What to expect from Killian Hayes as a Detroit Pistons rookie point guard

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When Killian Hayes was available after the first six picks of the 2020 NBA draft passed, Will Bynum had a strong hunch that he would end up in Detroit.

Bynum, who played 338 games for the Pistons from 2008-14, has been Hayes’ trainer and mentor since 2019. A few weeks before the draft, they had a training session in Hayes’ hometown of Lakeland, Fla.

“I was hearing the feedback from the Pistons and everything, and I knew it was one of the situations that Killian wanted,” Bynum said. “He had a great conversation with coach (Dwane) Casey and I think that was everything. It’s one of those situations where I think that the energy that Killian put out there, the effort that he put out and the hard work, and then me being around him, I think that’s how Detroit came about.

“I think that he landed in the perfect situation — a situation that he wants to be in, in a place that wants him.”

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Cholet's Killian Hayes, left, drives during the French Cup under-17 final in Paris on April 22, 2017.
Cholet's Killian Hayes, left, drives during the French Cup under-17 final in Paris on April 22, 2017.

The Pistons drafted Hayes seventh overall in the draft Nov. 18, formalizing the French 19-year-old’s relationship with a franchise he had been connected to. Thanks to Bynum — and Pistons Hall of Famer and former president Joe Dumars — Hayes was familiar with the Pistons long before he declared for the draft in March.

Dumars connected Bynum to Hayes, and asked Bynum to train him. Dumars — now a Sacramento Kings executive — was hired by Independent Sports & Entertainment, a sports, media and entertainment management agency, in 2014 as president of its basketball division. ISE hired Hayes’ agent, Yann Balikouzou, in July 2019 as their director of international operations. Dumars and Bynum have had a close relationship since Bynum to the Pistons in 2008.

Pistons general manager Troy Weaver began scouting Hayes when he was a 16-year-old making his professional debut with Cholet Basket, a French club. While he was still an assistant GM with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Weaver flew to Germany earlier this year, pre-pandemic, to watch Hayes play with ratiopharm Ulm.

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Hayes was high on Detroit’s draft board for multiple reasons. His size, feel for the game and experience as a European player separated him from much of the rest of the pack.

Bynum is confident Hayes will have a head start in his transition to the NBA, echoing sentiments from both Casey and Weaver. Hayes has already been playing professional basketball for three years, and prior to his professional debut, he was surrounded by the game. His dad, DeRon, was a standout at Penn State from 1989-93. When Hayes was a baby, DeRon moved the family to Cholet, France after signing with LNB Pro A, France’s top men’s basketball league.

[ Killian Hayes has a similar background to Kobe Bryant ]

“My dad, he’s been here from the start,” Hayes said. “I remember when I was younger, just going to his home games, all of his practices. So I got to learn at a young age what being a professional was. And having him there each and every step was really helpful. Definitely a blessing having a father that played professionally.”

The other reason Bynum and the Pistons are confident Hayes will be NBA ready is the extended time he worked on his game. He was strong in the pick-and-roll last season, displayed touch from midrange and has good footwork, especially for his age. He’s also big for his position and competes on defense, indicating he could be a versatile defender.

But entering the draft, analysts and scouts were concerned about his 3-point shooting (29.4% last season, 30-for-102) and his left-hand dominance. Hayes is a good free throw shooter and has been working to extend his range. He said during predraft interviews and after he was drafted that he’s much better with his right hand compared to eight months ago.

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Despite what he has shown and hasn’t shown during games, Bynum has been working with Hayes in the gym for nearly a year and a half. Bynum is confident Hayes’ shortcomings with ratiopharm Ulm last season aren’t indicative of where his skill level is.

“Killilan was never not good at anything,” Bynum said. “This kid is extremely talented. He can do everything. Some things need a little fine-tuning. It’s just repetition over and over and over again, getting comfortable with doing things in different situations, with contact, without contact, being able to do it comfortably enough to look away and still be on target, on time. It’s just little things like that, and all that comes from repetition.

“When you’re playing in a professional league, the tendencies are to stick to your strengths. He understands his strengths very very well, and that’s what makes him who he is.”

After Hayes was drafted, Bynum called him to give him a lay of the land. During his six seasons with the franchise, Bynum became a fan-favorite. He earned the nickname “The Thrill” due to the effort he played with and the highlight plays he produced.

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He knows what Pistons fans have historically been attracted to — hardworking players who leave it on the floor. He’s confident Hayes will check those boxes.

“I was just giving him some insight on the appreciation of a hard-working player, what it’s about,” Bynum said. “More than anything, the humility and the hard work is the combination of what Detroit people are all about, like spilling that onto the court and what that looks like from an effort standpoint. We were just talking about that, and seeing the game from that aspect, from the intensity and effort aspect. And the appreciation (from fans) is always, it’s love and it’s mutual. The fans are going to respect that. That’s how he’s coming in anyway.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Killian Hayes' connection to Detroit Pistons starts with Joe Dumars