Pistons Mailbag - January 7, 2021

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Killian Hayes – before and since Monday’s hip injury – was the dominant topic in another week of Pistons Mailbag.

Adam (St. Petersburg, Fla.): What’s the likelihood that Killian Hayes comes back this season? How much will losing the season hurt his development?

What we know is what the Pistons announced – a torn labrum of the right hip and he’ll continue to be evaluated. There was no indication whether the course of treatment will be rehabilitation or surgery. I suppose the fact that an immediate call for surgery wasn’t made is a positive sign, but that’s about all you can read into this. Hip injuries are less frequent than knee injuries, so we don’t have all that much to go on. There have been a handful of players who’ve suffered labrum injuries in recent seasons, though, including a few (Gerald Henderson and Wilson Chandler) who’ve had surgery on both hip labrums. I think the greatest reason for optimism with regard to Hayes’ injury is that he’s 19 and a player who had a labrum injury at a similar age – LaMarcus Aldridge when he was a freshman at Texas – recovered fully if his career achievements are a reliable indicator. Losing a season of development hurts, but it doesn’t have to be a total loss. Dwane Casey spoke before Wednesday’s game at Milwaukee of using the season to become a student of the game. Hayes – and all other rookies – were robbed of the typical rookie off-season, when they would have been encamped with assistant coaches and being immersed in the playbook and drilled in the nuances of his job. A lot of that work can now be achieved without the daily blizzard of NBA games being thrown at him. None of that is to diminish the seriousness of his injury or the gut punch it was for Hayes, but the only course now is to confront the situation and make the most of it given the circumstances. Priority one is to get Killian Hayes back to full health and make sure his spirits stay high so he can attack his recovery with vigor. These are extraordinary times and everyone’s social circle has become necessarily constricted by the realities of the pandemic. As Casey noted, Hayes will have the benefit of having his family with him as they traveled to Detroit to spend time with him over the holidays and have remained. The Pistons are aware of the need to put their arms around Hayes and shepherd him through this period.

A number of Hayes questions came in before his injury or before the diagnosis of his injury:

Peter (Jackson, Mich.): I’ve been watching all of the rookie point guards: LaMelo Ball, Killian Hayes, Tyrese Haliburton, Kira Lewis, Cole Anthony. Except for Hayes, they have all passed the eye test and flashed offensive potential. While Hayes has looked OK on defense, on offense he has looked like a boy among men so far. Did Troy Weaver draft the wrong point guard at No. 7? It is not fair to judge a 19-year-old on only four regular-season games, but the other point guards and the other Pistons draft choices, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, already pass the eye test and look like future starters in this league.

Let’s take Ball out of play since Weaver never had a chance to draft him. At the time your question came in, Kira Lewis had played a total of 10 minutes and made 2 of 7 shots and 0 of 2 from the 3-point arc. He’s since played three more minutes without those numbers changing. If you’re drawing any conclusions from that, I’m not sure what to tell you. Hayes is the only one of the five you mention who’s starting and that’s a big ask of a 19-year-old. Haliburton and Anthony are close to two years older than Hayes and that’s not nothing. At Hayes’ age, Haliburton was a freshman who was the sixth-leading scorer on his Iowa State team. Anthony was in prep school. If you think Weaver got it right with Stewart and Bey – if they, indeed, are future NBA starters being drafted 16th and 19th – then you should anticipate that Hayes was a pretty good get, too.

Lou (Indio, Calif.): If we are really trying to win while still developing our young players, Killian Hayes could come off the bench until he remembers how to score. We can’t live with four to six points from him and still win.

