Could Killian Hayes Be a Missing Piece to the Bench Unit?

European prospects have often been of the “boom or bust” variety throughout NBA history. For every Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Dončić, there is a Darko Miličić or a Dragan Bender. Drafting is already an inexact science and drafting a European prospect can exacerbate the issue. Killian Hayes, the 7th pick in the 2020 NBA draft, is a perfect example of such a prospect. After two seasons of inconsistency with the Detroit Pistons, could Hayes be a possible reclamation project for the Charlotte Hornets?

Hayes was born in Lakeland, Florida but was raised in Cholet, France, where his father DeRon Hayes played professional basketball. Hayes grew up around basketball in France and eventually decided to join ratiopharm Ulm, a professional basketball club in Germany.

Hayes’ time in Germany was largely a success. He averaged 11.6 points, 5.3 assists and 1.5 steals in 25 minutes per game as Ulm’s starting point guard and answered questions about his ability to successfully run a team in a heavy usage role.

His dynamic playmaking, heady defense, and scoring upside made him one of the best prospects in the draft. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer went as far as to call Hayes “the 2020 NBA Draft’s Top Prospect”.

When Hayes was still available with the 7th pick, the Pistons were thrilled by the opportunity to add the Frenchman to their young core. There was plenty of hype surrounding Hayes, but the unique circumstances of the 2020 offseason put him in a precarious position.

With no summer league, a shortened training camp, and a layoff from live-game action, expectations for Hayes’ rookie year were tempered. Before suffering a hip injury early in the season, Hayes was struggling mightily. He had been averaging 4.5 points per game while shooting 27% from the field, 25% from three-point range, and 50% from the free-throw line.

His struggles as a scorer severely limited his ability as a passer. Without the threat of a shot, defenses were not reacting to his drives and did not fear him when he inevitably parked himself in the corner. Hayes was often trying to distribute against five defenders instead of four, and thus the turnovers started piling up.

However, after a three-month hiatus to recover from injury, Hayes finally showed some signs of life. With Derrick Rose having been traded to the New York Knicks in the interim, Hayes was able to handle the ball more and could spend more time in pick-and-roll sets.

While his numbers were still mediocre, Hayes passed the eye test much more easily. After his return from injury, Hayes averaged 6.7 assists per game and even recorded a stat line of 21 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds against the Chicago Bulls. Hayes was finally blossoming into the player that the Pistons had hoped for.

Still just 20 years old at the time, Hayes entered his sophomore season with plenty of promise. Fully recovered from his injury and with good performances under his belt, Hayes was expected to continue his progression. However, a 0-point performance in the first game of his sophomore campaign quickly brought expectations back to earth.

Hayes’ gift of passing was still evident in year two.

In pick-and-roll sets, Hayes can set up teammates with on-target pocket passes and well-timed lobs.

Hayes’ passes hit their targets in their shooting pocket, allowing them to catch and shoot without having to break rhythm to gather the ball.

Defensively, Hayes has shown flashes of elite ability. His combination of length and lateral quickness give him the potential to be a lockdown defender.

Essentially, Hayes does a lot of the little things that help a team win, but he struggles to do the most basic element of the game of basketball, which is to score.

Hayes’ offense still has not developed into what the Pistons had hoped. Hayes’ 6.9 points per game average on 38.3% shooting and 26.3% shooting from three-point range in 2022 bear this out. He is a decent free-throw shooter, knocking down 77% of his attempts last season, but he does not get to the foul line often (1.1 attempts per game in 2022).

Even with his scoring deficiencies, Hayes can still have a marginally positive impact, but to truly solidify himself in the league, a consistent jumper must emerge.

The form on his jump shot is fine, but his conviction upon release is usually not. Building up confidence in himself as a shooter will be crucial for his long-term success.

Hayes would certainly garner interest from other teams if he were made available. For a Hornets team that needs defense and backup guard play, Hayes would be a welcome addition for the 2022-23 campaign.

Hayes’ potential is still oozing through the roof

Anytime a struggling young NBA player is moved, the scenery change always creates a feeling of optimism and provides a boost of confidence, which is exactly what Hayes needs.

A player with Hayes’ defensive abilities would make for an intriguing compliment to LaMelo Ball. Such a pairing could allow Ball to play off the ball, roaming passing lanes and racking up steals. Whether that player is Hayes or not, he at least appears to be a solid buy-low investment. While he is unlikely to ever become a superstar in the NBA, becoming a plus defender and a dependable rotation player is not out of the realm of possibilities.