Injury update on Hayes brings positive news: ‘I’m seeing the bright light’

Killian Hayes
Pistons rookie Killian Hayes is getting closer to returning and has been his time out due to injury to good use, seeing the game from a different perspective and improving his diet and conditioning
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

First Killian Hayes thought he would be back after halftime. Then he thought his season was over. So the compromise is a pretty good place to be for the Pistons rookie, who spoke about his January hip injury for the first time publicly on Tuesday amid the news he could return with five or six weeks to spare of his first NBA season.

“When it first happened, I thought it was something minor. I thought, ‘All right, I’m going to be back in the second half of that game.’ I tried running and I saw I couldn’t. Did an MRI the next day and they were telling me it’s a serious injury. In my mind, I’m about to be out for the year. They were talking about doing surgery. I got scared.”

The initial diagnosis of a torn labrum in his right hip was altered to a subluxation, or partial dislocation, and instead of surgery the course of treatment became rest and rehabilitation. After a few dark days, Hayes’ focus shifted to making his time away from the court productive in every way possible.

He studied the game from a different perspective. He attacked the weight room with renewed vigor. He changed his diet, cutting our sugar.

“Our nutritionist has done a great job with him. He’s done a great job with his body,” Dwane Casey said. “He’s done an excellent job with his diet, which most young guys figure out pretty quick.”

The Pistons released a statement earlier Tuesday to say Hayes “has been cleared for on-court basketball activities and will begin a phased progression toward his return to full-contact practice and game action” and will be re-evaluated after three weeks. Hayes said he aims to return in “two to three weeks.”

In any case, he should get several games under his belt before the May 16 season finale and he’ll be better prepared for it than he was in December when he was a starting NBA point guard barely a month after learning which uniform he’d wear, who his coach was and what offense he was running.

“I’ve been able to watch all the games from a different point of view, so I got to learn from point guards even from other teams,” he said. “Our system, how guys play and everything.”

The Pistons understood how much they were throwing at Hayes, a 19-year-old from another country getting thrown into the NBA without the benefit of a rookie’s typical orientation – Summer League, hours spent learning the playbook and then drills with the coaching staff designed to work on the skills required of your position in the team’s system.

“I probably put him at a disadvantage of starting him right off the bat,” Casey said. “We wanted to throw him in the deep end. That probably was the reason for some of his struggles. He probably didn’t play as well as he would’ve liked.”

When he comes back, Casey plans on a different environment.

“We want to bring him along slow, whether it’s with the second unit or with another point guard. The rest of the games are for development, get as many games and game situations as we can with him, because this was going to be a growth season. We missed it. Now we’ve got to make up for it.”

Getting those repetitions will be invaluable for Hayes no matter the results. Getting through the rest of the season will put to rest whatever doubts might linger about the stability of his hip and will give him a base of experience and knowledge to take into an important off-season. But the time off at least gave him the tutorials he would have otherwise gained in the period between the draft and the start of training camp in a typical rookie experience.

“You can learn a lot when you’re on the side. You see the game differently,” Hayes said. “It kind of slows down. You see how other teams operation. It’s a different point of view. Coach always comes up to me, ‘Kill, what you do in that situation? What should we do next play?’ Always keeping me involved in everything. I’ve been really fortunate with that.”

Once Hayes knew a return before his rookie season ended was in the cards and he could focus on that, he was able to enjoy the success of his fellow rookies and point to a time he could join them on the court. The roster he’ll rejoin looks different than the one he left – Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose and Svi Mykhailiuk are all gone – and in that time, Saddiq Bey has settled in as a starter, Isaiah Stewart has cemented a role in the rotation and Saben Lee has seized a more recent opportunity to make an impression.

“That’s my brothers,” Hayes said. “I’m really happy. Everybody works hard. Saddiq, Zay, Saben – they all work really hard. It’s no surprise. Their success, that makes me want to get back out there with them even more.”

As the days get longer and spring nears, those dark days of early January – when the youngest player on the NBA’s second-youngest team feared his rookie season had ended – seem like a long time ago now for Killian Hayes.

“It was tough at the beginning,” he said, “but now I’m seeing the bright light and I’m just excited to come back.”

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