Editor’s note: Over the next two weeks, we will be reviewing the seasons each of the Pelicans’ key contributors put together. Here is the sixth installment in the series.
In his first two NBA seasons, Jaxson Hayes showed he could pull off plays no one else was capable of while still grasping at executing the basics consistently.
For every put-back dunk where looked like Gumby rocketing off a trampoline, there were plays when he was out of position defensively, fouled when he should’ve contested, or failed to secure a rebound.
Near the midpoint of the season, the bad outweighed the good by such a significant margin that coach Stan Van Gundy decided to bench his young center. Hayes was demoted to the third-string role for much of February, tough love that seemed to leave an imprint. When he returned to the lineup in early March, Hayes looked like a different player.
“Just being benched,” Hayes said. “That’s what made things click. I got to make sure I come to work every day and make sure I’m professional about everything. Just make sure I’m getting it in every day, getting better and just only controlling the things I can control.”
Toward the end of the season, there were signs that Hayes could be a plus rotation piece sooner rather than later. From March 3 on, he averaged 9.6 points on 61.7% shooting, 4.8 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in 18.5 minutes. In…