to shooters or hit Lyles for a pick and pop jumper:

Another positive development of Hayes playing with a floor spacing big has been his increased efficiency scoring off drives. Although on small volume, the second year guard is scoring 3.3 points on drives on 57% shooting, in his past three outings. Up from 2.0 points on 34% field goal percentage on the season.

The spike in production can be attributed to Hayes’ 8 free throw attempts in his span of games as a reserve. Getting to the line has, and always should be a focus for a confidence player such as Hayes. Pairing the french prodigy with a floor spacing big helps unlock a more dynamic version of the former first round pick.

Mentality and Confidence

Bearing in mind the apex version of Killian Hayes is far from that of a backup point guard, it has been encouraging to see the sophomore play with a renewed sense of confidence and freedom. The nagging injuries and arrival of Cade Cunningham have made Hayes second year in the league a turbulent one, full of question marks and inconsistencies.

It appears the role adjustment has helped the former lottery pick find his footing, Coach Casey said as much in his postgame presser after the Orlando Magic game:

It’s safe to say it’s no coincidence that Hayes best stretch of play for the season has come when he has been at his most ‘relaxed’. While you could say the majority of players in the NBA are ‘confidence players’, Killian Hayes has to be one of the biggest ‘over thinkers’ in the league. A missed lay up or turnover can deter Hayes from attacking on offense for the remainder of the game.

As a rookie, Hayes was thrust into a line-up full of veterans before injuring his hip 7 games into his career. It wasn’t until the last month of his rookie season, did we start to see Hayes string together some productive games.

However, just as he had began gaining confidence in his role as Detroit’s point guard of the future, the Pistons were fortunate enough to win the lottery and draft a new face of the franchise in Cade Cunningham.

After closing his rookie season with a usage rate of 19.5%, Hayes has had to adapt to the role of secondary ball-handler, with a reduced usage of 14.3%. By coming off the bench though, Hayes knows that if he misses a shot or turns the ball over, he will more than likely have the ball in his hand next possession to try make amends, helping to replenish any lost confidence.

While the relegation too a reserve can be viewed as a further demotion in role, Hayes’ has taken the opportunity to show how he can be a functional NBA point guard.