Jaxson Hayes has been the best version of himself during the preseason for the Lakers. He averaged 16.3 minutes per game, had some highlight-worthy blocks, looked good in pick-and-roll action with D'Angelo Russell and shot an unbelievable 85.7% from the field.
Following the team's final preseason game against Phoenix, where Hayes finished the night with 7 points and 3 rebounds on 3-3 shooting, he made it clear he is all in on his role this year.
"My job is to come here and make the team better, and be the little glue guy on defense and on offense," Hayes said postgame. "Guys are going to come out and shoot 20 shots a game. I'm going to shoot whatever shots I'm given… But on the defensive end, I'm here to play good defense, guard the rim and, like you mentioned, be a guy who can come in for (Anthony Davis) and pick up where he left off when he comes out of the game with guarding the rim and switching onto guards."
This is insane recovery ability by Jaxson Hayes pic.twitter.com/DSKPPlvTQf— Sean “Spaces” Davis (@Sean_Davi) October 16, 2023
As we said in our season preview for Hayes, all that's required from him is to defend the rim, switch onto guards and score efficiently, similar to JaVale McGee’s role for the Lakers during the 2020 title. You need players like that coming off the bench to be a spark plug and wreak havoc on second-string units while your starters get a breather.
If he can make a case to be a starter alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, making them an enormously big team, then that's fine, but it’s clearly not option No. 1 for Darvin Ham and the Lakers. They only ran with a lineup of James, Davis, Hayes, Austin Reaves and Russell once and while it did show potential, it's unlikely to be a common occurrence.
The Lakers have had a lot of success with players coming off their first contract with their original team and shining in a new role in Southern California, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the 2017-18 season and Malik Monk in 2021-22 as perfect examples.
Now Hayes has the opportunity to add his name to that list this season. L.A. hasn’t played games that matter yet, but based on his comments and his play during preseason, he appears primed to do it.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.