They considered everything with Hayes and settled on starting him and trying to alleviate as much pressure on him as possible by keeping him paired with other playmakers. That was the primary reason Dwane Casey wanted Delon Wright in the starting lineup from training camp until he had to alter it in the season’s third game when Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose sat out on a back to back. Griffin missed 2½ of the first five games, so Hayes had to adjust on the fly to being without the focal point of the starting unit’s half-court offense – and, by the way, the guy who would have relieved Hayes during their time together of primary playmaking duties. The Pistons are undertaking a balancing act, one made all the more challenging by the circumstances of the moment. It was always going to be a daunting task to take a 19-year-old rookie – one coming from another country, no less – and make him your starting point guard. Doing so amid a pandemic that robbed all rookies of anything approaching a typical off-season to prepare compounded the challenge by a degree of magnitude. There might come a time when bringing him off the bench would be the wiser course. Maybe the injury he suffered Monday night at Milwaukee and what transpires while he’s out shapes the decision when he returns. But the move would have to be made with his benefit in mind and perhaps the calculation at present is that it would only further undermine his confidence. Hayes was getting quality shots off but they were coming up short in many cases. Casey said the other day he viewed that as a function of Hayes “overthinking” and not just playing basketball instinctively – again, nothing that was unanticipated given the enormity of the challenge for a 19-year-old thrust into a difficult situation.

Tom (@ThomasHenryRob1): Are the Pistons purposely trying to destroy the confidence of Killian Hayes? Starting a kid so young from another country on day one seemed foolish to me and I hate to say I’m right. Now if you bench him it’s another shot to his ego. Obviously should have been third string until Derrick Rose is traded.

Hayes was playing 21 minutes a game, skewed downward slightly because he missed much of two second halves with injury – the turned ankle last week against Golden State and Monday’s more concerning hip injury. He’d probably be averaging closer to 24 or 25 minutes without those games. I think if he had played any less than that, I’d have been peppered with questions about why the Pistons weren’t giving their lottery pick more rope. There’s no perfect answer to how to groom a 19-year-old rookie point guard at any time but quadruple it when that rookie didn’t learn which uniform he’d be wearing until two weeks before training camp opened and barely a month before his first regular-season game. None of this is normal or fair, but that’s where we are. I think the only real consideration for not starting Hayes was whether you’d rather try to shield him from going up against the NBA’s elite guards, but that would be hard to do in any case because most of those guys are going to be on the floor for two-thirds of the game or more. If you want to establish any sense of a rotation pattern – and most coaches, Dwane Casey among them, have determined that players prefer to have an idea of when and how they’ll be used – then you can’t be playing your second-unit point guard only when the other teams’ starters sit. If they’d made him the No. 3 point guard – in a year where there’s no G League option to pad playing time – there would be obvious downside to that. In that case, maybe the option would have been to leave him play in Europe for another year. In any case, my hot take is that I don’t think Hayes had been nearly as ineffective as the general tone of questions imply. His shot hadn’t gone in as much as you’d like, but the sample size was still tiny and nobody believes Hayes can’t make open shots. His defense had been solid or better and his passing skills were evident even if he was seeing things a half a frame behind where he’ll be in another year or so. There was a lot going on for him – like a rookie quarterback thrown into the NFL without having any real off-season preparation – and the results were almost predictable. But one way to get past that stage is experience and repetitions. The Pistons understood this was part of the process and give them some credit for knowing Hayes and putting the proper support system around him. They weren’t telling him “sink or swim, kid.” One of the things they loved about him going into the draft was his mental makeup. It’s quite possibly true that early struggles can prolong the acclimation process for some, but it’s surely not true that cocooning prospects is the better course for all young players.

InfosecDignam (@huntingbean): At what point will it be fair to judge the Killian Hayes pick?

I don’t know that there’s any universal scale since every rookie gets dropped into different situations and they’re all going to progress at their own pace. There’s precious little precedent for rookies having so little time with their organizations to get ready for the season. Even in the 2011-12 lockout season, the draft was held in June and teams had a week or so to have contact with their rookies and put them on a development program and give them a playbook for how to conduct their off-seasons. So at what point it’s fair to judge Hayes, that’s subjective. But as sure as I’m breathing I know it’s foolish to be judging him off of seven games under these circumstances.

