Pervis Ellison, Manute Bol, Gheorghe Muresan, Terry Davis, Jim McIlvaine, Don MacLean, Jahidi White, Ike Austin, JaVale McGee. Not exactly a murderers’ row of quality centers. This is just some of the names of centers this team has drafted or acquired over the course of the the past 20 years.
The Wizards have had a very challenging time getting quality centers to build around. Even the likes of players like Marcin Gortat have been solid, but by no means dominant. On June 20, the Wizards have the opportunity to get a center who has the potential to become an elite modern big.
His name? Jaxson Hayes.
Jaxson Hayes, Center, Texas Longhorns
Hayes, at 6 foot 11 inches, 220 pounds has all the physical tools to be a modern big man in today’s NBA. He is long, quick and freakishly athletic with the ability to finish well at the rim. If you like dunks, you’ll like his offensive game:
Jaxson is the son of former NFL player Jonathan Hayes, who played tight end for both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers. His mother was a college basketball player at Drake University, who once averaged 52 points per game in high school in her senior year. Jaxson having the pedigree of athletes, especially having a professional athlete as a parent, will certainly help him as he adapts to being a professional basketball himself.
During his time as a college player, Jaxson drew quite a number of comparisons to Brooklyn Nets big man, Jarrett Allen. Some of these comparison may stem from the fact that both are a product of Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns who also produced the 2018 5th overall pick Mo Bamba.
Like Allen, Hayes has only spent one year in the program, but Allen was the more heralded prospect coming out of high school. Hayes was only ranked as the 89th high school prospect (Allen was 15th) according to ESPN, yet has an opportunity, unlike Allen, to become a lottery pick. This gives you an idea of the kind of impression Hayes has left on scouts as he has ascended in his only year as a Longhorn.
The first thing that jumps at you – literally — when you watch Hayes play, is his raw athleticism. He is an amazing athlete with the ability to be a tremendous roll man for years to come. His ability to find seams in defenses along with his timing of either rolling off or slipping screens became a staple of his offense while playing with the Longhorns this past season. These movements lead to a lot of shots at the basket. So much so that, according to hoop-math.com, Hayes took a whooping 86.7 percent of his field goals at the rim.
Former Texas Assistant Coach Darrin Horn (who just recently left Texas for a head coaching position at another school), was tasked with developing the aforementioned Bamba, Allen as well as Hayes stated this in regards to comparing the 3 of their games:
“Of the three big kids we had the last three years, Jaxson is the best mover of the bunch,” Horn says. “Jarrett’s a terrific sprinter, but Jaxson is right there. Mo’s skilled, he can shoot, and he’s a really good passer. But in terms of being a basketball mover -- quickness, sprinting, moving in space … being able to catch the ball on the roll and contort his body because a help defender has slid in front of him, stuff like that, he’s the best mover of the bunch. The most athletically gifted.”
He fits the physical profile of a modern big largely because of his ability to get to open spaces and to finish on the run. His offensive game is low maintenance in a sense that he does not need the ball in his hand to be effective. He can be effective in small ball lineups because he can still find ways to get easy baskets without clogging the lanes. This bodes well for a team that wants to play small to bring more shooters on to the court, but still wants someone who has the ability to get easy baskets at the rim.
Hayes also has an amazing 7’4” wingspan which helps him on the defensive end. His long reach, along with his athleticism not only makes him a great weakside help defender but it also will helps him to be a great pick and roll defender with the ability to switch onto wing players on the perimeter. Hayes has also shown a great ability as a rim protector in college averaging 2.2 blocks per game, good for 4th in the Big 12 last season. His ability to not only block shots, but also his presence in the paint will equip him well as an NBA center.
Even though he has tremendous ability to finish around the rim, the rest of Hayes’ offensive game remains a mystery. He managed to somehow go an entire season without making a jump shot. As a matter of fact, he only attempted one jump shot. Hayes was a 74 percent free throw shooter, which does boast well for his potential as a shooter. He shows some good shooting mechanics, but it remains to be seen if he will be able to score away from the basket.
