ULM, GERMANY - MARCH 08: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Killian Hayes of Ratiopharm Ulm controls the Ball during the EasyCredit Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) match between Ratiopharm Ulm and MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg at ratiopharm Arena on March 8, 2020 in Ulm, Germany.
(Photo by Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Killian Hayes is French like Frank Ntilikina and a lefty like RJ Barrett. Could he be the missing link in the New York Knicks’ backcourt?

Danny Small

It’s no secret. The New York Knicks need to find the point guard of the future. In 2017, they thought they might have that in Frenchman Frank Ntilikina. After three up-and-down seasons, it looks like Ntilikina is best suited for a supporting role as an elite defender.

Now with the 2020 NBA Draft approaching, could the Knicks go back across the Atlantic Ocean to snag another French floor general? This time, we’re talking about Killian Hayes, an 18-year-old lefty who stands at 6-foot-5.

Until we have clarity on the draft process (lottery, combine, etc.) and a definitive date for the event, it’s hard to suss out where the Knicks will end up drafting. However, according to most mock drafts, it’s likely Hayes will be on the board when New York ends up picking.

Strengths

Although most Knicks fans probably haven’t seen much of Hayes, there’s plenty to love about this prospect. The first thing that jumps out is his size. He definitely has an NBA body and will be a bigger point guard at 6-foot-5. Like most 18-year-old prospects, he needs to add muscle as he continues to grow into his body.

That size means that Hayes has enticing defensive versatility. Although he’ll rarely take small forwards as his main defensive assignment, he’s capable of guarding three positions.

Sure, he has the NBA body to defend at a high level, but what does he bring offensively?

Hayes is still coming into his own as a passer, but he’s shown the ability to throw one-handed skip passes with ease. Despite some turnover issues and an overreliance on his left hand, Hayes showcases solid vision and feel for the game.

As a scorer, Hayes can operate at all three levels. In 10 EuroCup games, the lefty shot 45% from the field, 39% from three, and 91% from the free-throw line. Of course, this is the part where I tell you to beware of small sample sizes, but Hayes passes the eye test as well.

His smooth stroke, sound footwork, and quick release should translate to the NBA. Despite Hayes’ success from three-point range, he doesn’t let it hinder his aggressiveness. Attacking the basket and drawing contact is a major part of his game.

Weaknesses

As mentioned earlier, Hayes is a lefty who definitely favors that hand. Oftentimes when he’s driving to his right hand, the Frenchman will either step back for a jumper or figure out a way to cross it back to his left hand.

However, this shouldn’t be much of a red flag for any team. He’ll grow more comfortable with his right hand with reps and experience.

Perhaps one area that should concern teams is Hayes’ ball security. He posted a 6.2/3.3 assist to turnover ratio during EuroCup. Generally, a two to one ratio is the bare minimum teams want out of a point guard (aside from the obvious high-usage stars a la Russell Westbrook).

NBA defenses will eat up a rookie point guard who can’t withstand ball pressure. That leads to turnovers in the form of strips, forced passes, and even bad shots.

Fit with the Knicks

What exactly is Killian Hayes? Is he a pure point guard? Lead guard? Combo guard? Something in between all that?

Should the Knicks take Hayes with their lottery pick, he’ll be the purest point guard on the roster. RJ Barrett can handle the ball, but he’s definitively a two-guard. Frank Ntilikina plays the point, but he’s really more of a combo guard who can thrive off the bench.

The trio could form an interesting backcourt dynamic together. Hayes and Barrett would start with Ntilikina as the first guard off the bench. Barrett and Ntilikina formed a strong connection to one another last season and the former attributed that on-court bond to a European-style connection.

“I like it a lot,” Barrett said of playing alongside Ntilikina after a February game against the Indiana Pacers. “I understand his game a lot. [He’s a] European player — that’s kind of the way I played growing up. I feel like we understand each other.”

Adding another guard that can fit well with the two guys in the backcourt makes perfect sense. Not to mention, Ntilikina can serve as a strong mentor to Hayes as he makes the transition from Europe to New York. No one on the Knicks has gone through more up and downs in the last three years than Ntilikina.

Hayes’ shooting is really the x-factor here. Both Barrett and Ntilikina struggle in that area and the Knicks can’t afford to add another guard with an inconsistent shot.

Judging by the various potential draft scenarios, Hayes should be on the board when the Knicks are drafting. He might be the long-sought-after answer at point guard, but he’s far from a sure thing.

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