Jaxson Hayes leaps for a dunk vs. Golden State

Pelicans rookie Jaxson Hayes flashes potential in NBA debut with 19 points

by Jim Eichenhofer

In just 24 minutes of action Monday, New Orleans fans had the opportunity to witness just about every aspect of Jaxson Hayes’ initial NBA learning curve. On one end of the floor vs. Golden State, the 6-foot-11 Hayes was reeling in passes and soaring for a handful of dunks, including one slam apiece assisted by Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Frank Jackson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. On the other end, a 19-year-old rookie making his official professional debut was often a step behind the play. At 220 pounds, Hayes sometimes had difficulty holding his ground in the paint, preventing him from perhaps grabbing a few more caroms off the rim.

“I liked how I ran the court,” said Hayes, who tallied 19 points on 9/11 shooting and was more productive in transition than in halfcourt sets. “Obviously I need to get a lot better. I did a lot of things wrong. I need to rebound the ball better, for one. I only had three (rebounds), which isn’t good. After watching the film, I just learned I’ve got a lot more to improve on.”

Still, Hayes provided the Pelicans with a needed jolt of life, on a night when they were uncharacteristically outworked and outhustled.

“I thought he did a good job,” fifth-year head coach Alvin Gentry said. “He had some activity and things like that. There are still some things he has to learn. When you play 20 minutes, we’d like for you to have more than three rebounds, but his activity was good. He gave us a little energy burst.”

En route to a 134-123 road victory, Golden State showed greater urgency from the opening tip, leading to the Warriors securing more loose balls and dominating the Pelicans on the backboards (61-41 rebounding margin). New Orleans fell behind by 20 points in the first half, after it had been much more competitive in previous losses to Toronto (overtime), Dallas (by 7) and Houston (by 3).

“We need to be more desperate,” Hayes said of the Pelicans’ approach to Monday’s defeat. “The Warriors were more desperate than us, and that’s why they won. We need to go out and be more hungry.”

At one point Monday, Gentry told the Pelicans they needed to get back to the fight and effort they showed during Week 1 of the schedule.

“(Gentry) said this wasn’t us, and he was right,” Hayes related. “We weren’t playing like ourselves.”

After receiving DNPs against the Raptors, Mavericks and Rockets, Hayes’ chances of being able to contribute increased significantly Monday when starting center Derrick Favors was sidelined by knee soreness. New Orleans has a deep roster, but it has a bit more depth in the backcourt than its frontcourt. With starting power forward Zion Williamson already out, Hayes had been on notice that his first real action could come at any time.

“They just always tell me to be ready, keep the right mindset,” Hayes said. “You can’t go in and do that type of good stuff with a clouded mindset. So I have to keep my mind clear and be ready.”

Favors’ status for Thursday’s home game vs. Denver is uncertain, but the 10-year pro did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday. Gentry indicated that Hayes will continue to gain opportunities to play if the current circumstances remain the same. The eighth overall pick in the NBA draft, Hayes only spent one college season at Texas, but emerged as an intriguing lottery prospect due to his unique package of height, athleticism, leaping ability and hands (he was a standout wide receiver in football, before literally outgrowing the sport).

“(Hayes) will have to start playing some minutes to take up that spot, because we need size,” Gentry said of the Pelicans filling in for Favors. “I still think he’s got a lot of work to do. Number one, he’s got to get stronger, but I think naturally he’s going to get stronger. He’s a 19-year-old kid who’s trying to grow into his body. That’s why I said we’re not going to rush him in any way, or throw him in and play him for (extensive) minutes. He’s in the process of learning, the process of getting better. We wouldn’t have drafted him if we didn’t think he was going to help our team (long term).”

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