Pistons' Killian Hayes finding his niche with second unit

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Orlando — With Killian Hayes’ move to the second unit, he’s starting to find some smoother sailing and feeling more comfortable in his play.

One of the benefits is getting to play more with big man Marvin Bagley III. The two have found some chemistry, with Bagley being the lob target that enables Hayes to utilize one of his strengths, either in transition or in certain matchups in half-court sets.

Killian Hayes

It’s been a work in progress, but the early signs are encouraging. If the Pistons are able to hold on to Bagley, who likely will be a restricted free agent this summer, they can build a solid foundation to their depth.

With Hayes, every positive performance is helping to make him feel more comfortable.

“Killian played one of his better games against Miami (on Tuesday),” coach Dwane Casey said. “He was playing with a great pace and he was zinging the ball around, not only zinging, but it was on-time and on-target, which is something we've been talking about because he sees the floor and they have a good feel.

“Killian is a great lob passer, so that's you're seeing some of his lobs to Marvin going to the rim. Marvin gives us a different element that we didn't have before — he's a lob threat, and he has ability to protect the rim.”

Bagley moved to the starting lineup for Thursday’s game after Jerami Grant was ruled out because of knee inflammation. The way the rotations work, some overlap with Hayes and Bagley were likely.

Defensively, having Bagley play in big lineups, as they did against the Heat, has some intriguing possibilities. From the defensive standpoint, it allowed the Pistons to have Isaiah Stewart, Bagley, Grant and Saddiq Bey in the lineup at the same time, which likely isn’t sustainable, but it’s a different look.

“Our interior defense was pretty good against Miami. Our rim protection with all three of our bigs — Marvin, Jerami and also Isaiah protected the rim pretty well,” Casey said. “We're glad we have (Marvin) and he's given us a lot, and he's only 23 years old.”

Cunningham out

Cade Cunningham missed his second straight game on Thursday because of a non-COVID illness. Cunningham had been listed as questionable and he went through pregame warmups, but he was later ruled out.

It was another opportunity to face another of the top rookies, the Magic’s Franz Wagner (Michigan), but there also is a chance for a marquee matchup that could have some impact on the NBA Rookie of the Year race. The Pistons face the Cleveland Cavaliers and No. 3 pick Evan Mobley on Saturday, and with a few more days to rest, Cunningham could be ready to return by then.

“He's still feeling congested, but the first time he had a chance to get on the court was (Thursday),” Casey said. “We had a walkthrough (Thursday) morning, so he's trying to break a sweat and see how he feels.”

Cunningham has raised some eyebrows with his streak of seven consecutive games with 20-plus points, which has tightened the rookie race.

“The thing I always say with Cade is he has an 'it' factor. He can play like crap the entire game and then in the fourth quarter, he steps up and produces, and he loves the moment,” Casey said. “He's one of those rare guys that really performs well when the chips are down, or the moment is tight. He's getting a better feel.

Casey said that as the season has progressed, Cunningham has made some big strides, and it’s continuing as he’s getting down the stretch of finishing the season.

“I was just watching our game from even in January, and how much he's taken a step forward from when we played here last time. That good to see, and you know he's growing,” Casey said. “You saw it in the Rising Stars game (during All-Star Weekend) with his performance versus some of the other players in his class,” Casey said. “It's one of those things where he picks up things — he's a sponge. He has an experience or goes through a situation one time, and he learns from it, and that's the most you can ask from a rookie player.”


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard