Detroit Pistons: Killian Hayes is thriving in new role

(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

The decision by head coach Dwane Casey to move second-year point guard Killian Hayes to the bench about two weeks ago is paying off for the Detroit Pistons.

We’ve heard coach Casey reiterate time and time again that starting is one thing, but being on the court to close out games is far more critical yet often overlooked.  Closing games is just what Hayes has been doing with the Pistons of late, plus he’s playing with noticeably more confidence throughout the game, coming off the bench as the primary ball-handler anchoring the second unit.

Hayes seemed quite tentative playing on the first unit with all eyes on rookie phenom Cade Cunningham.  It seemed like Hayes had been pressing, and while playing with Cade and Jerami Grant, both ball dominate players.  With that group, he didn’t have the ball in his grasp nearly as often as he’d been accustomed to in the past.  Hayes can be the catalyst on offense with the second unit and find his groove offensively.

Throughout his young career, one part of Hayes’ game has remained stout, and that is his defensive abilities.  Hayes is one of the top defenders on the Detroit Pistons roster, but the offensive consistency has been sparse, to say the least.

Detroit Pistons point guard, Killian Hayes, is flourishing coming off the bench.

During the Detroit Pistons 118-105 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves this past weekend, Hayes put together one of the best games of his young career, recording eight assists and ten points off the bench.  Although those numbers won’t really jump out at you, Hayes scored all ten of his points in the fourth quarter; that’s impressive.

Coach Casey had this to say regarding Hayes’ performance this past Sunday;

"“I was really proud of him,” Casey said after the game. “I’m on him as hard as anybody on the team, every film session. Pushing him to still growing, and he is, right in front of our eyes. He’s so tired of me getting on his behind that he’s picking it up and going, and he’s growing and making those decisions. I called one play and the whole lane opened up, and he just broke off and went and got a dunk. Those are the kinds of basketball instincts that he’s playing with right now in the game, when a month ago he probably wouldn’t have done that.”"

Hayes was slashing to the basket, something coach Casey had been challenging the second-year guard to do.  Hayes is just attempting a touch over one free throw per game; by putting the ball on the court and driving the lane on a more consistent basis, Hayes not only will open up wide open outside opportunities for his teammates but should find himself on the charity stripe far more often moving forward.

Hayes credits assistant coach Jerome Allen with helping his transition.

"“I know I’m at my best when I can go into the paint and either finish or kick out,” Hayes said. “My goal is to get to the paint anywhere I can. By watching film with coach Jerome (Allen), watching film with the coaches just to figure out which plays, which part of the game I can go and do that. Just a learning curve that you work on every day in practice. It’s physical, but a lot of mental as well.”"

In the eight games since moving to the bench, Hayes has averaged 7.4 points, 5.5 assists, and three boards per game while converting on 43.4% of his attempts from the field but only 18.8% from beyond the arc.  During this stretch, Hayes is averaging 23.6 minutes per night.

In the 33 games this season as a starter, Hayes averaged 25.5 minutes, 6.2 points, 3.6 assists, and three rebounds while shooting a touch over 34% from the field and just under 30% from beyond the arc.

Hayes needs to improve his three-point shooting, but finding more trips to the free-throw line will help enhance his point totals.

The only downside to having Hayes come off the bench is that the Detroit Pistons are forced to turn to Cory Joseph as the starter at the point.  Joseph is averaging 8.5 points and nearly four assists per game and is also shooting 43.1% from beyond the arc, but is only attempting a career-high 2.4 threes per game.  Joseph is more of a second unit player but, in the meantime, will likely play out the year as the teams’ starter.  It would be nice to bring in someone like Buddy Hield to start at the two alongside Cunningham in the backcourt on the first unit, but that’s just a pipe dream at this point.

Next. Utah Jazz looking for a player like Jerami Grant. dark

Although Hayes hasn’t lived up to the expectations of a no. 7 overall pick, we need to be patient with the 20-year old guard.  Hayes has played in just 67 NBA games; he’s essentially still a rookie.