Killian Hayes seeing results coming off bench in Pistons' 'experiment'

By Steve Kornacki
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — The Killian Hayes “experiment” has been going on for three games.

Pistons coach Dwane Casey opted to have second-year point guard, the team’s No. 7 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft out of France, begin coming into games off the bench.

Pistons second-year guard Killian Hayes is averaging 8.3 points, 6.3 assists and one turnover with a .381 percentage off the bench.

Hayes hadn’t developed a good working flow with rookie scoring guard Cade Cunningham — who also is a very adept ball-handler and a good creator for teammates. Hayes’ shooting percentage is below par, too.

So, 11-year veteran Cory Joseph was inserted into the starting lineup as an experienced ballhandler who might be a better fit with Cunningham at this point in time. Hayes only played 26 games last season because of a labrum tear in his right hip, and is essentially still a rookie.

And, while Detroit has lost all three games with Hayes as a reserve, the small sample size has produced better statistics for the 6-foot-5, 216 pounder.

Hayes was averaging 6.2 points, 3.6 assists and 1.5 turnovers with a .343 field goal shooting percentage in 33 games as a starter. He’s averaging 8.3 points, 6.3 assists and one turnover with a .381 percentage off the bench.

Casey terms this an “experiment” and it’s better to tinker now — in a season where the Pistons are 11-37 and not a threat to make the playoffs — to see what shakes out for the future.

“We talked about it with Coach (Casey),” Hayes said. “I’m going to have the ball in my hands a bit more with the second unit. Just trying to bring more energy and be more vocal with the second unit coming in, and then also, whenever I play with Cade, just give him help as the point guard.”

Hayes, after scoring 11 with six assists and zero turnovers in Friday night’s loss at Orlando, was asked what it will take to develop a fluid on-court flow with Cunningham.

“You know, Cade’s a great player,” Hayes said. “Offensively, he can do everything. I’m just there to help the team. Me and Cory just lead the team, control the pace, the tempo, and be more vocal. Just helping him be great.”

Hayes quarterbacked a reserve unit that outscored the Pistons’ starters, 34-17, in the first half against the Magic. They “fought back,” and got into a running game, while also going to the free throw line plenty.

“And everything started with our defense,” Hayes said.

Casey thought it was Hayes’ best outing coming off the bench behind Joseph (8.4 points, 3.9 assists, 1.3 turnovers, 2.4 rebounds, .469 shooting percentage).

“I thought he did an excellent job of passing and playing with pace,” Casey said. “I don’t know if I can say anybody played well defensively. But I thought offensively he ran the show a little bit, made good decisions with the basketball.

“When you’re the point guard, the primary ball-handler, you have got to make good decisions, and I thought he did that tonight.”   

How quickly Detroit can rise from the ashes could be determined by Cunningham and Hayes establishing themselves as a viable duo.

“Killian’s only played (23) more games than Cade,” Casey said, “and made the transition coming in from Europe. So, there’s a lot going on for the young man. But we’re patient and will continue to work with him. He’s big, he’s strong, and his shooting is going to come. I have all the confidence in the world it’s going to come.

“Our job is to develop him to get him ready to win games and compete for championships.”

Hayes had career-highs of 21 points and 11 assists last season, and this season’s highs are 13 points and 10 assists (twice). So, the production has been there at times. Consistency has been another matter.

Consistency is what separates the newbies from the veterans, and Cunningham, for all his success, still doesn’t have it. He scored 34 two games ago, and six in his last game.

Patience is a virtue in developing players, and Casey is a veteran coach with the steady hand required.

Look for Cunningham and Hayes to reunite in the starting lineup when the time is right.

“He’s a big kid and can guard a lot of (small forwards and big guards),” Casey said of Hayes. “So, it gives us an opportunity to play a three-guard lineup quite a bit. … I like the way he’s playing now, comfortable. Defensively, he’s still defending well. So, we’ll look at this rotation and experiment with this for the time being.”

Cavaliers at Pistons

Tipoff: 6 p.m. Sunday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: BSD/950

Outlook: The Pistons (11-37) have lost four straight, and their 98-78 loss at Cleveland Nov. 12 was a season low offensively. The Cavs (30-19) have four very viable players in point guard Darius Garland (19.7 points, 8.2 assists), center Jarrett Allen (16.1 points, 11.0 rebounds), rookie forward Evan Mobley from USC (15 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.7 blocks) and veteran forward-center Kevin Love (14.2 points, 7.2 rebounds).

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.