Yesterday, the Big Ten named Nigel Hayes its player of the week. Hayes is such an interesting talent, especially considering he’s also someone who leaves Badger fans scratching their heads at times. He’s such a smart, talented guy, but through stretches, last year and parts of this year, it occasionally doesn’t all coalesce.
His numbers, aside from last year’s shooting percentage, are fine really. It’s really about the eye-test. Occasionally it looks like he’s pressing or forcing action, occasionally settling for a contested three. Not that he’s turned a corner, because I’m not sure there was a corner to turn, but after two impressive wins Wisconsin may have worked through any offensive struggles and a lot of that is due to Hayes.
A Tale of Two Games
Both Oklahoma and Syracuse were at the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin has been traditionally very tough to beat. Regardless, both of those wins are still impressive, if not for the opponents, then for the way in which the Badgers won. Hayes has only scored in double-figures in five of the team’s first nine games, but his last two are of note.
Against the Orange, Hayes was the key to unlocking the Syracuse zone. Greg Gard put him at the high post and he attacked the zone from the middle of it. Once the ball got to Hayes, he could drive and kick to open shooters or take midrange jumpers. Or, like he did on more than a few occasions, he found Ethan Happ working the baseline. Really, he demonstrated the full arsenal and was a point short of a triple-double (nine points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists).
Hayes switched his approach against Oklahoma’s man-to-man and led the Badgers in scoring rather than play the role of facilitator. He scored 28 points (18 in the second half on 5-for-7 from the floor and 7-for-8 from the free throw line). Great players tend to understand what their team needs during a certain game, during any given moment, and deliver that performance. Hayes did that against Syracuse and Oklahoma.
In each of these two games, the stats are good and he passes the eye-test. I’m not sure, but it could be a sign of the maturation of his offensive game.
Hayes’ shooting is such a huge focus this season. That part of his game has implications for this season and beyond, should he find himself in the NBA. He’s shooting 43 percent overall and 33 percent from three, both of which are improvements over last year.
His shot selection has been much better over the last two games and even throughout the full season. True, he’s playing fewer minutes so far this year (about eight less per game), but he’s also taking almost four less shots a game and he’s making about the same number.
Reacting to Flops
Undoubtedly, this had nothing to do with Hayes being named Big Ten Player of the Week, but his reaction to Oklahoma’s Khadeem Lattin is on point and real player-of-the-week material.
Rather than get angry and start a shoving match, I completely endorse this approach. There’s no need to escalate an already ludicrous situation.
Badgers fans hope the last two games, which have demonstrated Hayes’ offensive versatility, is a sign of things to come this season. His versatility is his strongest, and perhaps most valuable, quality this year). To be corny, variety is the spice of life. And, when Hayes is attacking, creating for others and picking his spots from the perimeter, he’s a tough match up.