Jaxson Hayes soars for a dunk attempt between Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac

Pelicans 2020 seeding games profile: Jaxson Hayes

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Jaxson Hayes was not in the New Orleans rotation for five of his team’s final seven games prior to the mid-March suspension of the NBA season, but from the moment he was drafted a year ago, the focus hasn’t necessarily been about this season for the promising 6-foot-11 center. A former football standout whose father played 12 years as an NFL tight end, the rookie is still just scratching the surface of his hoops ability.

“Man, Jaxson’s got a lot of potential,” Pelicans starting center Derrick Favors said on a recent Pelicans Podcast. “He can be a really special player in this league.”

Favors joined Hayes’ older teammates in being awed by the recently-turned 20-year-old’s athleticism and relentless energy during practices and games. In addition to his frequent can-you-believe-he-just-did-that dunks, Hayes’ upbeat, enthusiastic personality quickly made him popular among the New Orleans fan base and fellow players.

“He has a chance to be really good,” the 28-year-old Favors said. “I always kind of laugh to myself because everybody sees the highlights that he does in the games, but he does those things in practice. Sometimes I have to tell him, ‘Hey Jaxson, you have to save those knees, you’ve got to save those legs. You don’t have to come down the lane and try to tear the rim down every single time.’ But that reminded me of myself in my rookie year, and I had to learn. He’s a fun guy to be around.”

It’s uncertain how much of a role Hayes will fill in Orlando – by midseason, the Pelicans were using many no-center lineups whenever they subbed out Favors – but from the first jump ball, he’s been eager to show he’s capable of contributing, even as a new pro. Over 56 games played, Hayes has averaged 7.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and nearly one block, in just 17.0 minutes per contest. Although the Pelicans vowed to bring him along slowly – last summer, the idea of a “redshirt season” was floated – Hayes was occasionally pressed into important duty, including making 12 starts.

Asked whether it bothered him to hear pre-draft analysts say he needed more seasoning before he could help an NBA team, Hayes confirmed that he’s used that as motivation throughout his debut campaign.

“Without a doubt,” said Hayes, who played one college season at Texas before declaring for the ’19 draft. “I mean, I was the eighth overall pick. I was that pick for a reason. I feel like I can play (now). But people have slept on me my whole life. It was more reason to go out there and prove them wrong.

“(I wanted to show that) I’m not a guy who’s going to come in and sit down and just learn. I’m more ready than people thought I was going to be.”

Seeding games to watch

Coincidentally, Hayes has compiled some of his better performances vs. the first three teams on NOLA's schedule in Orlando (Utah, the Clippers and Memphis). Over three matchups against LA, Hayes totaled 30 points and 11 rebounds in 58 minutes; in three meetings with the Jazz, he posted nearly identical stats (29 points, 13 rebounds, 62 minutes). In one of New Orleans’ most important road wins of ’19-20, he started at Memphis on Jan. 20 and tallied five points and six rebounds in 19 minutes.

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