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Under The Radar: Killian Hayes' growth this season

Killian Hayes is showcasing improved point guard skills in his 3rd year for the Pistons.

Killian Hayes is becoming a valuable piece of the Pistons’ roster in his third season.

Twenty-one-year-old Killian Hayes is making his presence known on the Detroit Pistons as our first ‘Under the Radar’ spotlight for 2023.

The third-year guard grew up in Cholet, a small commune in France. His father, DeRon, played for the local professional French basketball club ‘Cholet Basket’ in the LNB Pro A League. Killian played for the Cholet youth team for two seasons and then turned pro at the young age of 16, following in the footsteps of his father by joining Cholet Basket.

Hayes didn’t put up flashy numbers with Cholet, averaging 6.1 points and 2.7 assists per game over two seasons. After all, he was a fresh-faced 16-year-old boy playing against grown men. Hayes even had a teammate that was more than twice his own age.

While most boys his age were studying calculus and eating cafeteria lunches, Hayes was working on his dream of becoming an NBA star.

After two years in Cholet, Hayes signed with Ulm in the German Bundesliga, Germany’s top professional basketball league. Hayes had never even been to Germany before, but the move was the natural next step in his career if he hoped to make it to the league.

For Ulm, Hayes was a jack-of-all-trades. He made his mark all over the box score, averaging 11.6 points 5.3 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game in 20 games played. Hayes describes this time as instrumental in allowing him to mature as a player and a person.

“I feel like playing professionally at a young age taught me how to be coachable, how to play team basketball, and how to run sets and learn,” Hayes said in an interview after a Pistons practice in mid-December.

I think [playing in Europe] really prepared me for the NBA style of being adjustable because every night it’s a different opponent, and a different way you guard. Being able to listen and take criticism really helped me.”

Hayes’ first two seasons did not come easily, facing criticism over his performance as a top-10 Draft pick.

It’s a good thing Hayes was prepared to take criticism because he faced a boatload of it in his first two seasons with Detroit.

The Frenchman was a highly touted prospect coming out of Europe, landing him with the Pistons at the No. 7 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Hayes failed to meet the high expectations that come with being a lottery pick, averaging just 6.8 points and 4.5 assists on 37.4% shooting and 26.8% from deep in his first two seasons.

Many considered him a bust.

This season, Hayes is finally starting to live up to his promise as a lottery selection—much to the delight of the Motor City faithful. He has plenty of raw talent and all the makings of a potential NBA star with a great handle, impeccable vision, and a solid stroke.

Hayes’ bread and butter is the pick-and-roll game. Detroit uses the pick-and-roll the third most of any NBA team this season, and Hayes is 13th in the league in pick-and-roll frequency (42.8%). When running ball screens, Hayes hits floaters over bigger defenders with ease, finds teammates on slip passes in the paint or zip passes to the perimeter, and pulls up for clean mid-range looks, his go-to shot. Hayes pulls up on 39.9% of his two-point attempts, the fifth-highest rate in the NBA.

Hayes’ vision and passing has been noticeably impressive this season. He ranks 17th in the NBA in assist percentage (31.9%) and 16th in total assists (237). His quick hands translate to the defensive side of the ball as well, where he ranks 17th in the NBA in steals this season (51).

He’s also been balling as of late. Over his last 13 games, he is averaging 13.7 points, 6.8 assists and 1.5 steals on 42.7% shooting. He had a 25-point performance in Charlotte in mid-December and a 26-point outing against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday. He’s also strung together two 10+ assist nights during the 13-game stretch.

Killian Hayes puts up 26 points against the 76ers.

“Man, I’m very confident,” Hayes said the day after his 25-point night in Charlotte.

Even when things are not going your way, I stay confident. Having games where your shot goes in just feels good. It feels like you’re getting rewarded.”

Hayes emphasized that consistency is key to being great in the NBA, and he’s found this season to be his most consistent yet.

While this season is where Hayes’ focus lies, the French guard has two monumental international competitions coming up—the FIBA Basketball World Cup this summer and the Olympics in 2024, which will be played in his home country. Hayes played for France at the youth level but has yet to play for the national team.

“Definitely,” Hayes said on his hopes to play for Les Bleus.

That’s my goal. I know I have to work for my spot, but I’m very excited to represent France.”

Hayes’ return to France will come before the summer, though. The Pistons travel to Paris on Jan. 19 to take on the Bulls in the NBA’s second Global Game of the year.

“I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hayes said.

I’m very happy to go back home and enjoy an NBA game with my friends and family in attendance. It’s going to be a great experience.”

Killian Hayes and the Detroit Pistons are in action Friday night as they host the New Orleans Pelicans at 7 p.m. ET. on League Pass.