After selecting a power forward and center in consecutive drafts, and figuring both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter have been deemed untouchable in trade talks, the Bulls drafting a perimeter player in a wing heavy draft seemed obvious.
One draft possibility that hasn’t been linked to Bulls much but two people I respect/talked to today believe is strong fit: Texas big man Jaxson Hayes
...the Texas big man has intrigued some within the Bulls, per sources.
The Bulls would be wise to do their due diligence on all players, even those that play the same position as their most recent lottery pick. A reality exists where Hayes, either at No. 7 or in a potential trade down scenario, may be the best player available.
With that in mind, let’s dive into who Jaxson Hayes is.
In play style and physical build, it’s hard to look at Hayes and not see shades of former Bull Tyson Chandler. Measuring just under 7-feet while carrying around a lean 218 pound frame, Hayes may be one of the most gifted and coordinated athletic prospects in the draft.
In possession of a 7-foot-3 wing span and an insane vertical leap, it’s easy to see a path where Hayes can become one of the better rim-running centers in the league, either in halfcourt pick-and-roll sets, or as a trail option in transition. Paired with a creative perimeter playmaker who can command the majority of defensive attention, a rolling Hayes and his ability to live above rim and finish on lobs can transform an offense already featuring a cast of shooters on the perimeter. While Hayes is unlikely to be anything more than a low volume, at-rim scorer, he will do it efficiently — 72.8 percent of his attempt were converted. That sounds very similar to Chandler throughout his prime years, something Hayes could replicate in the NBA.
Transferring his physical attributes to the defensive end of the floor, Hayes was one of the better shot blockers in the country during his lone season at Texas, blocking 10.6 percent attempts while he was on the floor. That skills alone suggests there’s reason to believe Hayes can develop into one of the better rim protectors in the league.
Whether that’s enough to anchor a high-level remains to be seen, as the demand on modern centers to defend in space has never been greater. Fortunately for Hayes, his natural physical gifts also include perimeter-like speed and quickness. As such, there’s scope in using Hayes as a switch, show or hedge option in guarding smaller players out high. Notably, Hayes also appears to own the requisite effort to be a multi-level defender, a trait any one-positional player must have if he’s to remain on the floor.
A player’s best strengths can often be perceived as a weakness, and that is happening in Hayes’ case. While he can be an elite finisher at the rim, only 15 percent of his field goal attempts came away from the basket. Put another way, Hayes currently isn’t a shooting threat beyond several feet from the basket, and there’s little reason to believe that will change anytime soon. That reality may complicate his fit within an offense should his place in a rotation be featured in too many lineups with not enough shooting and spacing options.
While the breadth of Hayes’ offensive game is limited, his impact defensively will also be challenged if he doesn’t build out his body. Such a critique may be typical for most 19-year-old big man who’ve yet to grow into their body. But in Hayes’ case, a player who’s worth is largely dictated by physical attributes than skill, it may be a rough few years in the league until his body fully develops. That lack of size and strength also has made Hayes prone to fouling and susceptible to being out positioned on the defensive glass. While that can partly be blamed on his build, it’s fair to wonder if Hayes has the necessary desire to finish a defensive possession with a tough, contested rebound — for context, Hayes’ defensive rebound rate as a center (16.3 percent) marginally exceeded Kris Dunn’s (14.7 percent) during his final season at Providence.
Perhaps more discouraging than anything within Hayes’ game is his style of play in the context of the modern NBA. A league shift to smaller lineups means there’s relative ease in finding mercenary options to fill his role. While his ceiling as a lob threat and rim protector would add value to most rotations, unless Hayes develops his offensive repertoire beyond the paint while simultaneously becoming transformational on defense, his true worth to a team will be around replacement level.
The Bulls are in need of depth at every position, including center. For that reason, adding Hayes to the roster makes sense.
Or does it?
While selecting the best player available should always be the primary method when drafting talent, at some point fit must be at least considered a factor. It remains to be seen if Hayes will be the most talented player available, but even so, it’s difficult to justify a rebuilding team using a third successive No. 7 pick on another traditionally-sized big man, particularly as the league continues to shift to smaller, more versatile lineups.
Moreover, using another top-10 pick on another young, inexperienced center may not be the most cost effective move either. Rookies make more in the new CBA, and the No. 7 pick is scheduled to earn $4.4 million in year one contract. Still not a lot, but the cost of centers has diminished in the modern NBA. It’s plausible to find a big-bodied veteran to backup Carter in free agency, all while doing so on equal or less money. The Milwaukee Bucks did exactly when they signed Brook Lopez to a one-year, $3.5 million deal last offseason. Lopez’s brother, Robin, should be an affordable option to be retained. Hayes, one the youngest players in the draft, is a project in need of time and development, whereas RoLo will be more beneficial for a young Bulls team in need of leadership and defensive experience.
More than anything else, drafting Hayes would be a redundant decision for any team already allocating a sizeable portion of minutes to another youthful center prospect. Adding another one-positional player who is unlikely to be anything more than a backup on the Bulls would be a waste of resources given the obvious need in the backcourt.