Playing through thumb injury, Pistons' Hayes making progress

By Steve Kornacki
Special to The Detroit News

Killian Hayes hopes to continue playing through the injured left thumb on his shooting hand. The Pistons point guard was fitted for a splint that allowed him to return for the last two games on the current road trip, and has held up just fine.  

"His growth is coming," Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. "Unfortunate that he got injured, and the same thing happened to him last year. He was starting and feeling his way. But then he had the sports hernia thing. This year was his thumb. It was good for him to take (time) off. He’s feeling much better now.

Detroit Pistons guard Killian Hayes, left, shoots over Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum during the first half of Tuesday's game in Portland, Ore.

“We’ll see if he can jumpstart it to do it again. He was playing pretty good, especially defensively. He’s one of our better on-ball defenders, and that’s an area where his growth has been skyrocketing."

Hayes has averaged 8.5 points, 5.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds since returning to play the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers. While that’s a small sample size, it’s a slight improvement on his season averages of 6,0 points, 3.7 assists and 3.6.

"It feels good," Hayes said after his first game back. “For a couple of games (prior to sitting out), I kept getting hit on it. It was getting worse and worse. We decided it was better just to get the soreness out, and just come back feeling without any pain."

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The injury might not completely heal without total rest for an extended period of time, but he’s comfortable enough to play his usual minutes at this point.

The Pistons (4-17) play the Suns (18-3) in Phoenix on Thursday night and it’s important to have their floor leader finding a groove. His presence also takes pressure off rookie Cade Cunningham (26 points, seven rebounds against Portland) to handle the ball more than a big guard should.

Hayes looks to drive home Casey’s points of emphasis.  

"Coach really talks about energy," Hayes said. "First of all, we’ve got to bring energy every night to give ourselves a chance. If we bring energy and we make shots, we’re a hard team to beat. Lately we’ve been struggling a little bit. But it’s a long season, man. So, we’ve got to keep shooting and shots are going to fall."

Detroit’s .405 shooting percentage ranks last in the NBA.

The Pistons have generally had one bad quarter in recent games, and have lost seven consecutive contests.

Hayes addressed the need for consistency by saying: “We’re still a young team. We’re all learning still.”

Hayes also suffered a torn labrum last season and played only 26 games with 18 starts, averaging 6.8 points, 5.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds. He’s played 16 of the first 21 games this year, and is just 47 games into his career.

“I’m still growing, still learning about the game, still trying to figure things out,” Hayes said after facing Portland. “You’ve just got to keep your head up, control what I can control, and just give it 100 percent.”

Hayes has a low shooting percentage for the season at .327, but has been at .379 in the two games back wearing the splint.

“Killian is doing an excellent job defensively,” Casey said. “He missed some shots that we want him to take and make. But again, we’ve got to be consistent with our shooting.”

Detroit took Hayes, who grew up in France and played in Germany, with the seventh overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

He showed a glimpse of greatness in scoring 21 points with eight assists and seven rebounds against the Chicago Bulls last May, and now is striving to gain consistency before achieving all the team hopes he can bring.

McGruder gives back

Detroit guard Rodney McGruder is hosting a coat giveaway from noon to 1 p.m., Saturday with Operation Warmth at COTS (Coalition on Temporary Shelter), Peggy’s Place, 16700 Wyoming Ave., Detroit, Mich., 48221. Pistons mascot Hooper will join McGruder and residents during lunch to distribute 100 coats to children.


Detroit’s bench leads the NBA with 40.7 points per game. Injured center Kelly Olynyk (12.5 ppg) tops the reserve scorers, and guard Frank Jackson (9.8) and forward Trey Lyles (7.9) are next. ... Pistons starting forward Jerami Grant has reached 20 points nine times and 30 points three times to lead the team with a 19.5 scoring average.

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.