Killian Hayes is the son of DeRon Hayes who played at Penn State before a career in Europe where he met Killian’s mom, Sandrine, while playing in France. Killian was born in DeRon’s hometown of Lakeland, Florida but the Hayes family moved to France soon after where DeRon played 7 more seasons. After his playing career was over, they permanently moved back to Cholet, Sandrine’s hometown.
When Killian was 6, he began playing for Cholet youth teams, the same club where future NBA players Nando de Colo, Rodrigue Beaubois, Kevin Seraphin, and Rudy Gobert spent the last few years of their youth careers. Hayes stayed with Cholet until he turned 18 turning down INSEP, the French federation’s home of basketball development. Hayes made his biggest jump from 2016 to 2017. In the summer of 2016, Hayes was invited to U16 National Team camp but didn’t make the team (the only 2001-born player to make the final cut was Théo Maledon) and went on to play spot minutes with Cholet’s Espoirs team in 2016-2017.
In 2017, Hayes not only made the U16 team but led them to Gold, their first U16 medal since Killian Tillie and the 2014 team took gold. He was named MVP of the tournament with 16.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 2.7 steals. He also stood out at Adidas EuroCamp and the Jordan Brand Global Showcase in the summer of 2017 to solidify his place as a top prospect for the 2020 draft. The following year, he was a star for the Cholet Espoirs team and got some minutes with the pro team in the French league. In the summer of 2018, Hayes made the all-tournament team with the U17 team that lost to the USA in the finals of the World Cup.
In 2018-2019, still just 17, Hayes was on the men’s roster full-time. He played 32 games, starting 8, and averaged 7 points in 19 minutes. It was a learning experience for him before his move to a slightly higher level club, Limoges CSP, who had signed Hayes to a contract for the 2 years following his turning 18. Instead, Hayes left for Germany for the 2019-2020 season to play for Ratiopharm Ulm after a dispute with the French Basketball Federation (FFBB) when he did not show up for U20 National Team camp. FFBB suspended Hayes for 6 weeks from French domestic play to start the season, at which point he opted to sign with Ulm. He spent the summer training in the United States instead of going to camp.
With Ulm, Hayes played in Eurocup, one of the best leagues in Europe, second only to Euroleague. Ulm struggled through this league, only winning 1 of 10 group stage games before being eliminated. The club also plays in the German BBL, one of the top 5 domestic leagues in Europe with Euroleague teams Bayern Munich and ALBA Berlin. They also disappointed in BBL, with a 10-10 record before the league was postponed. Ulm had incentive to showcase Hayes, part of the reason for signing him was the buy-out they will collect when he is drafted. They recently built a state of the art youth facility and are hoping to attract more young talent to their OrangeAcademy system. They clearly felt that Hayes being drafted was a big step towards that goal and made sure to put him in positions to showcase his skills to NBA teams.
A few days after signing Hayes, Ulm signed Zoran Dragić who took a lot of the pressure off of Hayes as Dragić could share some of the lead guard responsibility and also defend the best opposing guard. After Dragić left in January to play with Baskonia in Spain and Euroleague, he was replaced with Archie Goodwin who could not fill his shoes. Hayes was asked to do even more than he was early in the season but he stepped up appropriately and finished the year strong.
Hayes is somewhat muscular but does have room to get bigger. He doesn’t shy away from physicality and has decent lower body strength but he does need to get stronger, although some of that will come with age. First step quickness and pop off the ground are relative weaknesses in Hayes physical profile but he is fast in the open court and has decent quickness moving laterally. His athleticism is slightly below average, at worst, on an NBA scale to go along with great positional size.
Hayes is a lefty with solid shooting mechanics and a consistent, repeatable upper body. He has very good touch on floaters and a high free throw percentage of 85% (283/333) since the summer of 2017. All indications are that shooting will be a plus for Hayes at some point in his NBA career.
His catch & shoot prep isn’t great; he has issues with getting his feet set so he has to be wide open to shoot off the catch. His left foot usually seems to be the issue as he takes his time getting it into place.
Hayes prefers to shoot off the dribble; his footwork getting open for shots off the dribble, especially mid-range shots, is advanced. He uses a variety of stepbacks and sidesteps to get into his shot. He can go either way and quickly get shots off but he does still take time to adjust his feet more often than he should. Typically, Hayes will seek out these movement looks due to his aversion to going right rather than because he finds himself in natural shot-creating situations such as a late clock.
