Pistons' Killian Hayes looking for consistency in variety of roles
Detroit — It’s two steps forward, then two steps back.
Whenever Killian Hayes seems to get things going and he’s ready to put together a good string of games, something happens to push him backward. He had one of his best games of the season on March 7 against the Atlanta Hawks, but then he had an injury and was sidelined.
It’s been that way for most of his two seasons with the Pistons, where nagging injuries have stunted any kind of consistency and development that he’s had. Against the Hawks, Hayes had 13 points, including going 5-of-8 from the field, with four rebounds and six assists.
Then, Hayes was out for three games, before coming back and chipping in nine points, four rebounds and eight assists in a matchup at Miami last week. Two days later, in Orlando, there was another issue, and Hayes was out for a game. He returned in a starting role and had 12 points, four rebounds and six assists against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Some of the improvement has been due to establishing a new comfort level with playing with the second unit and getting to watch the flow of the game from the bench for the first few minutes of the game.
“I've gotten used to coming off the bench at the five- or six-minute mark but starting and just getting back to that rhythm, it's right into the game. You don't have time to go back to the locker room and see how the game goes, so just be ready. I think I'm ready for both (starting and reserve roles),” Hayes said.
“When you start out on the bench, you can see how they're playing and everything. So, when you start the game, you've just got to be ready on your toes right away.”
That’s progress, but coach Dwane Casey wants to see more of that consistency and more time for Hayes to work on some things and his growth. Having played in Europe as a teenager, the transition to the NBA can be difficult.
“I know for all point guards, it is tough. It's like a rookie quarterback. There's so much to learn with the speed, the length, the timing, trying to execute,” Casey said Tuesday. “That's so much to think about, whether you're from Mississippi, Kentucky, Europe or wherever it is, it's tough.
“A good thing is there's not a language barrier, and that makes it a little bit easier. There's a lot of cultural things and coming in as a rookie. I've never underestimated that — and maybe other people did — but he's still not who he's going to be.”
In his time with the Pistons, Hayes has been a very good on-ball defender, sometimes guarding one of the opposing team’s best perimeter players. With his 6-foot-5 frame and his quickness, he can stay with smaller point guards, but he can also stay with a bigger man on switches.
That versatility makes him an asset on the defensive end, but at times, he can get a little too aggressive and get into foul trouble. The adjustment is figuring out how different officials are calling the game and then figuring out how aggressive he can be.
“You’ve got to judge it. I feel like every ref is different, and some let it slide and some don't,” Hayes said. “I need to learn how to be smarter with it, when to be aggressive in reaching and when to be more like just contesting and make them shoot a tough shot.
Wednesday’s matchup will give him another opportunity to match up with one of the tougher players in the league to guard, with the Hawks.
“Definitely some guys like Trae Young, he draws a lot of fouls, so I know to keep my hands back and just be physical without fouling him,” Hayes said.
The Motor City Cruise have clinched a spot in the G League playoffs, with a 19-8 record. The Cruise are in second place, and the top four teams in each conference get to host a home game; the top two seeds get a first-round bye.
“Clinching a playoff berth in our inaugural season is an incredible accomplishment,” said Rob Murphy, president and general manager of the Cruise. “I’m proud of our coaching staff, players, and organization for their commitment, dedication, and sacrifice throughout the season. We’re excited about the opportunity to compete for a championship and continue the winning tradition here in Detroit.”
The G League playoffs begin April 5.
Hawks at Pistons
► Tipoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1
► Outlook: The Hawks (35-36) have a five-game lead for the final play-in spot, but they’re still chasing the Nets for eighth place in the East. The Pistons (19-53) have the worst record in the conference, but they surprised the Hawks in overtime on March 7.