Scouting Report: Nigel Hayes was made for the NBA’s small ball era

Apr 6, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes (10) shoots during the first half against the Duke Blue Devils in the 2015 NCAA Men
Apr 6, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes (10) shoots during the first half against the Duke Blue Devils in the 2015 NCAA Men /
Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

Playing between Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker at power forward last season, Nigel Hayes emerged as a crucial part of Wisconsin’s team. His ability to stretch the floor and bang inside on offense perfectly suited Wisconsin’s style of play and helped unlock the uber-efficient basketball they played on both ends.

This year, without Dekker or Kaminsky around, Hayes will be forced into a larger offensive role and his scoring ability — both inside and out — will be tested. Hayes has more of a role player-type game, so seeing if he can maintain his production while expanding his game will tell us a lot about his future.

Standing at only 6-8 yet still playing the 4 in college has led to the “tweener” label for Hayes. In his case, though, it seems a bit unfair. He’s a strongly built 237 pounds and has a 7-3.5 wingspan, which suits him perfectly for today’s small ball-heavy NBA. For example, both Paul Millsap and Draymond Green measured shorter (height and wingspan) at the NBA Combine, and neither are questioned as “tweeners” anymore.


After attempting a grand total of zero 3-pointers during his freshman year, Hayes shot 101 times from deep in 2014-15 and converted them at a fantastic rate of 39.6 percent. In addition to upping his long range marksmanship, he went from 58.5 percent free throw shooting to 74.4 percent and shot a healthy 43.6 percent on 2-point jumpers.

His release is high and behind his head, making it a little slow but not to the point where he only shoots open 3s. Hayes was effective in both pick-and-pop and spot-up situations inside and outside the arc, and if he shoots well again there should be little skepticism about the legit-ness of his outside stroke.

Creating Offense

Along with his catch-and-shoot ability, Hayes flashed the occasional pull-up jumper last season. He’s not the most comfortable with the motion at this point, but that he has even flashed it is an encouraging sign for his development.

Part of the reason Hayes played the power forward role while Dekker played the three is due to his lack of ball handling. He’s not an erratic dribbler and even played as the ballhandler in pick-and-roll with Kaminsky at times, but he doesn’t possess the ability to really change directions or break players down in traffic. That being said, his handle is an advantage as a power forward, especially in conjunction with a loping and explosive first step to attack closeouts.

Wisconsin’s offense even gave Hayes the freedom to attack opponents in isolation, and his speed combined with his burly strength allowed him to turn the corner on slower defenders and finish in the lane. He’s not particularly explosive finishing above the rim, but he does a nice job hanging and finding angles to drop shots in around the basket.

His touch around the basket also helps him in the post, where he frequently got the best of frailer college opponents. He does a great job establishing position and uses a combination of short jump hooks and fadeaways to be a surprisingly effective post option. He lacks the size to post-up opposing 4s, but his lower body strength could make him a good bail out option when guards switch onto him even at the NBA level.

Hayes isn’t a particularly creative passer, but his 11.9 percent assist rate in contrast with his 11.0 percent turnover rate is impressive for a non-guard. As a Bo Ryan disciple, his smart decision making is to be expected, but is nonetheless a great sign for his NBA future. He moves the ball well around the perimeter and can even make some nice tic-tac-toe sequences inside the paint.

The biggest concern for Hayes on offense at the next level is finishing inside against the trees of the NBA. He can clear space with his body and has nice touch, but his height and mediocre bounce will make finishing in crowded areas a struggle for him.

Hayes’ handles and athleticism prevent him from ever profiling as a high volume scorer, yet his well-rounded offensive game makes him a great fit as a role player at the next level. He has the ball handling chops to make plays on closeouts and rolling down the lane, can take advantage of guards on switches and has the jump shot to demand defensive respect wherever he is on the court. Nothing in particular stands out, though, and Hayes profiles as more “average at everything” than he does “good at everything” on the offensive end.


Hayes complements his diverse offensive game with an equally versatile style of play on the defensive end. He does a great job matching up with almost all 4s, with both the strength to battle in the post and more than enough quickness to contain face-up players. His strength also prevents him from getting bullied on the glass, and more than makes up for his size disadvantage.

In pick-and-roll situations, Bo Ryan frequently let Hayes switch onto opposing guards, leading to generally positive results. His lateral quicks for a power forward are impressive but not quite at the elite level where he can seamlessly switch on and off of guards. He generally plays a step off quicker guys and while he can still be effective doing so, it limits his defensive impact.

As an off-ball guy, Hayes is a sound rotator and rarely makes glaring mistakes but isn’t super active. He is not a playmaker on the defensive end, either. He’s most frequently compared to Draymond Green by other draftniks, and while they certainly possess a lot of similarities, Hayes doesn’t come close to matching Draymond’s rare breed of hyperactivity and instincts on the defensive end. His strength and quickness mean he could potentially be a good defender in the NBA, but he doesn’t profile as anything more than above-average.


Hayes isn’t a flashy prospect with “star” potential, however, not many players in most drafts have that potential outside of the top-5 or so prospects. Besides, Hayes has a lot of things you’d look for in a very effective role player in the NBA. Providing a team with flexibility and spacing on offense while being helpful on the defensive end is extremely valuable in its own right, and clearly valued in today’s small ball era.

The major draft sites currently have Hayes in the 20-30 range on their big boards, but I’m a big fan of his well-rounded game and think he’s being underrated due to unnecessary concerns about his upside and whether or not he’s a “tweener.” If he improves upon last year’s strong performance, Hayes will certainly be in my top-20 and even could sneak into the back end of my lottery.