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Film Don’t Lie: A Deep Dive into the Defense of Killian Hayes

I go to the film from the past few games to analyze the better half of Hayes’ game

Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

As SOON as you finish this article, check out the amazing piece by Jack Kelly about Killian Hayes’ move to the bench, which takes a closer look at the young Detroit Pistons point guard’s offensive and all-around game. For this breakdown, I wanted to focus on the defensive end of the floor, where Hayes seems to be more successful.

As we all know, Killian has developed the reputation of being an excellent defender for the Pistons, and I believe it myself. Because I am going into this with a positive view of his defense, I wanted to watch (and rewatch) a few games and take a closer look at his defensive contributions.

I have used a handful of defensive metrics in the past because I think they can be helpful at times, but in general, I think they are hard to trust (and I will explain why in the video breakdowns, with examples). So, I will simply be giving you my opinion on his defense from the “eye test” and what I saw in these games.

On-Ball Defense

The first thing that stands out to me when watching Hayes on the ball is how active, engaged and disruptive he can be. Along with a physical presence, a certain mentality is required to be an excellent on-ball defender. Killian has shown from day one that he has that mentality, and he takes pride in guarding the man in front of him. he often creates extra possessions for the Pistons offense with his stellar on-ball defense.

There are still some improvements Hayes can make on-ball, as would be expected by a second-year player. He will usually hold up quite well in true isolation in the halfcourt. However, if you get him trying to keep the ball in front in transition or early offense, it tends to be more challenging for him. I also think his ball-screen navigation will need to improve, as I show with a couple of examples in the video breakdown.

Off-Ball Defense

As many of you know, I tend to harshly judge players’ focus and attention off the ball, and I should note that Killian has the fewest lapses of any player I have done a breakdown on. ***NOTE: I have only been doing this for about eight months.

When he does make a mistake away from the ball, it is usually from being overly aggressive and not because he is just staring at the ball and getting backdoored (see, Hami Diallo and Josh Jackson).

His awareness is one of the things that stood out to me as I was doing this breakdown. He knows when he is the guy that is supposed to help on a drive and when he isn’t. In the Denver game, he was quick to recognize Jokic in the post and was able to aggressively attack him with a double team on more than one occasion.

While critics often note Hayes’ lack of physicality on offense, it is NOT an issue on the defensive end. As I showed in the on-ball breakdown, he is more than willing to be physical when guarding the ball handler. I loved seeing him be physical away from the ball when getting switched onto a bigger offensive player.

I walked away from this breakdown feeling very confident in Hayes’ reputation on the defensive end. Yes, there is more room for growth and improvement, but I love what we are seeing from him.

I stand by the statement that a player with this kind of prowess on the defensive end is an excellent fit next to Cade. It allows Cade to play defense more as an off-the-ball, roaming defender and eliminates him needing to defend smaller, quicker, and more explosive guards. Whether that player ultimately ends up being Killian may be up for debate and probably will end up being decided by his offensive improvements.