The Los Angeles Lakers signed Jaxson Hayes to a two-year, veteran’s minimum contract on the second day of NBA free agency after his former team, the New Orleans Pelicans, declined to even extend him a qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent.
As of the publishing of this post, Hayes is currently the only reserve big man on the roster behind Anthony Davis, so to get a lowdown on what fans can expect from his game, I reached out to my friend Oleh Kosel, the managing editor of The Bird Writes, who has covered Hayes’ entire four-year career so far.
Below is our Q and A.
What should Lakers fans expect to see from Jaxson Hayes? What are his strengths and weaknesses at this stage of his career?
Kosel: Jaxson Hayes’ tenure was a mixed bag throughout his four years in New Orleans. His length and athleticism are first-class, as evidenced by a mountain of highlight dunks, defensive plays and soaring rebounds. His fundamentals, understanding of the game and motor though — while all improved since his rookie season — still lack that desired consistency.
This largely encapsulates why on more than one occasion he would enter the rotation, make a major splash that drew vast praise, but then find himself back on the bench just weeks later.
His best position ultimately proved to be at the 4, as his lack of knowledge and sometimes willingness to check all the boxes of responsibilities at the 5 made it difficult to rely on him as a defensive anchor. His failure to pose as a legitimate shooting threat from the perimeter often compromised the spacing on the floor though. His decision-making was also prone to wild oscillations. He would show the ability to make the correct secondary read with the dribble or pass, and then on the very next possession, produce the poorest of turnovers.
Until he makes a greater commitment to the game by spending hours in the gym — he never nailed down at least one go-to post move during his time in New Orleans — and in the video room to learn opponent tendencies, strategies and the like, he’ll remain a tantalizing but unreliable contributor. So it’s best to keep expectations low. Enjoy the incredible finishes in transition and on rolls to the rim. Hope that Darvin Ham and LeBron James can unlock something more. But realize that he’s not likely to ever approach a high ceiling because that passion for basketball seems to be missing.
Were you surprised he was let go by the Pelicans? Was that mostly just that they didn’t want to give him a qualifying offer when the minimum was his market, or was he just not good for them?
Kosel: Not in the slightest. He stood out far too much as the player who didn’t take his craft seriously. Let’s also not forget that his name swirled in the rumor mill before the last two trade deadlines.
Regardless of the Pelicans’ salary cap situation, very few anticipated his return on any new contract. Honestly, the writing had been on the wall for some time thanks to Hayes’ constant bouts with inconsistency. Big things were particularly expected at the start of his third season, but he failed to even justify a spot in the rotation on a team that got off to a 3-16 start during the 2021-22 campaign.
Is there anything else you think people should know about him?
Kosel: Despite his shortcomings on the court, Hayes was always beloved in the locker room. Teammates often spoke highly of him and he had an unmistakably close bond with most players on the roster.
A big thanks to Oleh for his insight. For more of his Pelicans thoughts, you can follow him on Twitter at @OlehKosel.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.