[ITW] Killian Hayes, his rise, his critics and Wembanyama

Killian Hayes and the main attraction of the NBA Paris Game 2023 at the Accor Arena on Thursday evening. In front of an audience of French players in the NBA team, it doesn’t happen every day, and the Pistons leader will enjoy every moment.

He answered questions from several media outlets, including ourselves, on Wednesday morning at the House of Puma at the Maison du Denmark on the Champs-Élysées.

Killian, this Paris Games must be an ambiguous context for you, between it being an official match and also being in France?
It’s a great opportunity for me to come and play in front of my family and friends. I’m really excited to be there. Obviously, this is special, but we must not forget our goal: to win on Thursday. This is still a regular season game. It will be very difficult for me to be able to play in front of the French public and my family in France. I can’t wait, really, the opportunity won’t come twice, I think. So my team and I are very excited. I’m going to start and I’m in good shape, I can’t ask for anything more than to play here.

You gain speed with pistons, how do you explain this increase in power?
I had such a rocky start to the season, but I knew I needed a game where my shots were coming to get things going. Unfortunately, Cade Cunningham was injured. Suddenly my role changed, I tuned in and took advantage of the situation by having a bit more possession. The shots started coming and the confidence came.

As a lottery pick and French player, you are double-checked and definitely doubly criticized. How do you manage this pressure and expectations around you? For example, will you look at what is being said about your performances on the networks or in the media?
Avoiding all of this can be complicated. I think I’ve done a good job so far focusing on my team and the people around me. If you do a lot of these things, it can mess up your brain a bit. The important thing is to separate the good reviews from the bad reviews. I don’t necessarily look at what people and journalists say after the matches. I know what I did right or wrong and what I could do better. And then we have a team that watches the matches, they know. I don’t need to go online to see what’s being said next (smiles). I take constructive criticism, like people who see me every day, like my father or employees.

Did you tell yourself in the offseason that you really have to go ahead and go all out or your NBA career might be in a bit of jeopardy?
No, I never approached it that way. The band, the GM and the front office were all behind it and they never pressured me like that. The work I’ve done this summer, and the work I’ve done all my life, makes me think it’s going to happen. Even when I had bad matches, I held my own. I was waiting for the exiles to arrive. Confidence only increases with today’s role. Having a coach and a front office behind you that pushes you every day and encourages you even when things aren’t going well helps you mentally.

Have you ever found it, wondering when it will come?
I wouldn’t say it’s been a long time, but the hardest thing in the NBA is to be consistent. There are 82 matches and you have to be there every night and do well. That’s really the hardest part, and that’s what I’m trying to do now: stay consistent. The goal in the NBA is to limit the number of bad plays. Sometimes you play well a few times in a row and a bad game comes and the shots don’t come. I have to do other things here: defend, find my teammates to make assists. I have to adapt.

How did you manage to maintain this confidence you always showed?
This is a personal matter. I’ve always been able to do that. When things don’t go well, that’s when you adapt and reveal a new side of yourself. I never doubted. I just wondered why my shots weren’t coming etc. The answer is still in the works.

Has your relationship with your teammates changed since you started and flourished?
The relationship with them will never change. I am a passer first and open player. Everyone in this group is really nice.

Everyone in the NBA is talking about Victor, he is the next big thing, an exceptional talent. […] No matter where he goes, he will succeed.

Are you talking about Victor Vembanyam on the team and he could land in Detroit?
Yes, everyone in the NBA is talking about it, it’s the “next big thing”! Victor is an exceptional talent, a 7-footer who can shoot, dribble… I am very happy for him, I hope he will be the 1st choice. It should be. No matter where he goes, he will succeed. We can talk about it among the players, but we are not the ones to decide.

Your defense is one of your qualities. Which opponent do you think is the hardest to defend in the NBA?
I mean Luka Doncic. He has the height, the build, and plays at his own speed. We cannot rush it. He knows how to pass and has shooters around him. It’s very complicated.

What areas of development do you see in your game?
I’m far from a perfect player, I have to learn. Consistency, fitness, my right hand, my swing… I have a lot to learn to be where I want to be in a few years.

In this NBA Paris Game itself, how do you approach this particular opponent, Chicago, with the rivalry that exists between the two franchises?
We played them at home for the first time, it was tight. We lost in the 4th quarter because LaVine made a big play. There will be a game we take seriously. You have to be able to control and limit DeRozan and LaVine. As for the rivalry, Bad Boys vs MJ is history. We often have Isiah Thomas around and feel the energy of his fans when we face the Bulls in games. You can feel the history between the two teams.

Are there any players in the NBA today that you are particularly inspired by?
I would say James Harden, whom I follow a lot. We played Philadelphia 4 times this season. I was also looking at D’Angelo Russell. Actually all leftists. Same goes for Manu Ginobili, even if he stopped before I got to the NBA. I am never paralyzed with admiration, but I always try to learn from them. I steal things from them.

Which teams do you see making it to the NBA Finals this year?
It’s tough in the West, but maybe the Grizzlies are in the Finals. Memphis is strong defensively and offensively with Ja, who is also very strong. I don’t want to tell anyone in the East, although we are not good in the ranking, they are our competitors (laughs).

Do you see your future in Detroit?
My goal is to stay in Detroit because I get a lot of support here. I have one year left on my contract with them and my aim is to stay.

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