Hayes or Haliburton? Pistons might not get to choose, but it’s a tough call
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If Dwane Casey were injected with a dose of truth serum and pressed for his draft wishes, chances are he’d want a point guard who checks off as many of the following boxes as possible: size, toughness, shooting range, defensive aptitude, vision and – last but certainly not least – the disposition of a classic point guard-as-quarterback and all that implies in areas of leadership, citizenship and selflessness.
And if the draft plays out as conventional wisdom appears to suggest – though the tea leaves are especially cloudy seven weeks before the Nov. 18 draft will be held – then the Pistons might well have the chance to add such a player.
There are three who fit the bill among players generally considered top-10 prospects: LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton and Killian Hayes. If none check every box, each one hits an acceptable sample with the promise to expand his toolbox. Ball is the most likely to be gone ahead of the Pistons pick at seven; in fact, Ball is a candidate to be the No. 1 pick and is widely considered a likely top-three pick.
But Haliburton and Hayes are both realistic options for the Pistons. In NBA.com’s roundup of mock drafts, the top six picks, in order, are projected to be Anthony Edwards, Ball, James Wiseman, Deni Avdija, Obi Toppin and Onyeka Okongwu.
That scenario would leave the Pistons with their choice of Haliburton, 20, a 6-foot-6 sophomore from Iowa State, and Hayes, a 6-foot-5 French 19-year-old.
There’s no guarantee the Pistons would take one or the other, of course. The next four picks in the NBA.com consensus mock draft are Isaac Okoro, Devin Vassell, Patrick Williams and Aaron Nesmith and you could make a case for any of them.
But if new general manager Troy Weaver’s keen nose for talent meshes with the consensus opinion, then the Pistons would be in line to add an increasingly coveted commodity, a playmaker equally comfortable playing on or off the ball.
Haliburton was a point guard from the fifth grade on – he informed his elementary school coach, who put him at center because he was the tallest kid in class, that he wanted to play the point – but played off the ball as an Iowa State freshman before getting back to his roots as a sophomore. Hayes played more off the ball in France before opting to play in Germany last season primarily so he could play at the point.
Both have high ceilings as playmakers, neither shies away from the fight defensively and both have something to prove as 3-point shooters, though Haliburton scoffs at skepticism over his mechanics and points to his record and Hayes is more about finding consistency than any fundamental flaw – a common issue at Hayes’ stage of development.
Discerning which of the three willowy guards will leave the biggest impression on the NBA is the type of decision Troy Weaver was brought to Detroit to make over the summer as general manager.
“LaMelo’s a guy who’s been highly followed for most of his life, so kudos to him on what he’s been doing,” Haliburton said on a Zoom media call on Wednesday. “I love his game. Killian, watching a little bit of him and his growth throughout this year was cool to see. I think they’re both really good players and can be really good at the next level. I think I do some things better than they do and they do some things better than I do.
“LaMelo is scoring the ball at three levels. I think I’m the best facilitator of the group and Killian defends at a high level. You get something a little different out of all three of us. I think we’re all going to be successful at the next level.”
Both Haliburton and Hayes confirmed that they’ve held remote interviews with Pistons management. For Hayes, the prospect of reuniting with fellow Frenchman Sekou Doumbouya holds appeal.
“I have a great relationship with Sekou,” said Hayes, whose father, DeRon, starred at Penn State before playing overseas. “I did multiple camps with him. I feel like coming in with him, it would be an easier adjustment since I know him and he knows the city of Detroit. I would feel comfortable right away. Sekou’s one of my guys. That would be cool.”
Haliburton, a relatively unheralded 2018 recruit out of Oshkosh, Wis., wouldn’t mind staying close to his roots should the Pistons make him their pick.
“I think I’d fit there really well,” he said. “Being able to learn from dudes like Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin would be huge, two guys who’ve done this at a high level and especially at a young age and with a team with a good, young core. I’m a Midwest guy through and through, so being in Detroit would be no problem for me. I think I’d fit well there.”