This year’s NBA Draft class is heavy on the wings – Jarrett Culver, De’Andre Hunter and whatever you want to classify Zion Williamson as lead the way – and point guards – Ja Morant, Darius Garland and Coby White could go in the top-6. There aren’t many traditional bigs, or even power forwards for that matter, being discussed as early Lottery picks.
That’s good news for the Bulls, who spent their previous two first-round picks – both at No. 7 – on 7-foot Lauri Markkanen and 6-foot-10 Wendell Carter Jr. The verdict is still out on Carter – though he showed promise in a 44-game rookie sample size – but it’s fair to assume they have their frontcourt of the future.
That’s what makes yesterday’s tweet from Chicago Tribune Bulls beat reporter K.C. Johnson so intriguing.
One draft possibility that hasn't been linked to Bulls much but two people I respect/talked to today believe is strong fit: Texas big man Jaxson Hayes.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) June 13, 2019
For starters, Johnson isn’t reporting that the Bulls have shown or will show interest in Hayes, a 7-foot freshman. But plenty of deception occurs around the draft, so the fact that the Bulls haven’t been linked to Hayes in any capacity doesn’t mean he’s not a potential option at No. 7. If the Bulls continue drafting according to their big board, and Hayes is at the top of it when they’re on the clock, it wouldn’t be all that shocking to see him be the pick. After all, this year’s class from picks 4 to 14 is even from a talent and upside standpoint.
Hayes was a four-star prospect from Cincinnati ranked 112th in his high school class. He was inconsistent in his lone year at Texas, averaging 10.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 23.3 minutes. He had a few monster performances – 19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block vs. TCU; 15 points, 5-5 FG, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks vs. North Carolina; 12 points, 6 rebounds, 6 blocks vs. Oklahoma – that showed off his skill set but also threw up more than a few duds.
We’ll start with the good. Hayes’ efficiency was nearly off the charts. He shot an absurd 72.8% from the field and shot 50% or better in 29 of 32 games. The two caveats here, of course, were that he was an incredibly low usage player (16.9%) and lived around the rim (144 of his 169 field goal attempts came at the rim). This wasn’t exactly Zion Williamson shooting 68% on 13.2 attempts per game.
How did he get those points at the rim? He was stellar in pick-and-roll action, averaging 1.429 points per possession on 70 attempts, pitting him in the 95th percentile nationally. He shot 80% off pick and rolls (40 of 50), something that absolutely will translate at the next level. He also ranked in the 90th percentile nationally on post-up possessions, averaging 1.051 points per possession while shooting 58.6%. Again, smaller sample sizes for a guy who averaged 5.3 attempts per game, but impressive nonetheless.
We’ll also add here that he was lethal in transition. He runs incredibly well – think Clint Capela with a lot of these comparisons – and averaged 1.4 points per possession on 25 transition possessions. He’s a classic rim-runner. He’s not going to create much of anything on his own, and he’s going to need an elite passer to get him the ball once he gets to his spots. But a pick-and-roll player with great footwork and speed plays in today’s NBA, and Hayes will do it well.
Defensively, Hayes is a tough one to crack. There’s no doubt he’s going to be a solid rim protector. His block percentage was 10.6%, 19th best in the country and just below Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke (10.8%), widely considered the best shot blocker in the class. His 2.2 blocks per game came in just 23.3 minutes, and he had multiple blocks in 21 of 32 games. He’s got a 7-foot-3.5 wingspan and a 9-foot-2 standing reach.
That was the good. The bad? He was an awful rebounder. Hayes weighed in at the Combine at 218.6 pounds; to put that in perspective, Wendell Carter was 251.4 pounds, Jaren Jackson was 236 pounds and Mo Bamba was 225.6 pounds at the Combine last season. Hayes is rail-thin and will need to put on weight before he contributes at the next level.
Hayes had a defensive rebound percentage of 16.2% last season. Compare that to freshmen seasons from players like Deandre Ayton (28.2%), Mo Bamba (28.2%), Joel Embiid (27.3%), Myles Turner (24.9%), Zach Collins (23.2%), Wendell Carter (23.1%) and Karl-Anthony Towns (22.2%), and you really see just how unimpressive he was on the glass. It’s a real concern for someone who also didn’t test all that well at the Combine in the strength and agility testing.
Texas had the No. 27 defense in the country and Hayes’ presence was a big reason why. He’s going to succeed as an interior defender, and perhaps it’s impressive that he was able to impact the game so much at his current frame. It’s cliché but true in Hayes’ case: The weight room will be his best friend the next two years.
So there you have it. Hayes has excellent touch around the rim and knows how to get to his spots. He doesn’t create much on his own, and certainly not for others (he had nine assists in 747 minutes). He’ll run in transition and should be an adept offensive rebounder. Defensively? He’s got a whole lot of upside but must improve as a rebounder. Like most freshman bigs, he’s a project.
How does he fit in on the Bulls? Well, he’s a different player from Wendell Carter. There aren't many non-3-point shooting centers left in the NBA, but the ones who have remained are dominant: Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert come to mind. The Bulls would need to have a clear idea of what they want in a future point guard to maximize Hayes' potential, but an offense with perimeter threats in LaVine, Porter and Markkanen could leave the paint open for a player like Hayes to roam on pick-and-rolls, baseline cuts and offensive rebounds. LaVine played well in two-man game actions with Carter, and Hayes is as good a roll man as you could ask for at his age.
No, the Bulls could never deploy a lineup with both on the floor together, but he’s more Clint Capela while Carter trends more toward the Al Horford-type center. If the Bulls believe Hayes is a better fit next to Markkanen and also the best player available at 7, why not take him in a class full of unknowns? Carter would have plenty of value on the trade market if it came to that. That’s a hypothetical waaaaay down the line, but it’s tough to see the Bulls drafting a long-term backup at 7. That’s what Hayes (or Carter) would be if he’s the pick.