Top NBA Prospects in the Big Ten, Part 7: Prospects #16-20October 14, 2014
Ranked as the 83rd best prospect in the class of 2013 by ESPN, easily the highest among recruiting services that year, Nigel Hayes put together a terrific freshman season, exceeding even the most optimistic projections for his first year in the NCAA. The Toledo, Ohio native averaged 7.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in just 17.4 minutes per-game, carving out a significant role for a talented Wisconsin team that was an Aaron Harrison three-pointer away from playing for a National Championship last March.
Hayes' success in earning playing time as a freshman was certainly aided by his physical maturity. Recruited as a defensive end like his brother, former Ohio State player Kenny Hayes, before ultimately choosing to pursue basketball at the college level, the Whitmer HS (OH) product combines just-decent size standing 6'7.5 in shoes with a 7'2 wingspan and a powerful 235-pound frame. Possessing good mobility and quickness for his size, Hayes is a physically imposing college power forward, though he lacks size significantly for his position from a NBA perspective.
More-so than almost any player in the country, Hayes did look to impose his will on the game offensively. Using a higher percentage of Wisconsin's possessions when he was on the floor than any player on Bo Ryan's roster, Hayes played a unique role for the Badgers offensively considering he played less than 20 minutes per-game. More than 50% of his possessions came in one-on-one situations in the perimeter or the post, a distinction usually reserved for a prolific post scorer or a dominant inside-outside weapon, not a freshman four-man who lacks 3-point range.
Some of Hayes's massive usage in one-on-one situations is systematic, but it is also rooted in how well his skill level compliments his physical tools. By no means is Hayes a glamorous offensive player, but his ability to put the ball on the floor with both hands, combined with a strong first step, strong lower body, and solid footwork under the rim make him difficult for most collegiate forwards to handle when operating with his back to the basket or facing up in the midrange.
A bit turnover prone due to just how often he looks to bully his way inside, Hayes proves fairly effective finishing around the rim. He doesn't have outstanding touch, but his ability to create angles and absorb contact helped him shoot a solid 55% in post-up and finishing situations, the large majority of which he created on his own. Shooting 67% off cuts according to Synergy Sports Technology, Hayes's finishing numbers bely his actual consistency due to the degree of difficulty of the shots attempts at the rim relative to the average player.
Away from the rim, Hayes is a capable, but inefficient jump shooter. Sinking 24 of his 60 jump shots a year ago, his 40% shooting away from the rim reflects his ability to knock down jump shots when facing up or spotting up in the midrange, but his below average 0.8 points per jump shot shows how his lack of three-point range limits the impact of this part of his game. Shooting just 59% from the free throw line, Hayes has plenty of room to grow as a shooter, but his quick, albeit somewhat rigid, shooting stroke appears to have the potential to be a tool for him long-term.
Aside from his scoring ability, Hayes's rebounding ability doesn't really jump off the page, especially defensively. His 2.2 offensive rebounds per-40 minutes pace-adjusted and his 4.3 defensive rebounds per-40 minutes pace-adjusted would both rank among the lowest marks among power forwards in top-100 if Hayes's name was in that mix. Though some of that is due to the contributions Wisconsin gets from its guards on the glass, scouts will be keeping an eye on Hayes's impact on the glass as he begins to assume a larger role in the coming seasons.
Despite his short comings tracking down rebounds, Hayes was a surprisingly productive defender ranking among the 20 players in the country and one of only two freshmen who averaged over 1.2 blocks and 1.9 steals per-40 minutes pace adjusted last season. His combination of length and lateral quickness are fairly impressive, and although he was prone to some freshman mistakes, his knack for using his hands and being physical inside leave plenty of room for optimism about his future on this end of the floor, even if they did play into the 6 fouls he committed per-40 minutes pace adjusted.
With Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky returning to Wisconsin, this season will be an interesting one for Hayes. He isn't likely to see his offensive role grow as much as many of his peers in the sophomore class, but he is likely to once again be a significant factor for one of the nation's elite teams when he's on the floor. Hayes's lack of size and poor rebounding numbers are obvious concerns, but there's no doubt he has some interesting tools to work with and was among the most pleasant surprises in the freshman class a year ago.
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