During his time at Texas, Hayes simply was not asked to do much beyond being a rim runner, is that a product of his lack of ability or simply lack of opportunity? Only time will tell.
Speaking of catching the ball, not only has Hayes amazingly not put much as a shooter, he also hasn’t as a passer. In 32 games played, he only made 9 assists for the whole season! Again, is this a matter of being a product of a system or simply does he lack the ability to move the ball around?
In 30 games, Mo Bamba had 15 assists in his one year at Texas. In 33 games, Jarrett Allen had 27 assists. None of these are eye popping numbers, perhaps pointing to the bigs in Smart’s system simply not being asked to pass much.
With that said it once again points to a part of his game being an unknown. If he is going to become any kind of threat going forward offensively, he will have to understand the complexities of NBA defenses, understanding how teams will attack him and knowing when it’s his time to be aggressive looking for his own shot (well in his case probably a dunk), and when it’s his time to move the ball.
Teams in the NBA often throw double teams at young bigs to see how they handle them. Very rarely are they equip at reading defenses and moving the ball at the right time early on in their careers. This is a huge question mark for Hayes.
And as great of an athlete as Hayes can be, he is very slight. Coming into the league at only 220 lbs., he will need to put on weight to bang with NBA big man. Although, depending on the system it is not likely that he will post much, he will still need more size for being able to rebound and to prevent teams from posting him up.
He has shown some ability to be a good, not necessarily great, rebounder, in the NBA he will need more girth to bang down low. Athleticism and length doesn’t necessarily equate to great rebounding so he will need to add some size and technique to go along with those attributes to become a quality NBA rebounder.
For what we do know about Hayes, he has been a late bloomer. He made tremendous strides as a college player the one year he played, but how does this translate? It’s possible that his ceiling isn’t much higher than what he displayed in college.
If that’s the case, any team that does draft him, are drafting him on the potential of him continuing to develop. Consider this, he did not produce a single double-double as a freshmen and he only had one double digit rebounding game. Is that a sign of what’s to come or can he truly take another step in his development? That’s the risk a team must be willing to take on.
What was Hayes’ best game as a college player?
Fittingly in showing his theme of developing his game, Hayes’ best game came against TCU in the last game of the regular season where he recorded 19 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block and 0 turnovers.
Fit for the Wizards
The Wizards’ defense was horrendous last season. The team needs a complete makeover on that end of that floor. In order to do so, it will be necessary for them to use this #9 pick to get player who can significantly contribute at that end.
Having a young defensive-minded big man who can be a rim protector will not only help around the basket, but will help the Wizards perimeter defense as well since the team’s wing players will be allowed to be more aggressive, knowing there is protection behind them that will, at least if nothing else, serve as a deterrent at the rim.
I know, I know, I hear some people already saying, well what about Thomas Bryant? Let’s look at the roster moving forward.
Yes, there is a potential of keeping Thomas Bryant, and I truly believe the team, within reason, should do what they can to keep Thomas Bryant. Outside of him, you have Dwight Howard who played nine games last year and is on the last year of his contract and the team is also mercifully on the last year of Ian Mahinmi’s contract.
On the surface, the center position doesn’t seem like a position of need. But on June 20, if the team drafts Hayes (and assuming he signs a deal to play with the team), he will be the only center that would be on the roster beyond the 2019-20 season.
On the other side too, let’s say that the team does re-sign Thomas Bryant, can we definitively say he is the center of the future?
Bryant was a very good and efficient offensive player, who showed an ability to stretch the floor, but he struggled tremendously on defense. He is not a great pick and roll defender, and lacks the strength to be effective as a post defender. It is certainly possible he can improve, but his lack of elite athleticism will severely limit his ceiling.
Even if Bryant produces at a similar level as last season, he can be a solid backup center. The hope would be that Hayes can be your starting center going forward and Bryant will be able to fill in when called on.
The prospect of drafting Jaxson Hayes has to be exciting. This team has not had a big man with the ability to catch lobs and protect the rim at an elite level. Can Hayes be the one center that breaks the mold of the Wizards’ lukewarm history of centers? And will the Wizards be willing to take that chance?