They’re so freaked out over the treads, they’re missing the rubber, the sidewall still intact after potholes from sea to shining sea. They forget, Wisconsin Badgers star Nigel Hayes reminds you, about Malcolm Brogdon.
In his first season with the Milwaukee Bucks, Brogdon, a 6-foot-5 swing guard from Virginia, led all NBA rookies in assists per game (4.2) and steals per game (1.1), wound up fourth in scoring (10.2), and second in 3-point percentage (.404), free-throw percentage (.865) and minutes per game (26.4).
A year ago at this time, NBADraft.net said this of the Cavaliers’ senior:
While he may not have much upside because of his age (23 years old), he does possess maturity, a high basketball IQ, competitiveness, leadership qualities, and a solid skill level on both ends of the court that can land him on an NBA roster next season.
Interesting. Sound like anybody else we know?
“It’s the best analogy I have for it,” Hayes, the Badgers’ former frontcourt rock, told Land of 10. “That’s just the world we live in, unfortunately.”
Spring is rough on NBA draft prospects; the magnifying glasses and knives are out in force, every flaw a potential headline. Unlike their NFL and MLB counterparts, the slots are precious and few, and the wrong whisper can spread like a prairie fire.
But for the love of Pewaukee, even fictional scouts are taking piñata shots at Hayes these days. Former Sports Illustrated basketball writer Seth Davis earlier this month mashed the opinions of five anonymous NBA personnel men into a series of one-paragraph takes on his new blog, and the suits went all Shane Stant on the ex-Wisconsin standout:
“I don’t think he’s an NBA player. Everyone was disappointed in the condition he reported in at the combine. You wonder if he’s focused on being a basketball player or are his outside interests more important to him. It seems like he regressed from last year. I am not a fan. He can really pass, I love that about him, high IQ. He just didn’t get any better from his sophomore year. He doesn’t hang his hat on one thing. He has below average athleticism. Who’s he gonna guard?”
I mean, other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
I love Nigel and want him to succeed but if he’s working so hard why did he show up to the combine out of shape?
— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) June 12, 2017
Look, Hayes says. Just get me in there.
Open the door. Let me show you.
“Speaking to a lot of others who are in the draft, in the NBA, they say the same thing,” said Hayes, who averaged 14.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists for the Badgers this past winter. “All [the draft] says is what you’re going to be paid in your first contract.
“It doesn’t tell how successful you’re going to be. Isaiah Thomas is proof of that. He’s the last pick [in 2011] and he’s running circles around the other 59 guys drafted ahead of him. It’s all how you do when you get there and how hard you work.”
For the last few months, Hayes has been chopping wood at the Peak Performance Project facility — P3, the kids call it — in Santa Barbara, Calif., rubbing elbows with prospects two or three years younger. Of the top 15 players listed on NBADraft.net’s latest mock for the June 22 draft, 14 are college freshmen.
Hayes is 22. Grizzled. Therein lies his quandary and his challenge, to prove the anonymous sources that not all the dandies of 2017 are of the diaper variety.
With a reported 7-foot-3 wingspan and a 33.5-inch vertical, the Ohio native has proven mileage as a finisher in the paint, converting 62 percent of his attempts at the rim as a senior, according to Hoop-Math.com, up 11 points from a frustrating junior campaign.
But Kenneth Faried, he ain’t. And while front offices love versatility, they also love specialists, guys whose games can convert into standard NBA archetypes. Rim protector. Enforcer. Three-point bench ace. Slasher. Defensive stopper.
At 6-7, 254 pounds, Hayes is all of the above and sort of none of the above in the same breath — smart, strong, a good defender, tough as old bread, solid shooting range. But like his personality, the game is unique, and tough for conventional NBA thinkers to stick into a conventional NBA box.
“At my Lakers workout, I was able to show my versatility, shoot off the dribble and play pick-and-roll,” said Hayes, who connected on 31.4 percent of his three-point attempts as a senior and was a career 33.2 percent shooter from beyond the arc in Madison.
“That’s something I wasn’t able to show at Wisconsin, based on the offense we ran. I’ve just tried to get better the last [few] weeks.”
And if teams don’t think he’s “an NBA player,” based on his travel schedule the last six weeks, they’ve sure as heck got a funny way of showing it:
The Knicks are scheduled to work out Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes next week, per league sources. More: https://t.co/NrsV6yG0Os
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) June 10, 2017
June 10 @TrailBlazers workout: F Bam Adebayo, G Dwayne Bacon, G/F Dillon Brooks, G/F Terrance Ferguson, F Nigel Hayes, G Melo Trimble
— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) June 10, 2017
Others to work out for Hawks Thursday in addition to Kornet and Kuzma: Dwyane Bacon, Nigel Hayes and Nik Slavica.
— Chris Vivlamore (@CVivlamoreAJC) June 9, 2017
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 7, 2017
Among players scheduled to work out for Lakers tomorrow: Wisconsin’s own Nigel Hayes (sorry, a little Badger bias there).
— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) May 19, 2017
Just a Badger and a Spartan meeting up for hoops.
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) May 19, 2017
“I have belief in myself,” Hayes said. “I have the work ethic, the basketball IQ, dependability. Whatever team picks me up will be more than happy with their choice.”