The Pelicans had three first-round picks in 2019, and they took the no-brainer pick at No. 1 with Zion Williamson. But they also made a high-upside pick at No. 8 by taking Jaxson Hayes. (They later took Nickeil Alexander-Walker at 16.) Williamson is already the face of the future for the Pelicans, and he’s unlike any other prospect we’ve ever seen coming into the league. And Hayes’ game is very raw, and he will likely sit the bench for most of his rookie season.
However, years down the road, I not only think Hayes will be an All-Star, but I think he will ultimately be the best player from the 2019 NBA Draft class.
The amount that Hayes has grown in the last three years as a player is incredible. During his junior year at Moeller High School, he put up just over five points per game as an undersized big man. However, Hayes hit a late growth spurt during his senior year and started getting the attention of college recruits. From his freshman year to his senior year of high school, Hayes grew almost a foot, shooting up from 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-11. Despite initially seeing himself playing in the NFL, Hayes decided to commit full-time to basketball with his height. When Hayes shot up, he kept the athleticism he needed for football, so he’s incredibly mobile for a big man.
Right now, Hayes’ pure basketball skills are limited due to his lack of game experience. Remember, he wasn’t a regular rotational basketball player until his senior year of high school. That was less than two years ago. His 7-foot-4 wing-span allows him to swat away shots and defend the paint. Overall, his game as of right now is incredibly raw, but give him the time he needs to develop, and he could become the league’s best rim protector.
Following his senior season, Hayes committed to Texas University to be the Longhorns’ starting center. Despite not being on ESPN’s Top 100 recruits for 2018, Hayes quickly established himself as a lottery pick. He played around the rim and was an intimidating two-way force, putting up 10.0 PPG on 72.8% field goal shooting while swatting away 2.2 blocks per game during his lone season at Texas.
Unfortunately for the Longhorns, senior Kerwin Roach II got suspended for much of the season, and Texas disappointed, missing the NCAA tournament. During the Big-12 Tournament, Hayes bumped knees with a Kansas player, causing him to be out for the rest of the season. In his absence, Texas went on to win the NIT tourney. Had they made the NCAA tournament, Hayes likely would have played through the pain.
What he lacks
Hayes attempted zero threes during his freshman season, and almost all of his shots were from around the rim. However, I think he could become at least an acceptable three-point shooter in the future. He shot 74% from the foul line last season, which isn’t bad for someone who doesn’t take many deep shots, and with where the NBA is headed, Hayes should be able to develop a jumper. If Marc Gasol can learn to do it at age 32, Jaxson Hayes, a player who went from backup on his high school team to top 10 NBA pick in two years, can certainly learn to do it as a rookie.
Besides the shooting, Hayes’s game is still mostly undeveloped, and he often commits dumb fouls that put his team in trouble. Again, this should be expected from a player who is still a young big-man and learning quickly.
Hayes is also very lanky. Putting on 20 to 30 pounds will go a long way in terms of his being a real interior force. Just look at what it did to Giannis.
Immediate NBA future
This season, I don’t believe Hayes will be in the rotation for the Pelicans. I think it would be smart for the Pelicans to give him time in the G-league so he can get more playing experience. My guess is that Hayes will play under 40 games and average less than 10.0 minutes a night this season. He’s a rookie, and his game is undeveloped.
Long-term future in the NBA
As you read in the title, I do believe Hayes will ultimately be the best from this draft class. With his rim-protecting skills and significant room to grow, I wouldn’t be shocked if he made an All-NBA team one day. I see at least two All-Star appearances in his future and easily an All-NBA Defensive team award, too.
At his absolute least, if he doesn’t develop into the player I see him becoming, I think Hayes will be at the level Jarrett Allen of the Nets is at now. A flashy, rim-protecting big at a starting level.
Call me crazy, but I think at his maximum ceiling, he could be at the level of Anthony Davis by the end of his career. In his prime, I see Hayes putting up at least 25 PPG, 10 or more RPG, and three-plus blocks per game. That in mind, I still don’t think we will fully get to see Hayes become a regular rotational player until year three, and I don’t think he’ll be an All-Star until he’s in his fifth season. But be patient and let him develop; he’s going to incredible, and fun to watch.
The rest of the 2019 Draft Class
Overall, this draft class isn’t particularly loaded. Coming out of the 2018 draft, where everyone in the top five looks like they could be a future All-Star, the 2019 class isn’t as talented or deep.
Don’t get me wrong; I think Zion Williamson is going to be an all-star and will win Rookie of the Year in his career. However, given his size and weight, I question his longevity in the NBA. He’s already dealing with a knee injury that will force him to miss the Pelicans’ opening game. He’s a freak athlete, but given his build and injury concerns, I don’t see him playing in the NBA past the age of 34. Zion and Hayes are teammates now, and the Pelicans will be championship contenders if they stay there and develop in five to seven seasons.
Ja Morant is a freak athlete and super fun to watch, but he’s not someone I see becoming a multi-time All-Star. He’s had knee issues, and his shot is very inconsistent. He also had turnover issues throughout his two seasons at Murray St., and that will be an issue against NBA defenses.
Outside that top two, there is a big dropoff in talent. R.J. Barrett has a high ceiling, but I don’t see him becoming anything ultra-special. DeAndre Hunter, to me, isn’t anything special. Sure, he carried Virginia to a national championship, but skill-wise, he’s a glorified Trevor Ariza. Darius Garland and Coby White are the only other players I see potentially becoming stars. I like Garland a lot, but his health is an issue.
While it will take him a few seasons, in an underwhelming draft class, Jaxson Hayes is going to be the best of the bunch.