Detroit Pistons: Trying new strategies with Killian Hayes off the bench

(Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
(Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports) /

Killian Hayes came off the bench for the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday against the Nuggets. He also did so in Sunday night’s game in Denver. Before that, he had missed the two previous games due to a hip injury.

Instead, Cory Joseph started in his place, and he had one of his better games this season on Sunday. He was one of four Detroit Pistons to score 18 points, shooting 7 of 9 from the field.

Hayes was not absent from the games altogether, though. He still played over 24 minutes on Sunday and 29 on Tuesday, and he was on the court for nearly the entire fourth quarter in both of them.

Whenever Joseph is playing well for the Pistons, Hayes’s role as a starter is called into question a little more. The “off-the-bench” role seems to be a bit more fitting.

Killian Hayes’s role with the Detroit Pistons is varying lately.

Despite a good performance, Joseph is not poised to take over that starting guard role quite yet. He is has been inconsistent in recent weeks. His 18 points on Sunday came off an 8-point game with seven extra minutes of playing time. He earned those seven minutes by putting up 19 points and nine assists in the game before that.

Last week, he equaled a season-high of 21 points but immediately followed it up with two points against Golden State. Clearly, Joseph makes a habit of following up good games with bad ones and vice versa.

If we project out the “every other game” principle, Joseph will have his next good game on Friday against the Magic—which might not be all that bad of a guess, given how Orlando has been playing.

At any rate, Hayes was not spectacular off the bench, but neither was he bad. He continues to be a frustratingly conservative shooter, taking only thirteen shots between the two games, six from beyond the arc.

In Sunday’s game, at least, his selectiveness paid off:  he made three (of five) baskets, including two threes. His five assists were in line with his recent output as well, and his eight assists Tuesday were a bright spot.

He also added three turnovers in a game where turnovers, in general, ruined any chance of victory. (The Pistons turned over the ball 22 times to the Nuggets’ 11, and they lost by six points.) Hayes has drastically improved his turnover rate, cutting it by half in his second season, but three turnovers in limited plays off the bench is not productive. He made up for it by not committing any on Tuesday, although still in a losing effort.

Hayes’s box score Tuesday night amounted to 6 points, two rebounds, eight assists, and no turnovers. It was 8 points, three boards, five assists, and three turnovers on Sunday. In other words, not all that different from a night in which he started.

That said, maybe bringing Hayes off the bench periodically will motivate him to change his strategies. Or perhaps the change of scenery and pace will bring about those changes naturally. Depending on the kind of night Joseph is having, there may not be much of a downgrade.

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If Hayes continues to come off the bench, is this a sign Dwane Casey and the Detroit Pistons are giving up on him? Not necessarily. But if he does not make some improvements—especially on the offensive end—he may find himself slowly phased out.