Here’s another case. Finds a mismatch off a screen and he decides to kill his dribble instead of attacking the slower opponent one on one. It’s frustrating to watch. pic.twitter.com/jeFhCKy2qr— Ignacio Rissotto (@eyreball) October 6, 2019
But the skill to get the shots is still there. Getting those self-created looks at the level Hayes does is a rare skill and it’s very valuable in the NBA IF – and this is a big if – those shots actually drop at a decent rate.
His numbers from the line and his natural touch indicate that he can get there but there’s still a mountain to climb that only a few in the NBA have reached the peak. As of the last time we saw him in games, back in March, he hadn’t really made enough shots to put himself in consideration for that category of elite self-creators. We’ll soon see how much of that potential he has turned into actual skill in the last seven months. If he was able to make real progress here, there will likely be a few teams who regret on passing up the chance to draft Hayes by this time next year.
Hayes’ touch is solid around the rim. His biggest issue is holding on to the ball as he goes up to finish but he’s consistent when he can get the ball to an adequate finishing position. He can make a wide range of looks, from floaters to more creative layups, he is versatile and effective near the rim with his left hand.
NBA is done today for me. Here are some Killian Hayes clips.— Kuzey Kılıç (@Kuzeykg) July 22, 2020
My favorite thing about KH is that he makes changes in game tempo very fast. I mean, he drives with great quickness in low tempo. I think this makes him important. pic.twitter.com/skzT6wXkET
Almost all of his finishes are with his left as he is so uncomfortable finishing anything but a point-blank layup with his right hand that he will sometimes switch hands in mid-air. His core strength and length make him very effective finishing around the defense. He does not have the strength or vertical pop to finish over and through rim protection. This is a weakness he is well aware of as he rarely tries to go up with a bigger defender in position at the rim.
Many opponents have found their best option is to dare Hayes to shoot off the dribble. Defenders at the NBA level will not be forced to make this sacrifice, at least not to the degree of a lesser defender. It will be an interesting subplot to watch in Hayes’ development whether or not he can still find success creating enough space to shoot as long as he is not a threat to drive right. He will still be able to take advantage of switches onto big men but when matchups where he is a superior athlete become much harder to find, how will he adjust?
A realistic projection – likely on the higher end of Hayes’ potential outcomes – is similar to Mike Conley’s scoring profile: usage around 25%, respectable rim finishing but still below or near 60%, shot creation when necessary, but more of a set shooter on the perimeter.
A very underrated part of Hayes’ game is his elite deceleration. It’s something that sets elite scorers like James Harden and Luka Dončić apart. Hayes has not yet been able to make this work to his advantage as much as those two but the ability to stop as quickly as he does is hard to train and could make him much more dangerous as he refines his game.
Hayes gets downhill well going left and has a good handle on the ball, he generally limits turnovers off the dribble but he occasionally gets sped up and loses control. He would rather pick the ball up or back out than drive to his right when he gets cut off. The ability to create anything with his right hand is a huge hole in Hayes’ game.
His ball handling is largely determined by his defender, he does a good job of reading and reacting. He is not afraid to use a crossover or behind the back move when being pressured. He uses multiple quick moves in succession to set up a screen or go left past a defender. If he can get into an attacking position where he has a step on the defender, Hayes is excellent at getting in position to score or pass. He does a good job of hesitating with his right hand to set up a cross back to his left but he can’t do much more than pick up and pass if he isn’t able to use his advantage to get back to his left within a dribble or two.
Hayes is physical with the ball and isn’t afraid to use contact to get to his spot. It’s a skill he has had to learn as he doesn’t have the explosiveness to easily go by his defender in just one step. When the defense is able to pressure him hard without allowing him to go left, he tends to have a tough time doing anything and usually just passes out.
First step, body contact and fluidity. Just beautiful. pic.twitter.com/GvbIPfIWVd— Kuzey Kılıç (@Kuzeykg) July 22, 2020
Hayes has excellent vision. He can make the simple play when it’s there, read the defense, and anticipate where the next help will come from. He uses ball fakes well to manipulate the defense to get the pass he wants. Hayes also has great passing touch, he puts lobs right where the dunker needs them.
While Hayes can hit every player on the court in a pick and roll going to his left, he is an impatient pick and roll player going to the right. He doesn’t take the time to fully read the defense, often setting his mind before they are forced to make decisions about weakside help or covering the mismatch down low. This is partially due to his passing touch being so weak with his right hand. The overhead whip passes or live dribble passes that Hayes makes so well going left in pick and roll aren’t there going to his right.
Hayes has made significant strides in his passing going to his right. It’s likely the area he improved the most throughout his season in Germany. He still makes passes almost exclusively with his left hand but his composure when going right off a screen is much improved. He utilizes his exceptional vision to make the right read, much more often than he did early on in the season.
