It’s time to have a conversation about Killian Hayes. Yes, THAT Killian Hayes. The Detroit Pistons’ first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
The Pistons selected Hayes 7th overall ahead of notable guards Tyrese Haliburton, Tyrese Maxey, and Desmond Bane. I am not here to argue that He is better than any of those players. I am here to argue that he is not the bust that the Pistons’ Twitter alleges he is.
I’ve heard and read all the arguments and seen the lowlights. Maybe that was enough to turn you off, and you stopped watching, but not I as the worst thing that could’ve happened to the Pistons is the best thing to happen to Hayes.
I’m certainly not advocating for ill will against Cade Cunningham, but sports are often about opportunities. Circumstances can often dictate an athlete’s trajectory. In this case, Cunningham’s injury has opened the door for Hayes to show what he can do.
Some might say he’s had enough time to show what he can do, but it’s complicated. Let’s take a look at the circumstances. Hayes’s rookie season was cut short by injury, only allowing him to play 26 games. He also dealt with injuries in his second season and played alongside Cunningham, the No. 1 overall pick, who plays the same position.
This season, Hayes has been relegated to a bench role thanks to the addition of rookie sensation Jaden Ivey who also plays the same position. Two things can be true. Cunningham and Ivey are great additions to this Pistons team, and their arrivals have stifled Hayes’s growth until now.
In his last 15 games since Cunningham’s injury, Hayes is playing about 30 minutes per game compared to 18 minutes per game this season before the injury.
While playing those 30 minutes, he’s averaging 11 points per game compared to fewer than three points per game while playing only 18 minutes. When playing 30 minutes, he averages just under six assists but less than half of that when playing only 18 minutes. These are improvements from his career NBA averages of 7.2 points per game and 4.6 assists per game.
It gets better. In December (four games), Hayes is averaging 14.5 points and eight assists per game. Why do I tell you all of this?
Did I go look at stats to make you read a bunch of numbers and words that you could’ve found yourself? Of course not. I mean, yes, but to make a point.
Hayes is showing the potential I believe Troy Weaver saw when he drafted him in 2020. It’s a small sample, but it passes the eye test. Hayes is showing a confidence he has not yet shown since arriving in the NBA. Who can blame him? It’s been a rocky start, and not to mention, the last two top-five draft picks play the same position.
To be clear, I am merely talking about trends and potential here. I cannot argue the production of Haliburton, Bane, and Maxey as they are different players in many different environments.
Bane and Maxey are currently sidelined with long-term injuries. Would we feel they are busts if their injuries had come at the start of their careers and not several years later?
I get the cynicism. He’s a first-round draft pick. Is Hayes currently an NBA All-Star or making a run for Most Improved Player? No! It would be silly to judge a player on such a small sample, just as it would be silly to judge a player without considering the circumstances and context.
I plan to judge him at the end of the season when we can grade how he did with this opportunity before him. I believe he has a role on this team if he’s able to unlock his potential with this opportunity. After all, he was the first puzzle piece of Weaver’s rebuild.
I have to imagine he had his eye on him long before arriving in Detroit in June before his first draft as Pistons General Manager in November. To the Hayes fans on Twitter feeling like proud fathers when he shows confidence and has a productive game, I see you.