How Killian Hayes, the most drafted Frenchman in history, finally started his NBA career

Picked seventh overall in the 2020 draft, unheard of for a Frenchman, Killian Hayes has had two very thin first seasons with the Detroit Pistons. But as he prepares to play the NBA Paris Game against the Chicago Bulls at Accor Arena this Thursday (9 p.m.), the former Cholet Basket player has had a real mid-winter click.

At least until next June and the planned arrival of phenom Victor Wembanyama, he is the highest-drafted Frenchman in all of NBA history. Drafted seventh overall by the Detroit Pistons in 2020, Killian Hayes (21) entered the Major Leagues with plenty of promise. But expectations go with it.

Since arriving on the NBA floors, the former player of Cholet Basket has faced a thousand difficulties to realize all the hopes placed on him. However, in contrast takes A leader who left too soon to try American adventure, Uncle Sam came to his country with a solid background. At the time of the draft, he had already completed two full seasons as a professional (2018-2019 Cholet Basket, Ratiopharm ULM, German D1, 2019-2020), each time in the owner’s shoes.

Having his father, DeRon Hayes, around him would also give him confidence in his ability to make the big leap. DeRon Hayes, himself a professional, developed for a long time in France (Cholet, JL Bourg, Nancy, Limoges…) and was still playing in National 3, the fifth French level… at the age of 45. But it took longer than expected for Killian Hayes to adjust to the biggest basketball league in the world.

His first season with the Pistons in 2020-2021 ends after just 26 games. In January 2021, a hip injury forced him out until the end of practice, and the former Choletais didn’t get a chance to gain statistical power (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: during the 2021 draft, his team chose to gamble on Cade Cunningham, who was heralded as a superstar in the making and developing … the same position as him .

Casey pre-season: ‘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 the previous season (about 25 minutes a game). In addition, his statistics and impact on the game of the Pistons, one of the worst teams in the League, have not yet increased. Noted for his poor outside shooting (about 27% from three in his first two seasons), Hayes is slowly losing credibility, and the fifth-overall selection of another ultra-prospect guard, Jaden Ivey, sounds like another waiver. Especially since his trainer’s first kicks ended in a fall.

“He’s not playing at the same level as he was in the preseason. We’ve got to find out why. He puts a lot of pressure on himself when he doesn’t need to. It’s time to grow up,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. October. The first weeks of the 2022-2023 season are a long way off for the Frenchman, who has to settle for a big fifteen minutes off the bench (2.5 points on average in October) for starving stats. However, an event will change the course of France’s season in mid-November: the serious injury of Cade Cunningham, who suffered a stress fracture in the tibia and is 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 injured, Hayes regained his starting position and continued to go from strength to strength: averaging 9.8 points and 5 assists in November, 12.1 points and 6.6 assists in December, then 14.6 points and 8 assists since the start of January ( 7 games). Above all, the tricolor leader was able to pull out some offensive cards to impress (22 points, 8 assists against Dallas on December 12, 25 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 26 points, 6 on December 15 at Charlotte). Assists against Philadelphia on January 8…).

The evolution of Killian Hayes’ stats 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 steals
Season 22-23: 10.0 pts, 2.8 rbs, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals
Since a month: 13.2 pts, 2.9 rbs, 6.9 assists, 1.8 steals

“My role changed a little bit, I started with Cade (Cunningham) injured and my shots started coming,” Hayes told RMC Sport on Tuesday, two days before the Accord’s NBA Paris game. Chicago Bulls with Arena I’m getting more and more confident, the coach is confident in me, my teammates (teammates) are confident in me and it continues.

The most skeptical will point out that Cade Cunningham will eventually be released from hospital – his return is scheduled for the start of next season – and the French leader will not be in this position forever. But no one will write off Hayes’ performance over two months now, and whether with the Pistons or elsewhere, the seventh pick in the 2020 draft, under a guaranteed contract through 2024, has proven he has the level to exist in the NBA. .

A World Cup goal with the Blues

Now that it’s clicking on American courts, Hayes feels ready to help the French team in the offseason. After defending the tricolor as a junior, Hayes hasn’t appeared in Blue since leaving the NBA and even turned down an invitation to train with Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier & Co. ahead of the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. has apparently changed and now he is targeting a place in the squad to play in the next World Cup in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines from August 25 to September 10.

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

Felix Gabori RMC Sport journalist

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