The ultra-bouncy center is entering his third season in the NBA and has shown improvement each year so far. This season, Jaxson Hayes needs to make a leap for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Jaxson Hayes was always viewed as a player with promise but would require a team to be patient with his growth. He didn’t commit full-time to basketball until late in high school (not a bad thing in my mind) and any team that selected Hayes in the 2019 draft had to be confident in their ability to develop raw prospects.
The center position is the hardest to make the transition from college to the NBA as the defensive schemes are much more difficult once a player joins the Association. This is where Hayes’ development becomes a key piece to the New Orleans Pelicans’ success for 2021 and beyond.
But with another new starting center ahead of him in the rotation, is he going to be able to make the leap or be relegated to a similar role?
New Orleans Pelicans: Will Jaxson Hayes see increased minutes?
The statistics for Hayes’ first two seasons are nearly identical, he averaged 16 minutes and scored seven points while grabbing four rebounds each game. But those box score numbers don’t paint the whole picture. Anyone who watched the young center the last two years knows he was markedly improved in his second season.
As a rookie, Hayes would get beat way too often on defense and wasn’t a threat to do anything but throw down a vicious dunk in traffic (or die trying). As a sophomore, however, Hayes began to stretch his range on offense, he went 3-3 from behind the arc in a game against Memphis and began to find his footing on the defensive end.
This points to a player who is getting more comfortable in the NBA as the game slows down for him. The New Orleans Pelicans have had a different starting center every season for what seems like an eternity. Even if we’re just looking at the post-AD era with the Pelicans, it’s been three centers in three years (three head coaches in four years as well). That kind of turnover makes it hard for a defense to coalesce as a new player is barking out commands from the backline every season.
The Pelicans have three centers who should all see time this season with Jonas Valanciunas, Hayes, and Willy Hernangomez (not to mention Zion Williamson who could see time there in small-ball lineups). JV will take about 25 minutes per game, leaving Hayes and Billy to fight for the remaining 23. Meaning for Hayes to average more than the 16 minutes per game he has so far in his career, he’ll need to hit the ground running.
Hopefully Jaxson Hayes will step up, seize the backup center role and get upwards of 20 minutes per game.