How Killian Hayes, the highest drafted Frenchman in history, finally launched his NBA career

Selected seventh overall in the 2020 draft, which is unheard of for a Frenchman, Killian Hayes has lived two very fine first seasons in a Detroit Pistons jersey. But, as he prepares to play the NBA Paris Game at the Accor Arena this Thursday against the Chicago Bulls (9 pm), the former Cholet Basket player experienced a real click in the middle of winter.

At least until next June and the scheduled arrival of the Victor Wembanyama phenomenon, he is the highest drafted Frenchman in NBA history. When he was selected seventh overall by the Detroit Pistons in 2020, Killian Hayes (21) entered the Big League accompanied by a lot of promise. But also the expectations that come with it.

Since he arrived on the floors of the NBA, the former player of Cholet Basket has had a thousand difficulties to realize all the hopes placed on him. However, not the same leading also left immediately to try the American adventure, the leader came to Uncle Sam’s country with a solid background. At the time of his draft, he had already completed two full seasons as a professional (Cholet Basket in 2018-2019, Ratiopharm ULM, in the German D1, in 2019-2020), each time in the shoes of a holder.

Among his entourage, the presence of his father, DeRon Hayes, is likely to reassure him about his ability to take the big step. He himself is a professional, DeRon Hayes has evolved for a long time in France (Cholet, JL Bourg, Nancy, Limoges…) and still plays at National 3, the fifth French level… at 45 years old. But Killian Hayes’ acclimatization to the biggest basketball league in the world took longer than expected.

His first season in a Pistons jersey, in 2020-2021, ends after just 26 games. In January 2021, due to a hip injury, he was forced to forfeit until the end of the exercise, when the former Choletais did not have the opportunity to gain strength from a statistical point of view (6.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists ). Back on the court at the beginning of the 2021-2022 season, the Frenchman had to face a new obstacle: in the 2021 draft, his team chose to bet on Cade Cunningham, announced as a superstar in the making and development… in both position to him.

Casey before season starts: ‘Time to grow up’

Despite the arrival of Cunningham, Hayes did not lose his coach’s confidence and his playing time remained the same as last season (about 25 minutes of play). Except that his stats and his influence on the game of the Pistons, one of the worst teams in the League, still aren’t going away. Caught for the weakness of his outside shooting (about 27% from three points in his first two seasons), Hayes gradually lost credit and the fifth-place draft of Jaden Ivey, another ultra-promising guard, was seems like a new rejection. Especially since his coach’s first tackles are falling.

“He’s not playing at the same level as in preseason. We have to find out why. He’s putting a lot of pressure on himself when he doesn’t need it. It’s time to grow up,” says Dwane Casey, the Pistons coach last October. However, the first weeks of the 2022-2023 season are very far from the cross for the Frenchman, who must be content with a big fifteen minutes from the bench for hungry statistics (2.5 pts average in the month of October). But one event will change the course of the French season in mid-November: the serious injury of Cade Cunningham, victim of a stress fracture in the tibia and out for several months.

Cunningham’s injury changed everything

As is often the case in sports, the misfortune of some is the happiness of others. With Cunningham’s injury, Hayes regained the starting position and continued to improve: 9.8 pts and 5 assists on average in November, 12.1 pts and 6.6 assists in December then 14.6 pts and 8 assists since the beginning of January (7 games). Above all, the tricolor leader managed to get some offensive cards, just to make an impression (22 points, 8 assists on December 12 against Dallas, 25 pts, 8 assists, 7 rebounds on December 15 in Charlotte, 26 points, 6 assists on January 8 against Philadelphia…).

The evolution of Killian Hayes’ statistics since his arrival in the NBA

Season 20-21: 6.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.0 steals in 25.8 minutes
Season 21-22: 6.9 pts, 3.2 rbs, 4.2 assists, 1.2 interceptions
Season 22-23: 10.0 pts, 2.8 rbs, 5.7 assists, 1.3 interceptions
Since a month ago: 13.2 pts, 2.9 rbs, 6.9 assists, 1.8 interceptions

“My role changed a little bit, I started with Cade’s (Cunningham) injury and my shots started coming in, Hayes told RMC Sport on Tuesday, two days before the NBA Paris Game at Accor. Arena against the Chicago Bulls. I trust more and more, the coach trusts me, my teammates (teammates) trust me, and it continues. I take the same shots as before but they go in.”

The most skeptical will highlight the fact that Cade Cunningham will eventually leave the infirmary – his return is scheduled for the start of next season – and the French leader will not be in that position forever . But there’s no erasing Hayes’ performance for more than two months now and, to the Pistons or elsewhere, the seventh pick in the 2020 draft, under contract guaranteed through 2024, has proven he has the level. that existed in the NBA.

World Cup goal with the Blues

Now that it’s clicking on the American courts, Hayes is ready to help the French team during the offseason. After defending the tricolor jersey in the youth, Hayes has not appeared in Blue again since leaving the NBA and even turned down an invitation to be a training partner of Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier & Co before the Tokyo Olympics, last summer day of 2021. But things have probably changed and he is now aiming for a place in the group that will play in the next World Cup, which is scheduled for August 25 to September 10 in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines.

“It’s something I want to do, I want to go to the World Championships this summer. Afterwards, like everyone else, if I want to go there, I have to earn my place, go to camp. training, he said on the microphone. of RMC Sport on the sidelines of the NBA Paris Game. It’s something that I need to do and that I want to do. The place is not given, I have to win it.” A good performance this Thursday in front of the French public at the Accor Arena could be a good start.

Felix Gabory RMC Sport journalist

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *