Killian Hayes, a combo guard born in Lakeland, Fla. that grew up in France, has been playing professional basketball since 2017. Draft analysts are all over the map on Hayes’ draft range, but many reputable outlets and sources are high on him and there’s a good chance that he’s being severely underrated in this unique pre-draft process.
Height: 6’ 5”
Wingspan: 6’ 8” (estimated)
Weight: 187 pounds
Strengths: playmaking/court vision, pick-and-roll command, touch/feel in the paint
Killian Hayes is one of the most cerebral guards in the 2020 draft class; instead of relying on raw physical talent — though he has ideal size for a guard — Hayes utilizes elite basketball IQ and feel, contorting defenses to his will. As an 18-year-old, he averaged 8.8 points created by passes out of the pick and roll per game, ranking sixth in the EuroCup (per NBA.com); that is very good, and for a young player in a professional league, it exemplifies an innate elite ability to see the floor and put the ball in the right places.
Killian Hayes drives, surveys the floor and turns to fire a bullet to the top of the key. Great court awareness as a passer pic.twitter.com/xZswrNWQzH— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) April 3, 2020
The above clip is a nice representative of Hayes’ pick-and-roll prowess. He gets around a hard hedge from the opposing big man while his own defender is on his back, drives hard to the rim, collapses the defense and makes a quick read to find the shooter at the top of the key. His decision-making is not always quick (or correct), but considering his age, situation and the flashes he’s put on film, his turnover percentage being 24 isn’t alarming.
Killian Hayes hang sets up screen usage, loses defender with sharp change of direction, soft touch finish pic.twitter.com/qJsxykROE7— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 21, 2020
Plays like this are why I use the word “cerebral” to describe Hayes’ style of play; the long hang dribble gets his defender off-balance and leads him into the screen, he uses the quick crossover to accelerate, and then finishes over the help defender at the rim. Nothing in that clip happened because of Hayes’ athleticism — it was because he knows how to create advantages as a ball-handler and exploit them.
Question marks: spot-up shooting, shot-creation, explosiveness
While playing for Ulm in the EuroCup and German BBL, Hayes shot a lowly 29 percent on 3-pointers. At first glance, and also the second and third glances, that’s bad. But, his shot chart (per NBA.com) tells a bit of a different story.
The only areas where Hayes is a “bad shooter” are the right wing, left wing, and left corner, and even from those areas, he’s a solid off-the-dribble shooter. Even on a high volume of mostly pull-up shots, he’s a 40 percent shooter from above the break (the hardest area to shoot from). It seems like Hayes just isn’t entirely comfortable with the mechanics and fundamentals of a catch-and-shoot jump shot yet, and that’s fine given his other shooting skills (step-back, pull-up, free-throw). I find it hard to believe that a guy who can do this is going to remain a 29% 3-point shooter during his NBA career:
Killian Hayes uses the (not very good) ball screen, hits his man with the stepback for added space, and nails the massive 3 pic.twitter.com/o0SU7YQOKV— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) February 12, 2020
Hayes’ shot creation starts and ends with pull-up jumpers, though. Those are the only kinds of shots he can create for himself, as he lacks burst and first-step speed and doesn’t have the verticality to finish over defenders at the rim. This is why it’s crucial for him to develop as a spot-up shooter; he probably won’t be a reliable one-on-one scorer unless he becomes more explosive, so he’s going to need to knock down the open jumpers to provide real offensive value.
Change-of-direction speed is something we hear more about lately, and Hayes is really good at that. He has long strides, and knows how to use various combinations of speed up/slow down dribble moves that keep his defender off-balance. We also have the following image as proof that he’s been working on adding to his frame:
Lmfao Killian Hayes got swole pic.twitter.com/iKaQAsU0cu— CoSvid-19 (@RedAlternates) September 10, 2020
While selecting Hayes may not be the “swing” Hornets fans were looking for GM Mitch Kupchak to take with the franchise’s first top-three pick since 2012, it’s pretty damn close. If LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards are off the board, Hayes is one of the best players available and he has a fair amount upside. Charlotte really needs another offensive initiator besides Devonte’ Graham, and Hayes has unbelievable playmaking ability in transition and pick-and-roll actions.
Hayes would also be a seamless fit in coach James Borrego’s system; his ball-handling and court vision would serve the team’s shooters well, and his off-ball cutting is impressive. Terry Rozier is not a long-term piece in Charlotte, and his presence shouldn’t deter the team from taking a really good prospect. All that would need to happen for Hayes to be worth a top-three pick is for his spot-up jumper to be reliable enough to draw defensive attention, and with how proficient he is at shooting off the dribble and from the line, I’m going to bet on that development.