“Situational Analysis” is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect’s success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.
Killian Hayes is a 19-year-old combo guard from Florida by way of France/Germany who averaged 12.8 points, 6.2 assists and 2.3 rebounds for Ratiopharm Ulm in Germany. He is expected to be selected among the top-five picks in the upcoming NBA Draft and as high as No. 1 overall. NBADraft.net currently has him projected at No. 4.
More so than any other prospect available in this year’s draft, Killian Hayes is the one who most resembles the NBA’s present and future.
With the notable exception of Nikola Jokic, nearly every elite NBA offense is led by a high-IQ lead ballhandler with exceptional court vision and a sixth sense for how his teammates will read and react to opposing defenses. Hayes displays all of those unique traits – well before he turns the legal drinking age.
While Hayes isn’t an ankle-breaking ballhandler along the lines of Kyrie Irving or Steph Curry, he utilizes a variety of subtle shifts and in-and-out dribbles to manipulate the chess pieces and create advantageous playmaking angles. His balance is exceptional – he can slither through the lane at his pace, on his terms. He has already developed a nice mix of floaters and pull-ups to flummox behemoth rim protectors.
His most intriguing skill? Hayes seems as if he was born to play spread pick-and-roll. If Hayes is quarterbacking your offense at the point of attack with three above-average spot-up shooters and an athletic rim-running big man, your offense should produce a tremendous amount of points.
His shooting range extends well beyond the 3-point line, so defenders can’t simply duck under screens. He’s taller and longer than most lead guards, so should be able to switch along all three perimeter positions defensively. He has quick hands and already shows a sense of where to be and what to do against professionals in Europe who have significant advantages in terms of experience and maturity.
Unlike some pick-and-roll ballhandlers, Hayes is also comfortable playing off the ball alongside a fellow creator and knocking down catch-and-shoot jumpers. His raw shooting stats (39% 3pt, 90% FT) are extremely encouraging. That versatility will serve him well, as the NBA moves toward more multiple-creator backcourts.
On a scale from 1-10, Hayes’ creativity and versatility rate at a 9.
Is Hayes controlled and composed, or is he slow and unathletic?
I lean toward controlled/composed, but many scouts prefer to see jaw-dropping/nuclear/devastating/world-destroying athleticism from guards projected to go in the top-five.
Teams and fans want to see these guards fly. They want dunks that turn into memes. Russell Westbrook. Damian Lillard. Pre-injury John Wall. Hayes is a good athlete, but he isn’t going to dunk anyone into oblivion.
Is his first step quick enough to create separation, or will NBA defenders smother him at the point of attack? If a big man switches onto him, can Hayes blow by him and get to the rim? Can he finish through contact? Can the lefty make his right hand into a weapon instead of a hindrance?
Perhaps the biggest area of concern: lateral quickness. Guards in today’s NBA are extremely quick. So are most forwards. Hayes will likely spend much of his rookie season as a traffic cone on defense (most rookies do), but if he can’t move side to side to at least provide some form of resistance, it might make the difference between “offensive focal point” and “creative yet frustrating sixth man who can’t play at the end of close games.”
On a scale from 1 (not a concern) to 10 (serious hindrance), Hayes’ average first step and lateral quickness rates at a 7.5.
Hayes has grown up around the game, with his faither, DeRon, playing professionally both stateside and overseas. After competing against kids much older than him in a variety of leagues, Hayes joined Cholet in France at only 16 years old.
He considered a more traditional path through high school and college, but Hayes elected to remain in Europe and hone his skills against adults. Playing against older competition his entire life has served him well.
Much like Luka Doncic, Hayes has earned tremendous individual accolades in high-level competition, despite being as much as a decade younger than most of his competition. He’s also excelled against the top talent of his class, earning FIBA Europe’s Under-16 Championship MVP award in 2017.
He transitioned to Ratiopharm Ulm in Germany last year and held his own against the best players in the nation’s top league.
By all accounts, Hayes is a high-character player with innate leadership abilities who earns the respect of all of his teammates.
On a scale from 1-10, Hayes’ European career rates at a 9.
Ideal NBA Ecosystem
Hayes is the rare kind of player who can thrive on any team in nearly any situation, due to his variety of skills.
Does your team need a ballhandler to initiate offense and create easier looks for his teammates? Hayes is your man. Does your team already have a ball-dominant guard, but could use a taller, creative secondary ballhandler who can hit open shots? Hayes fits the bill. Does your team already have a Hall-of-Fame backcourt, but needs someone to carry the offense at the start of the second and fourth quarter when those players take a rest? Hayes is up for it.
It’s unlikely that Hayes will go to the Minnesota Timberwolves at No. 1 overall, because they’re already paying Hayes’ NBA doppelgänger D’Angelo Russell nearly $30 million per year. He remains in play for Golden State, Charlotte and Chicago – each of whom could use him for vastly different reasons.
My favorite Hayes destination is Atlanta. Granted, a Trae Young/Hayes backcourt might give up the NBA’s first 200-point game next season, but I think that backcourt has the potential to develop into something special. The Hawks are going to build their entire franchise around Young’s unique talents, and a long/lanky backcourt partner who can share in the playmaking duties would make them extremely difficult to defend.
On a scale from 1-10, Hayes is perhaps the most situationally independent player in this year’s draft. He rates at anywhere from an 9 on perennially dysfunctional teams to a 10 on teams that know what they’re doing.