Killian Hayes is an interesting 2020 NBA Draft prospect due to his size and pedigree. But is he really best suited at the point guard position?
Killian Hayes is one of the more interesting top ten prospects in the 2020 NBA Draft. Born in Florida but growing up in France, Hayes has long been an intriguing prospect on the junior level, winning the MVP of the 2017 FIBA u16 European Championship, and averaging 16.7 points and 7.2 assists per game in the 2017-18 Espoirs (The French Junior League).
He’s taken a remarkable progression over the last three seasons, joining the Cholet senior team in 2018-19 and becoming a full-fledged starter at ratiopharm Ulm in Germany this season. Combine that impressive pedigree with his size as a 6-foot-5 point guard, and there’s an easy projection to the NBA level. Factor in that he won’t be 19-years old until after the 2020 Las Vegas Summer League is over, and it makes the projection a little more lofty given his already impressive progression of development.
Hayes is assuredly a good NBA prospect. Outside of his backstory, his tape and statistical profile reveal promising factors for his NBA future. Beyond his size, he also has strong passing vision, able to see the angles necessary to get shooters and bigs open in a modern NBA offense.
Hayes combines that vision with an impressive handle, able to shake professional defenders with a wide array of precise crossovers and behind the back moves. He has the best hang dribble in the class, and his athleticism allows him to explode out of these moves around screens and into the lane. This has allowed him to flourish as the primary ball-handler for a good European team, and he’s averaging a solid 10.1 points and 5.9 assists per game as a result.
Hayes’s history as a point guard makes the logical leap that he should be a point guard prospect at the NBA level. If he’s already this good as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, he should be capable of running an NBA offense at some point, right? But dive deeper, and there are flags that may mean that his point guard play may not be sustainable at the next level.
The first hurdle to clear is his finishing, which should improve as he continues to physically mature. Hayes has very good touch, with an advanced floater for his age, and the backing of a consistent history of free-throw percentages in the high 80s. But when it comes to actually getting to the rim, there’s concern, as Hayes is too reliant on going to the floater against contact. While he doesn’t have the worst frame, Hayes is too thin and doesn’t have the body control to glide through contact towards the rim. Too often he ends up shooting touch attempts three to five feet from the basket while falling away or stopping short.
There’s also the matter of his pull-up jumper, which is not at the level of even LaMelo Ball or Theo Maledon’s as of yet, and certainly is not ready to be a reliable NBA tool. Consistency in form is the primary issue for Hayes, because while he has some good-looking attempts, they’re interspersed with shots where he doesn’t square to the basket and releases that launch on the way up:
His passing technique also needs improvement. While Hayes can see the angles for the passes he’d need to make as a primary initiator, he can be a little erratic when it comes to hitting the target. He likes to shovel passes forward on pick-and-rolls, which can lead to awkward release angles, and he doesn’t consistently hit shooters in the shooting pocket on skip passes. This can lead to the closing of windows that are open when the ball is released, creating tough looks on previously good opportunities, and helping to explain Hayes’s unreal 28.4 percent turnover rate.
These are all areas where Hayes can improve, reliably. Shooting mechanics can be tinkered with, strength can be added over the next few years to improve finishing, and you’d much rather have a player with good vision and iffy technique than the opposite, less correctable issue. But when we’re assessing Hayes’s potential fortune as an NBA lead ball-handler, he has a long way to go to not just be able to have success in these areas, but have success consistently. These are areas where improvement is possible, but they’re also the areas that most commonly limit players at the position from ascending to a starter-level.
That’s why it may be more useful if Hayes lands in a spot where he can operate as more of a secondary playmaking guard. While his size becomes less of an advantage the more he plays off-ball, his skill set features some good skills for playing as a secondary ball-handler. While his outside shooting numbers are not appealing (29.6 percent this season), his form on catch-and-shoot jumpers is much more consistent than his pull-up is, and he appears comfortable from the corners on minimal attempts. Playing in a secondary role also would allow him to attack more downhill off the dribble, and those advantage situations should also make the passing lanes he has to hit easier to thread. At least early on in his career, his offensive fit is probably best next to a bigger playmaking guard or an elite pull-up shooter, such as Devin Booker or CJ McCollum.
He also appears to be a better off-ball defender than on, in the few instances where he hasn’t defended the point of attack for Ulm. Hayes has the speed and footwork to stay with opposing guards on the ball, but he struggles in the pick-and-roll right now, especially in fighting through screens. He struggles to anticipate the screen coming, and frequently looks lost as he recovers, unsure of who to take responsibility for in the pick-and-roll coverage:
But defending up a position, he should fare better with more free safety responsibility, as he has good reaction time to plays developing and the awareness to make difficult rotations across the court.
Thinking of Hayes as an off-guard doesn’t preclude him from being considered a top-10 pick; he’s just probably not a primary ball-handler, and a team drafting him with the idea of him becoming their point guard of the future may have a lower likelihood of turning him into a starter-level player. But surround him with other ball-handlers who can take over primary initiation, and Hayes should fare better. His ceiling is probably more along the lines of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander than as a Darius Garland type, and playing him as such probably unlocks a better chance that he contributes to winning basketball than does playing him as a true lead guard.