At times, there’s a thin line between NBA Draft Combine press conferences and performance art (hello, LaMelo Ball).
Typically, these congregations consist of beat reporters peppering prospects with pointed questions — Have you met with ‘my’ team? Would you like playing with X? How about Y? — to canned responses. This year, with media availabilities taking place over Zoom amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s all particularly unnatural.
So take this with as many, or few, grains of salt as you wish. But French point guard Killian Hayes has spoken to the Bulls in the predraft process, and it seems like he’s intrigued by a potential marriage.
“I spoke with the Bulls a long time ago,” Hayes said to the virtual scrum. “It's a really interesting team. It's a young team that they're fighting for a playoff spot, so it could be a real good spot for me."
Hayes has been a projected lottery pick for quite some time, and revealed Monday that his agent told him he’s expected to be selected anywhere from No. 2 (where the Golden State Warriors pick) to Nos. 8 (New York Knicks) or 10 (where the Phoenix Suns are slotted, though Hayes said he hasn’t spoken with them).
Could the Bulls take a swing on the 6-foot-5 lead guard, who spent his age-18 season captaining Ratiopharm Ulm of the Bundesliga in Germany?
It would certainly make sense. Hayes is widely regarded as one of the best pick-and-roll operators in this class, and with a rapidly developing three-level scoring game. He’s an instinctive, savvy passer that could go a long way toward solving the Bulls’ playmaking ails — embedded in the team’s 29th-ranked offensive rating in 2019-20 were a 20th-ranked assist rate (58.7%), 26th-ranked turnover rate (15.3%) and 26th-ranked assist-to-turnover ratio (1.50). None good, to say the least.
In 20 Bundesliga contests last season, Hayes averaged 11.6 points, 5.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game with 49.7-21.8-85.2 shooting splits. In 10 Eurocup contests: 12.8 points, 6.2 assists and 1.5 steals per night on 45.5-39-90.9 splits. Across all competitions (33 games), he slung 178 assists to 106 turnovers, but his turnovers per game did trend downwards month-over-month before an uptick in February/March.
“Scoring at all three levels even though I can be a lot more consistent from the 3,” Hayes said when asked the strengths of his game. “My court vision, the way I can read the game.”
And areas to improve: “Defensively, not falling asleep, getting caught backdoor. Also, it's been better throughout the season, but my turnovers per game. I started out making a lot of turnovers. I feel like throughout the season that number went down.”
Gaudy free-throw percentages inspire optimism about his long-range shooting finding that consistency, as does his fluid form and burgeoning comfortability pulling off the bounce. His smarts make him steady on the defensive end, and his length is disruptive. The playmaking chops speak for themselves.
His positional size and versatility should make him especially enticing for the Bulls, given their two most dynamic scorers — Zach LaVine and Coby White — occupy the shooting and point guard spots, at present. A potential three-guard lineup configuration featuring that trio opens a world of possibilities, especially offensively.
Hayes sees the fit.
“I'm a real big playmaker, I love making the right play, finding my teammates open and trying to make the game easier for them,” he said. “I think I could fit great with a guy like Coby White that can really score the ball, a guy like Zach LaVine. Lauri Markkanen, [who] can pop out and shoot the 3 also, he's kind of big and athletic, throwing lobs to him. Yeah, I can really fit in that group.”
And while Hayes thrived in a predominately on-ball role this year with Ratiopharm Ulm, he said his focus throughout the predraft process has been to expand his off-ball game — running off screens, dribble handoffs, catching and shooting and the like. That blossoming ability, and the fact he says he’s capable of guarding 1 - 3, should be music to the Bulls’ ears.
“I wasn't always the point guard on my team,” Hayes said. “But last season, that's what I really was, a point guard. So that's why I'm just trying to get back into it and playing the shooting guard position.
“I can play the 1 or the 2, it doesn't really matter. I feel like I can be effective at both positions. But this year I really felt comfortable at the point guard position."
Hayes, a lefty whose little-used right-hand is the source of his biggest predraft critique, displayed a penchant for southpaws when asked who he studies at the NBA level — Manu Ginóbili, Goran Dragić, James Harden. He watched D’Angelo Russell during the latter’s high school years. Steve Nash and Miloš Teodosić also received mentions.
Asked his role models in his formative basketball years, Hayes listed two guys that Bulls fans will be familiar with: Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose.
Seemingly a student of the game, Hayes said he’s selective in the qualities he strives to emulate from all of the above.
“When I look at a guy like Goran, especially his play off his pick-and-rolls, how he can always go back to his left. Also, James Harden, the way he can create space, he's also a great passer in the pick-and-roll. Manu Ginóbili, his footwork and the way he can see the game,” Hayes said. “Just try and pick and choose aspects of their games and how they played it.”
Hayes cited not having played 5-on-5 since March as the biggest challenge he’s faced in an unprecedented predraft process. Still, he’s kept upward momentum from a landmark 2019-20 season churning.
“I really miss playing, going out there and competing,” Hayes said. The player that I was back in March is not the same player that I am today. I really developed a lot.”
The next time he suits up, he’ll be eager to showcase those improvements. And whichever team selects him in the draft will be eager to see them.