NBA experience: Three seasons (three with Pelicans)
Games played/games started: 70/28
Key stats: 9.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 61.6 FG percentage, 76.6 FT percentage
Jaxson Hayes 2021-22 Pelicans Season Overview
Portions of the highlight reel from a Dec. 10 G League matchup between Birmingham and Lakeland are almost comical. On a couple plays, a 6-foot-11 Birmingham center who seems far too talented and athletic to be participating on this level of basketball soars over everyone for a dunk, or viciously rejects a shot into the 10th row behind the backboard. With a 30-point, 10-rebound, four-block performance in his G League debut for the Squadron, Jaxson Hayes quickly demonstrated his dominance against other developmental players. The key was getting those skills to translate against NBA opponents.
It took some time, but the third-year pro eventually played the best basketball of his brief career in 2021-22, moving into New Orleans’ starting lineup for good in mid-February. Hayes averaged 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds over the final 23 games of the regular season, helping the Pelicans go 13-10 and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2018. In his April 29 exit interview, the University of Texas product credited both his G League experience and a detailed understanding of what New Orleans needed from him as integral to his improvement.
“(It helped) so much,” a smiling Hayes said of conversations he had with first-year head coach Willie Green about how he could specifically help the Pelicans. “If only it could be that simple all the time. Him telling me what he wants you to do, and you being able to do that, and some other stuff to help the team, always makes everyone’s life a lot easier.”
Hayes’ progress over three seasons has required patience on the part of everyone, from fans to coaches to the player himself. For a second straight season, inconsistency resulted in Willy Hernangomez replacing Hayes in the rotation, leading to Hayes being briefly assigned to Birmingham.
Upon his return to the Crescent City, a conversation with Green helped Hayes clarify what his objectives should be. Hayes spent the second half of the season bringing energy to the court on a regular basis, using his athleticism and speed to spark the Pelicans.
“(Green said in a meeting), ‘I need you to become that guy for us. I need you to become our X-factor,’ ” Hayes recalled. “He showed me a bunch of film. After I came back from the G (League), he told me things he wanted me to do. That was able to help me a lot more, specifically knowing my role and just being able to learn and grow from that.”
Hayes posted career highs in numerous categories, but still believes he’s just scratching the surface (he turns 22 on May 23).
“I think I still have a ton of room for growth,” he said. “This summer I’m going to be back home working on my game. Working on my shot, my handle – getting it a little tighter – working on getting through screens, since I have to be a guard now (defensively). Work with my dad (former NFL tight end Jonathan Hayes) on those football drills. Little things like that, that can help me with my footwork.”
Much like his team, the Cincinnati native experienced a rough start to 2021-22, but in April he was a first-stringer for all eight New Orleans postseason games, logging 83 playoff minutes. He’s looking forward to building upon that experience in Year 4.
“I feel really excited,” Hayes said of his outlook. “I felt like this year was a great step, seeing what we could be. I’m really excited for next year.”
Highlights: Jaxson Hayes 2021-22 Pelicans Season Recap
Jaxson Hayes By the Numbers
105: Total dunks by Hayes this season in his 70 games played (via Basketball Reference). That surpassed his previous high of 101 slams as a rookie over 64 games.
63.4: Career shooting percentage from the field for Hayes. That ranks third among the 60 players selected during the 2019 NBA Draft, behind only Daniel Gafford (69.2) and Nic Claxton (64.6).
20/57: Hayes three-point shooting this season, more than doubling his output from the previous two seasons combined, when he shot 7/18 from beyond the arc.
Jaxson Hayes Three Most Notable Games
No. 1: Feb. 4, New Orleans 113, Denver 105
A turning point in Hayes’ season, it was one of his pair of 20-10 games, as well as one of the Pelicans’ premier road triumphs of the campaign. Hayes supplied 22 points and 11 rebounds against the Nuggets, going a perfect 9/9 from the field and 4/4 at the foul line.
No. 2: April 5, New Orleans 123, Sacramento 109
The Pelicans clinched a Western Conference play-in tournament berth by pulling away from the Kings in the second half. Hayes notched 23 points and 12 rebounds, going 10/14 from the floor. He tallied double-digit points in each half at Golden 1 Center.
No. 3: March 18, New Orleans 124, San Antonio 91
Hayes was at the forefront as the Pelicans posted a key road win. NOLA built an insurmountable lead, going up 64-33 at halftime. Hayes tallied 15 points and five rebounds prior to intermission, going 3/3 from three-point range. He totaled 16 points and eight boards and was a plus-36.
From the 12
Each player review features a poll or question directed to the New Orleans fan base. For Hayes, the question was: What was the most encouraging or surprising aspect of Hayes’ transformation from out of the rotation to an every-game starter? Some of the responses:
@jltunme: He showed promise at (power forward), to be able to guard out to the perimeter. Looking forward to his role on the team moving forward, obviously coming off the bench. Hopefully fans understand not using him big minutes in playoff games is not telling or abnormal. Especially vs. a team like Phoenix and that matchup.
@The_Zack_Barnes: Perimeter defense.
@alwallace31: The most encouraging/surprising aspect was his flexibility to transition and excelling at the 4 spot. I wonder if Pels could bring in Hakeem Olajuwon (and others) to work with Jax on his offensive game.