Still learning to fly, Jaxson Hayes helps change pace for New Orleans Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 09: Jaxson Hayes #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 09: Jaxson Hayes #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Impressing throughout his rookie campaign, the New Orleans Pelicans need Jaxson Hayes to keep being dangerous on around the rim.

This season has been a topsy-turvy ride for the New Orleans Pelicans, as the once-lost campaign has been seemingly saved by a defensive resurgence from the team. Surging back into the playoff picture after things took a rough turn, this mixed back of youngsters and veterans are playing nice basketball of late.

However, one commodity that’s stayed pretty consistent has been one of the least-known pieces coming into the season, rookie center Jaxson Hayes.

Picked with the eighth-overall selection out of the University of Texas, Hayes has been one of the most interesting prospects for a team currently developing a young nucleus.

While Hayes didn’t check into the first three games of the season for the New Orleans Pelicans, he’s the only player on the roster who’s been active for the duration of the schedule up to this point.

Due to the lack of healthy options around the team earlier in the season, Hayes got a chance to start his rookie season in a pretty nice groove.

So far this season, Hayes is averaging 8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, and shooting a hyper-efficent 63.5% rate around the rim. Helping this team push the pace with his magnetic rim presence, Hayes also has a 127 offensive rating.

Impressive in his ability to finish around the rim, Hayes ranks in the 87th-percentile among centers in points per shot attempt and effective field goal rate (64.8%) per Cleaning the Glass.

Even making his at-rim impact more compelling, Hayes ranks in the 99th-percentile in getting fouled on shot attempts, as Hayes goes to the free-throw line in the wake of 26.6% of his looks.

Shooting 4.7 shots and 3 free throws per game, the New Orleans Pelicans rookie is clipping at a 64.6% rate from the line, which is enough to justify Hayes warring inside to get even more free looks.

Hayes is a benefit of the New Orleans Pelicans searching for their identity, as a more experienced team probably wouldn’t have called to the rookie so early in his NBA career.

After 32 games, 21 starts, and an average of 23.3 minutes per game last year at Texas, the team has given their rookie a chance to run in year one. Through 33 games, Hayes has started 10 for New Orleans, playing impactful minutes in his 19.8 turns of the clock per contest.

Another benefit of early-season developments panning out for Hayes has been the lack-of-contribution provided by Jahlil Okafor in relief minutes.

While Okafor began the season doing a solid job getting the ball in the hoop, he’s back to his bad defensive habits and doesn’t look athletic enough trying to recover against smaller defenders off screens. Seemingly, Okafor is playing himself out of the job Hayes has since locked-down.

Further, it helps that Hayes’s rotational moments are new coming in relief of Derrick Favors, who’s missed 16 of the team’s 36 games so far this season.

While he’s taken the back seat to Favors since the veteran’s return to the rotation, the Pelicans have to feel comfortable in what Hayes gives them as a change-of-pace back-up center. Favors is more of a laboring, spacing-friendly center, while Hayes is going to try to impact the game by making enemies with the rim.

Playing as a back-up as opposed to as a starter over Okafor, Hayes can continue to find comfort on the defensive end while still delivering the at-rim impact on offense he’s given the New Orleans Pelicans so far throughout his rookie season.

Seemingly, Hayes is destined to be a member of one of the two All-NBA Rookie team by seasons, end, as he seems to be perhaps the best first-year center of the bunch and has generally been one of the best year-one bigs.

There will be something of a learning process for the young center when Zion Williamson returns in a few games; Zion is going to have to take some time to reintegrate himself with the entire squad after missing the last four months of action with the knee tear.

Really, it seems like a move that’ll further help Hayes make an impact in the league, as he’ll become a potentially lethal rim roller on screens for his the man who went seven picks prior to him in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Certainly, Hayes has some strides to make on the defensive end of the floor before the New Orleans Pelicans can trust him with a heavier minute load, especially as this team gets closer and closer to full strength.

Regardless, the rookie center has more than impressed in his first thirty-plus games of NBA action and could be a nice part of any potential run to the playoffs this Pelicans team attempts to mount.

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The New Orleans Pelicans still have a long way to go in the 2019-2020 NBA season, but the positive play of someone like Jaxson Hayes helps give this team some extra momentum heading into the middle stretch of the schedule.