New Orleans Pelicans: Where the Pels youngsters stand into the all-star break

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(Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports) /
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New Orleans Pelicans
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New Orleans Pelicans: Jaxson Hayes is back

Jaxson Hayes has found his way back into the fold, at least somewhat, as of this last week.

The Pelicans’ big man exemplifies another inconsistent season, much like Alexander-Walker, although I would say he’s had more downs than ups. In part, that has to do with the position he plays. The Pelicans have struggled all year long at the center spot when Steven Adams isn’t on the court. That has led to Stan Van Gundy constantly tinkering with his frontcourt rotation.

At first, Hayes was well positioned to be Adams’ backup. However, the Pelicans’ rim protection completely disintegrated whenever Hayes was on the floor. Eventually, the second-year center was ushered out of the rotation and promptly replaced by Willy Hernangómez.

The Spaniard did well to stay ready and had some solid nights for the Pels, but Hernangómez’s spot in Van Gundy’s plans might not be as tight as it looked during the middle of February. In the past two games, Hernangómez has barely figured.

Related Story. Willy Hernangómez is the backup big the Pels need. light

He played less than 15 minutes against the Chicago Bulls and then didn’t see a single minute against the Miami Heat. That probably shows that Van Gundy doesn’t see a role for him against faster, more mobile teams with versatile bigs. In turn, it also signifies that Hayes can still carve out a role for himself before the end of the season.

Hayes has benefited from Hernangómez’s lack of minutes. He almost singlehandedly provoked a comeback against the Bulls, scoring 10 points and getting three blocks in 11 second half minutes off the bench. Hayes earned his 20 subsequent minutes against the Heat, although he was less effective.

On paper, it’s very easy to see a role for Hayes in the NBA. He projects as an athletic rim-runner who can catch lobs, clean up around the basket, and block shots. The good thing is that he is still very moldable but has shown these flashes. It is also true that being a center in the NBA is hard and one of the hardest positions to figure out—you need patience.

However, what applied for Alexander-Walker also applies for Hayes. The Pelicans have a team option for him next year. I expect the team to pick it up, but Hayes needs to continue improving. The Pelicans cannot have another year without viable options at center from the bench and there are cheaper, more ready-to-go options that can probably play a similar role either in the G League or abroad.