Killian Hayes entered the 2020 NBA draft at 19 as one of the rawest prospects in the class. But he had the length and athleticism to be something special. Listed at six-foot-five, Hayes was a high-IQ passer who also played aggressive defense, a Detroit Pistons signature.
Before declaring the for the NBA draft Hayes played two seasons with Cholet in France, and then one year with Germany’s Ratiopharm Ulm. In Germany the competition was older, but Hayes showed he could play up and still hoop
And he managed some impressive accomplishments during his time as a pro in Europe, including winning a gold medal with France in the 2017 FIBA Under-16 European Championship. Hayes was also named MVP of the tournament after averaging 16.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 5.1 assists.
In 2020 the Detroit Pistons were in a weird position. The team needed guard help badly, but the top guard in the draft, LaMelo Ball, was going to be gone by their seventh pick.
On draft night Killian Hayes was the pick, and Pistons couldn’t wait to see what he would do. Hayes also held the distinction of being the first draft pick of new Pistons Genereal Manager Troy Weaver. Weaver had previously worked as Oklahoma City’s assistant GM, and he earned credit for drafting Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Hayes’ rookie season was a developmental year, as expected. But it was also marred by an untimely hip injury that ultimately held Hayes to just 26 games. When he did see the floor he averaged 6.8 points and 5.5 assists per game, but he also shot just 35% from the field. Detroit knew Killian Hayes was going to be a long-term project. He was drafted for what he could be, not what he was at the time.
In Hayes’ second season he earned the backup point guard role behind number-one pick Cade Cunningham. He missed some time again, although he managed to get in 66 in 2021-2022. However, he did not show much improvement. His shooting improved slightly, to 38%, but his per-game stats actually regressed.
Dec 2, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham (2) with Killian Hayes (7) against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Criticism started to get louder for Hayes. Some labeled him a bust. Long-term projects need time to develop their games, but it’s never never good to see regression. However, a lot of factors contributed to that. A reduction in minutes was one factor. And Hayes was also working harder on his defense to find his fit within the team.
Things looked bleak at times, but Hayes has shown some real progress this year. Cade Cunningham’s injury early in the season immediately forced Hayes into the starting lineup. And he has flourished in that role, shooting 40% from the field while averaging 11.8 points, 6.9 assists, and 1.4 steals over 36 starts.
His numbers as a reserve are ugly, but Hayes has given himself a chance to be a significant role player for the Pistons. He has especially flourished in Dwayne Casey’s pick-and-roll offense. Killian ranks 12th in the league in pick-and-roll frequency (min. 200 possessions) and has improved his court vision in many ways.
Killian Hayes has dealt with with an awful lot of criticism for a player who is only 21 and is still adapting to the NBA. With better coaching, a healthy Cade healthy, and more consistency on offense, Hayes can still be a star in this league.
It’s hard to find a player who is already so good at certain aspects of his game and teach him to focus on one or two things. With time and the development of the young core around him, Killian will find his way in Detroit. Although it may not look like it yet, this kid is something special.