Early in the season:
His biggest offensive struggle however had to do with his 4 turnovers, most of them didn’t come from poor or premeditated reads, but from him not being able to keep his dribble alive and get to the rim. pic.twitter.com/yc2lmmfB5L— Ignacio Rissotto (@eyreball) October 6, 2019
Late in the season:
As the season went on, Hayes made fewer jump passes, more good decisions, and waited for his spots coming off of screens more often. This resulted in more assists and fewer turnovers throughout the season. Hayes sees the floor well, he makes special passes regularly, and as the game continues to slow down for him he can be a high level creator in an NBA offense. The passing going right has reportedly remained a focus since the season ended but he’ll have to prove it against real competition before it can be trusted.
Hayes doesn’t have the best balance when moving laterally. This is especially evident when guarding a smaller player where he tends to overreact to dribble moves. It appears this is at least partially due to his leaning too far forward when guarding a shorter player to be in a better position to get his hands near the ball. While Hayes’ feet are not extremely quick, he does have solid baseline athleticism. He would benefit from improved fundamentals and likely will with coaching.
Hayes does a good job of containing his man in the pick and roll. His two most common mistakes are opening up too much which adds extra steps to get around a screen and not using his body to get over a screen. He needs to refine his footwork to tighten up in these areas but he already has a good grasp on PnR defense in general. Hayes does, however, use his body very well in off-ball screens, forcing his matchup to the help and with good footwork to prevent open shots off of screens.
In help, he’s usually in the right spot. If anything, he has a tendency to overhelp and leave his man open. Throughout his youth career, Hayes found a lot of success using his length in to get steals on cutters and drivers. At the pro level, he has never been able to replicate that, leading to more fouls and less steals against smarter, stronger players. He still has the natural ability to cause havoc with team defense and as he gets more comfortable playing defense with a professional team he should be able to continue to get steals while limiting fouls.
Hayes’ inability to pass or get to the basket with his right hand makes him pretty easy to guard one on one and his inability to shoot from the catch means he kills spacing by standing off the 3-point line as a non-threat waiting to use extra space from his defender to drive left. However, his biggest weaknesses and question marks are things that young players tend to improve upon the quickest. While his offhand is a big issue, he is extremely coordinated with his left hand and adding a solid base of passing and dribbling with his right hand could make him a much tougher matchup.
Another big issue with Hayes’ offensive game is his set shot. However, he has all the tools to be able to shoot off the catch in the future. He has good touch, a great release, and great free throw numbers. His footwork definitely needs to improve but it doesn’t appear to be an unfixable problem especially given that nearly everything else is there. All these offensive issues can be (and supposedly have been to some extent in the last seven months) worked out as Hayes develops. His passing ability is already advanced, he reads the floor well and anticipates help defense. This will continue to improve as he learns the game better and he rounds out his skillset. Hayes’ ability to make tough shots could end up being his most valuable skill, the potential to be a shot clock closer that can reliably create his own shot is a huge plus.
Hayes has great positional size and — despite not being the best athlete — quick enough feet that he has a very good chance to be a plus defender for the bulk of his career. His footwork needs coaching and he must improve his footwork and balance so he doesn’t get beat so often by quicker, smaller point guards. He also needs to make some improvements on his team defense, especially deciding when, and when not, to take chances to go for the ball. All of these things should come in time for Hayes in an NBA system. Young players will usually struggle on defense early in their careers, and it will be some time before he can be trusted on the opponent’s best guard, but he can get there and his positional size allows him to be moved around some early in his career.
Hayes will not immediately be able to help a team that wants to make the playoffs, Ulm spent money to get Hayes and they made sure to put him in a situation to get drafted in order to collect the NBA buyout and attract more talent. He was not put in positions to improve as much as he was put in positions that would showcase his potential as an NBA player. He needs to continue to be pushed to improve in his weak areas and a team with winning goals will not always do that for him.
Even when Hayes played with players his age he was hesitant to try new things and work on his weaknesses but it is especially evident when he is playing at the pro level. His stepback was something he had worked on for a long time and as soon as he was comfortable enough to bring it out once, it became a staple of his game. Similarly, his right hand passing and attacking has been in all of his work-out videos from the summer of 2019 yet we haven’t seen him try much of that in games. I would rather see him turning the ball over because he misses an overhead pass with his right hand than turn it over because he has to pivot away from his right to make a sub-optimal pass.
At the end of the day, Killian Hayes’ biggest issues are corrigible and fixing them can unlock talents that will make him a superb player. That will take the right approach, both from him and the organization that drafts him.