It's rare that someone can look so bad in the pitfall from "mediocre streak shooter" to "horrible NBA player," but Jarvis Hayes has somehow managed to surprise us all.
After absolutely stinking up the joint in the first half of the season as the team's 7th man, it appears Hayes has been buried, hopefully for good. He's played under 10 minutes in each of the last two games, and if Darius Songaila can come back strong after the all-star break, he'll take Hayes' minutes in the small lineup.
So what exactly went wrong this season? Hayes was coming off a knee injury, but that can't be the only explanation for his incredible fall. He seems physically strong, and if Eddie Jordan has enough confidence to play him at power forward, it must mean Hayes is alright.
Instead, the problem, from afar, seems like a mental thing. Hayes seems to be trying too hard to get into a shooting rhythm, neglecting every other aspect of the game. Prior to this season, his game was improving as a whole. He was scoring at a higher rate despite his usage rate remaining constant. He was playing decent defense, grabbing a few more rebounds, and improving his PER every season. Essentially, Hayes was still the same mediocre streak shooter, but at least he was getting better at filling the role.
This season, however, Hayes has seen a drop in production in every facet of the game. He's scoring less (5.6 per game, 13.5 per 40, both career lows) and has somehow managed to also grab fewer rebounds (2.1 per game) than ever before, despite playing many minutes at power forward. He's averaging less than an assist a game, and is drawing fouls on a career-low 6.3 percent of his shots. Playing out of position has taken a toll defensively, as the Wizards surrender over 8 points fewer per 100 posessions with Hayes off the court. Normally, when a fourth year spot shooter's scoring goes down, he's finding other ways to contribute, but that's simply not happening with Hayes. The only explanation is that his lack of scoring is somehow in his head.
A rare example of Hayes manning up (Photo Credit: Mid-Atlantic Sports Network)
This, right here, is the Wizards' real shortcoming. Caron Butler's a fantastic offensive player, and deserves to go to the all-star game. But his defense needs a lot of work, and Butler's backup ideally should be one that can defend perimeter 2s, 3s, and 4s and can hide Butler's deficiencies when both play at the same time. Hayes has the body and the athleticism, but he's too concerned with hitting contested 20 foot jumpers.
This obsession with getting into a rhythm is what really bothers me. This Wizards team is being molded around the Big 3, with everyone else having to conform to their roles. DeShawn Stevenson has emerged as a solid man defender after being a Hayes-like player in Orlando. Brendan Haywood has stopped whining, stopped demanding the ball on offense, and learned to get his points on rebounds and putbacks. Antonio Daniels has never complained about not starting, and has become the anchor of the second unit. Even Etan Thomas, the consumate role player from the start, is using the ball less than ever before. They've altered their roles for the good of the team, allowing the Big 3 to do their scoring.
Jarvis Hayes? He's still doing his thing, taking away precious shots from Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison. He's gotten even worse defensively, failing to fill the role the Wizards desperately need. Butler's getting killed by stronger post players like Ryan Gomes and Tayshaun Prince, and Hayes isn't showing enough to stop them. If Hayes took the time to try to diversify his game, the Wizards would be even better. Instead, he's still the same old Jarvis Hayes, only much worse, and he'll hopefully play no more than 10 minutes each game.