Delon Wright Stan Account (@PrinceofDetroit1): Have the Pistons worked with Killian Hayes on his shot mechanics? His shot seems different from predraft and perhaps could explain his early struggles.

Casey was asked about Saddiq Bey’s shot mechanics the other day. His shot comes out a little low, though the results have been good – he hit six triples in Wednesday’s game, tying Allan Houston’s franchise record for a rookie. Casey said they weren’t inclined to do much tinkering during the season and mess with players’ heads. That’s something that normally gets undertaken in the off-season. When Hayes is set, his shot looks just fine.

House of Tyrell (@gotsrange): Playoffs this year or no chance?

It’s too early to say no chance. But the Pistons have been clear that making the playoffs wasn’t the holy grail as an organizational mission this season. They wanted to get as many of their type of players as possible and they’re pleased they made great progress on that count with only four returning players – two of them acknowledged ultimate pros, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose. Troy Weaver said he wanted to put a competitive team on the floor and – despite the record – the Pistons have been competitive in nearly every game. Until Monday’s loss to Milwaukee, in which they were within eight points in the final five minutes, they’d led at some point in every fourth quarter. A little good fortune on the injury front and a little more time to get in sync with so many new faces and I wouldn’t rule out a decent run. The schedule is pretty unforgiving over the next several weeks, though. They’ll have to steal a win or two, tread water and hope things fall into place, then see what happens in March and beyond.

Motor City Hoops (@MotorCityHoops): What are your thoughts on Jerami Grant so far?

I think the Pistons have every right to feel pretty good about acting aggressively to target Grant in free agency. Grant has done about as much as a player possibly could do in his first two weeks to validate his team’s decision to bet on him. To go from how he was used in Denver last season to how he’s being used by the Pistons is a pretty big jump in the responsibility and I don’t see how you can be anything but impressed with how he’s responded. He’s averaging 24 points and 6 rebounds on solid efficiency, getting to the line five times a game and hitting 90 percent of his foul shots – all while remaining an elite defender. What’s to argue about?

Ian (Westland, Mich.): Would the Pistons have had enough money to still land Jerami Grant if they hadn’t traded Andre Drummond?

Not by any conventional means. If they hadn’t traded Drummond and he chose not to opt out of the final year of his contract – which, in fact, he chose not to do with Cleveland – then the Pistons effectively would have had zero cap space when free agency opened in November. Their best tool in free agency would have been the mid-level exception, which came with a first-year salary of $9.26 million – less than half Grant’s reported first-year salary of $19 million.

Kumar (Troy, Mich.): Is Sekou our Darko 2.0? We don’t seem interested in giving him playing time. If he can play 10 minutes, he can play 20, too. Why does everything keep writing Jerami Grant was paid top-tier money. He gets paid $20 million. Top tier is around $30 million plus?

Doumbouya’s minutes have been limited by two factors early on: He twisted his ankle and he’s playing behind Blake Griffin. Then there’s a third factor: When Griffin sits, Casey is tempted to play Jerami Grant at power forward because lineups with Grant at that spot have been very good. Power forward also happens to be Doumbouya’s best position. This season, in fact, it was his only position until Casey gave him a few cameos at small forward in the past few games with injuries and rest shuffling the deck. Because the Pistons have a lot of options at small forward – Grant starting, Saddiq Bey playing well, Svi Mykhailiuk, Josh Jackson – Casey said within the past week that Doumbouya didn’t play any at that spot in training camp or beyond. He’s definitely shown progress over his rookie season, though, and if and when opportunity for more minutes comes – it usually does, for one reason or another – I suspect he’ll handle it well. He’s still a long way from a finished product, but it’s also way too early to start drawing parallels to Darko Milicic. One other thing that really invalidates the comparison: Milicic was the No. 2 pick (and in a loaded draft); Doumbouya was the 15th pick.

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. To have your question considered, submit it along with your name, email address and city/state using the form below.

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