2019-20 Rookie Review: What Did Jaxson Hayes Show Us?

By Matt Esposito

Do I defend having Jaxson Hayes 20th overall on my Big Board? Do I make a case that he’ll eventually turn into an efficient rim protector yet be undeserving of a big contract extension? I could go the Danny Ainge route and detail how players like Hayes can be mostly replacable and on the cheap.

I’ll eat crow, however. Hayes seems to have already outperformed where I had him on my board. Plus, he showed some flashes of touch around the rim, passing and paint deterrence. We’ll get to those but first, let’s start with some areas of improvement for Hayes.

NBA Physicality & Contact

Currently, Hayes weighs 220 pounds, qualifying him as a undersized 7-footer. There were times when opposing bigs and even some veteran players who were not bigs pushed Hayes around. Many rookies come into the league needing to add good weight, but the impact on New Orleans center was noticeable.

During the first three plays in the clip below, you’ll see Hayes either avoid contact from players he is taller, more athletic than or, you’ll notice how he fails to creation separation when he initiates the contact.

Hayes is too darn (I’m over swearing in 2020) bouncy and long to avoid physical play. He neutralizes his natural gifts when cowering to other bigs. Defensively, it impacts him as well. Stronger players shove Hayes out of position and it causes him to commit fouls.

I’ll leave you with one more gift. Check out a chart representation of Haye’s fouling troubles. He is currently in the 17th percentile for foul percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass. Then, watch Nikola Jokic push him around. Even skinny Jokic would still be able to make Hayes pay in the paint.

Defensive Footwork & Abandoning His Stance

Believe it or not, I once wrote about Jaxson’s jaw dropping fluidity for someone his size. In the open court he moves like a guard and explodes like the good fireworks that aren’t allowed in my home state of Connecticut.

Some might have expected this agility and athletic ability to translate to perimeter defending. So far, it hasn’t. Opposing teams sometimes targeted Hayes in the pick and roll and let their premier guards either blow by him or collect a foul.

Hayes has a tendency to stay low in his stance early on during mismatches but then become upright the instant his man begins the drive. Turning the hips to run besides a quicker player is sound strategy if you are beat or going to be beat. Yet, Hayes ditches his stance before his man gets equal to or behind him. I would like to see him give an extra shuffle before turning the hips.

Why? Going upright too soon allows the attacking player to jump into the defender. Drawing fouls becomes easier. Plus, Hayes can be clumsy. Smart players decelerate on him and create scoring chances. Even players his size can exploit his footwork.

Jaren Jackson Jr did so during a drive against him. There, you saw Hayes’ choppy side shuffle. The result? JJJ got to the free throw line. Other times Jaxson is prone to stepping on his own heels, getting caught flat footed or stumbling while backpedaling. His technique will be refined in time but it is a concern for now.

Verticality

We just ate our Hayes vegetables and now it is time for some dessert. Although I pinpointed his dislike for physicality, I think Hayes will overcome this issue. There are flashes of him sacrificing his body while applying verticality that reassure me that this kid has a competitive mindset.

Standing just shy of 7-feet tall and possessing a pterodactylian wingspan, Hayes has racked up an awesome block percentage. This is due largely in part to his ability to go straight up during contests. If he masters this technique and does this more frequently not only will he emerge as a league leading paint deterrent but, his foul percentage could drop as well.

Courtesy of Cleaning The Glass

So, without further ado, watch Hayes stifle everyone from Ja Morant to Donovan Mitchell. You can’t teach height folks. Trust me, I’m a failed autodidact in that subject.

Soft Touch And Offensive Footwork

Remember about two minutes ago when I critiqued Hayes defensive footwork? Well, his offensive agility remains underrated and leads me to believe his defensive issues are correctable.

Those who watched him operate at Texas while in college were not surprised to see ayes deploy eurosteps at the pro level. In fact, some of us expected it. Hayes can be nimble on the drive. Not many people fool defensively astute bigs like Anthony Davis and Daniel Theis, but Hayes did so as a rookie.

Going forward, New Orleans could use Hayes more frequently out of the short roll, especially if they run him next to spacers like Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and JJ Redick. If this happens, Hayes can dance his way past recovering defenders. Or, as our next subheading suggests, he may simply dunk over them.

Athleticism Making Plays That Others Cannot

Do not – I repeat – do not let Jaxson Hayes gain a full head of steam while rolling to the hoop. Never. That’s sinful. He will dunk on you and embarrass you into hiding. Better yet, he’ll employ the Ancient Roman concept of oblivion and your family will be forced to remove all monuments and mentionings of your name as to be erased from History altogether.

Okay, that was dramatic but I’m a history teacher so cut me some slack. Regardless, Hayes’ physical profile unlocks scoring chances that other players simply cannot replicate. His catch radius is wild. Take a look-see for yourself.

Hayes can throw down off one foot or two. The talented lob-tossers in New Orleans have to do nothing more than ensure their pass goes higher than where they think a defender can get it. Their talented, young big man will outjump just about anyone. This is truly a luxury to have.

Additionally, Hayes needs one dribble (if that) to glide to the rim off of pick and rolls. When defenders don’t tag him or rotate over there is trouble ahead. Hayes has long strides that allow him to dunk on just about everyone. There is a reason he took 91 percent of his shots at the rim this season.

Offseason To-Do List

Put on some weight, Mr. Hayes. That’s easy to do, however. I’m sure he can shell out for a dietician or the Pelicans will provide him a plan and chef. Some added bulk will help Jaxson bang with other bigs during his sophomore year.

After choking down three bowls of oatmeal everyday, Hayes should rewatch tape of him guarding smaller players. Take the time to learn where his footwork failed him. Fortunately, eliminating choppiness and correcting fundamentals can be learned through drills and scrimmages.

Lastly, Hayes must continue to work on his free throw shooting. Hayes is in the 100th percentile for percentage of shots he was fouled on. That stroke must be improved. As of now, however, New Orleans has a great rim runner on a cheap deal. Soak it in, Pelicans fans.

BONUS: What Are The Experts Saying?

I’d love to be basketball omnipotent but alas, I am merely a human. So, I reached out to David M. Grubb for his expert opinion. Grubb writes for SB Nation and hosts both a podcast and radio show which discuss all things Pelicans. He gave is thoughts on Hayes’ rookie season.

On What He Did Well

“The most impressive part of Jaxson Hayes’ season to this point had to be the 20-game stretch he had from early December right into the start of 2020.  Zion Williamson was still on the shelf and Jax got thrown into the fire. We knew he was athletic, but he showed a lot more during that spurt. He was able to play 20 minutes a night, and he was extremely effective around the rim and in transition. 9 pts, 1.5 blks, and 5 rebs a night was incredibly impressive for a kid who had basically two years of organized ball before he got to the NBA. He showed a soft touch on his jumper, and he can run the floor as well as any big in the league. He has good hands and he’s fearless.”

On What He Needs To Improve

“The lack of experience came back to bite him. He wasn’t a great rebounder or defender, but it got worse from January to March. Hayes was a magnet for fouls all season, and far too often he had no idea where to be defensively. He also relies on his athleticism too much. His fundamentals are way behind and like most 19-year-olds, he needs to mature. 
Bigs can take a while to develop. Especially now, because the rudimentary parts of post play just aren’t getting taught. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen out of Jax so far, but he could be Jarrett Allen and steadily improve into a valuable rebounder and rim protector, or he could be JaVale McGee and frustrate you with his talent for more time than the Pelicans have. “

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for Theplaygrounder.com and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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