The Detroit Pistons have a young player problem, but it’s not unique to them.
For most young players, it takes time to get used to the change of pace that is the NBA. Some players come into the league with the label of “project”. They need time and patience to develop their skills. Often that takes a few years to develop their game.
Killian Hayes is one of those players. Drafted seventh overall in 2020, Hayes was just 19 years old when he entered the league. It was known that he was already a strong defender and passer. He had an inability to use his right hand and his shot needed work to be brought up to NBA-starter levels. After seven games he was sidelined for months with an injury.
Hayes entered this season with only 26 real NBA games under his belt. Now, after two games into his second season, many vocal fans are ready to write him off as a bust. However, historical precedent shows that it is certainly too soon to write off such a young player this early in his development.
Killian Hayes is struggling to start the season. Before Pistons fans give up on the former No. 7 pick, there is plenty of evidence to be optimistic about.
The young guard is far from the first developmental prospect to struggle early in his career. Part of being a prospect considered a project is that the progression of the talent takes years to progress. As part of the thought exercise, we will be looking back at the first 30 games of various players’ careers to see where Hayes stacks up and why it is ultimately not so bad.
It is hard to remember Jrue Holiday’s early days back with the Philadelphia 76ers. After being an elite prospect in high school he spent a season at UCLA before being drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft. Thought of as a defensive stalwart (sound familiar) Holiday posted the following line after his first 30 games: 5.4 points, 2.7 assists, 2.1 rebounds and 1.4 turnovers per game. Through 28 games Hayes sits at 6.4 points, 5.1 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 3.1 turnovers per game. They both shot under 40 percent from the field while Hayes was better from the free-throw line than Holiday (Holiday obviously outplayed him behind the arc).
A More recent example is the player who made Hayes’ life so tough last week: Lonzo Ball. The former number two overall pick joined the Los Angeles Lakers with plenty of hype after his drafting was spoken into existence. Ball’s numbers were better than Hayes’ (10.0 points, 7.0 assists, 6.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks and 2.8 turnovers per game) but his shooting splits were equally nightmarish at .350/.296/.480. He was mocked throughout the season but over the course of the years since he has developed into a knockdown shooter as well as continuing to boast the skills that mirror Hayes.
Pistons fans ready to lose faith in their current seventh overall pick can look at several players who once wore their uniform. Khris Middleton, a second-round pick, played 27 games for Detroit and averaged 6.1 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game before being traded in the offseason to the Milwaukee Bucks. Spencer Dinwiddie was another second-round pick, a player who slid in the draft following injuries. Over two seasons in the Motor City, he played 46 games and averaged 4.4 points, 2.7 assists, 1.4 rebounds per game and was a 17.3 percent long-range shooter.
Beyond their own team, there are countless examples. Kyle Lowry shot under 28 percent from distance in years two through four. Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists and shot just 41.4 percent from the field as a rookie. Terry Rozier did not shoot over 40 percent from the field until leaving the Boston Celtics. While none of these examples prove that Hayes will get to any sort of higher level it is evidence that time and patience remain important factors.
Previewing the Future
Killian Hayes has certainly struggled so far. He has had moments where you can see the potential that got him drafted as highly as he was. Hayes is already a staunch defender, tall for his position with the potential to make an All-Defensive Team one day. He has elite passing ability. The shooting is clearly a work in progress, as was known 28 games ago. This is not the sample size to decide on.
One of the hallmarks of the restoration of the Detroit Pistons is changing the mistakes that have been made before. There is no rushing this process. Hayes deserves the commitment from the coaching staff, the front office, and the fans to be given the time to work through his weaknesses. If he is willing to put in the work, he should be given the chance to do so.
For any fans thinking they know exactly what Hayes will be, it simply is not possible. No one truly knows anything after just 28 games. Rebuilds require the ability to deal with the bumps along the way. So far, many vocal Pistons fans have proved that they do not have the stomach for the rebuild. For now, Hayes is the scapegoat of that group.