Jaxson Hayes just showed why the Pelicans continue to have hope for the 2019 draft pick

Pelicans beat Mavericks despite losing Brandon Ingram to ankle injury
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In 2019, the New Orleans Pelicans traded the No. 4 pick to the Atlanta Hawks so they could take three separate swings at adding a contributor to the core recently appointed executive vice president David Griffin was assembling.

The Pelicans got back the Nos. 8, 17 and 35 selections. They chose Jaxson Hayes, an athletic but raw teenager from Texas, at No. 8; Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a skilled, erratic combo guard from Virginia Tech, at No. 17; and Didi Louzada, a defensive-minded wing from Brazil, at No. 35.

Of those three players, only Hayes is still on the roster. Alexander-Walker and Louzada were moved as part of the CJ McCollum trade. The Pelicans explored deals involving Hayes at this year’s deadline before deciding to hold onto him.

Hayes has shown flashes of promise in his four years with the team, but he has rarely been able to put together sustained stretches of good play. On Wednesday, Hayes’ performance in a win against the Dallas Mavericks showed why it has been so hard for the Pelicans to give up on him despite his underwhelming track record.

Hayes scored 14 points on 6-of-6 shooting. The Pelicans outscored the Mavericks by 11 points with him on the floor. Hayes made every shot he attempted, and he was just as valuable on defense as he was as an interior scoring threat.

With Hayes at center, the Pelicans often switched ball screens. Hayes never looked overwhelmed, even when it was his responsibility to defend Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks ball handler who is perhaps the NBA’s best one-on-one scorer.

Doncic shot 0 of 5 from the field in the second quarter. Hayes had a direct hand in contesting three of those misses. Hayes stayed in a defensive stance and contested Doncic’s shot attempts without fouling — all a defender can do against a player of Doncic’s caliber.

“He’s getting an opportunity to play, and he’s taking advantage of it,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “We need him with Larry being out. His athleticism, his speed. He’s just locked in at the moment. We need that from everybody.”

Larry Nance Jr. has been New Orleans’ most-used big man in fourth quarters this season. Nance’s defensive versatility is the main reason why. Nance is more mobile than Jonas Valanciunas and Willy Hernangomez, the two traditional centers on New Orleans’ roster, and less mistake-prone than the 22-year-old Hayes.

However, Nance has missed the past five games with a left ankle sprain. That has left Green without a switchable big man at his disposal except for Hayes. Hayes played 24 minutes against Dallas, the fourth-most minutes he’s logged in a game this season.

“I’m so proud of Jaxson how he’s stuck with it,” Green said. “It’s not easy not playing and being in and out of the rotation. The last few games, he’s been consistent for us.”

In an NBA season defined largely by players’ lack of availability, the Pelicans have been one of the league’s most injured teams. They rank third in games lost due to injury, according to Man-Games Lost. Nance, who is slated to be reevaluated sometime next week, will miss New Orleans’ next two games at least. Zion Williamson, who injured his hamstring in January, is not close to returning to the floor. Their absences have left an opening for Hayes to contribute.

“He was great, man,” Pelicans forward Herb Jones said about Hayes. “He played hard. Did what he was supposed to defensively and offensively. I think the biggest thing that I took away from it was he played super hard. He didn’t really dwell on his mistakes when he made some. Had short-term memory. And stuck to the game plan.”

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About Marc Lemoine 1340 Articles
Marc is an Economist and a well experienced weightlifter who has won many championships. He intends to build a bright career in the media industry as well. He is a sports freak who loves to cover the latest news on sports, finance and economy.

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