New Orleans Pelicans: 3 players that can step up after Zion Williamson’s injury

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New Orleans Pelicans, Jaxson Hayes
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New Orleans Pelicans: Jaxson Hayes keeps improving

Jaxson Hayes has been the first member of the New Orleans Pelicans roster to stake a claim for a bigger role.

Hayes had a tremendous performance—for me, the best of his career—against the Philadelphia 76ers. The second-year center came up huge for the Pelicans on both ends of the floor, impacting the game with his activity level, great hands, and finishing above the rim. He also showed some flashes of being able to do even more than just the basics.

The Texas center finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and three blocks against one of the best teams in the entire league. For comparison, Hayes took 16 shots against the Sixers to his season average of four field goals per game. His usage rate also just about doubled against Philadelphia.

Hayes has been on an upward trajectory for about two and a half months now. He started the season as the backup to Steven Adams but was temporarily relegated to third-string center after the emergence of Willy Hernangómez. However, Hayes stayed ready and earned back his spot after a number of consecutive positive performances.

Related Story. Jaxson Hayes is showing star potential. light

There’s no doubt that Hayes has all the makings of an impactful NBA center. You can’t teach his size, that’s for sure, but what’s more important is that his nimbleness and mobility at 6-foot-11 really cannot be taught.

Hayes can run the break like a gazelle and then contort his body like a ballerina to finish a huge lob at the rim. He can rise up for emphatic blocks on defense and has gotten better over the course of the season at keeping his composure and not just hunting for rejections whenever an opponent steps into the paint.

What makes Hayes even more appealing is that he has some legit ball skills at his size. These are just flashes, but Hayes has shown the ability to put the ball on the floor after faking a hand-off or even attack the rim by himself on the fast break. There’s also some hope that the former Longhorn will one day become a decent shooter, given that his free throw percentage and stroke look very good and that he has already made three triples this season.

Now, let’s see if Hayes has it in him to make games like the one against Philadelphia more regular. I’m not asking him to put up 20 and 10 every night, but just for him to play with the same level of intensity and poise.