Last week, Wisconsin basketball alumnus Nigel Hayes took the court in Los Angeles in his NBA debut. Hayes only played one minute and did not record any statistics, but the moment was not lost on the three-time all Big Ten forward.
Only up from here. #DreamsDoComeTrue
— Nigel Hayes (@NIGEL_HAYES) January 22, 2018
He inked a 10-day contract with the Lakers on Jan. 19.
Third on the Wisconsin basketball all-time scoring list, Hayes finished his collegiate career last season with a fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen.
Hayes was not selected in the 2017 NBA draft but earned a spot on the Westchester Knicks, the New York Knick’s G-League affiliate. In 30 games, Hayes averaged 14.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and two assists per game.
A big question mark for NBA scouts heading into the draft was Hayes’ shooting acumen. This stint in Westchester certainly seems to have laid those doubts to bed, as Hayes shot over 45 percent from the three-point line.
Hayes joins a Lakers team in the midst of a youth movement. Lonzo Ball, the polarizing playmaker known for his flashy passes and boisterous father, was drafted second overall in last year’s draft. Along with surprising rookie Kyle Kuzma and second-year player Brandon Ingram, Hayes is stepping into a post-Kobe Bryant era Lakers team clearly on the upswing.
As for the role the 6-foot-8 forward will assume for the Lakers, that remains to be determined.
He will most likely be used at the small forward position, as his length and quickness will aide him as a wing defender joined with his new-found deep range from three. The challenge for Hayes will be overtaking the players in front of him in the rotation.
The previously mentioned budding superstar Brandon Ingram has secured the starting role, and as he is one of the pieces considered the future of the organization — that will not be changing any time soon.
Backing up Ingram are veteran wings Luol Deng and Corey Brewer. Deng, who is on track to make $18 million next season, is on one of the worst contracts in the NBA and has hardly played this season. Brewer, a 10-year NBA veteran, has been a dependable back-up this year, though he has only played about 13 minutes per game.
Hayes will likely slot into the rotation as the third option at the small forward position, though it would not be a surprise for Coach Luke Walton to play him increased minutes over the length of the contract to gauge his value.
Teams like the Lakers, not competing for a playoff spot and focusing on developing young players, are the prime spots for G-Leaguers intent on making it in the NBA to prove themselves.
The hope for Hayes is that he joins the ranks of the many G-league (formerly D-League) success stories.
Jeremy Lin, the Harvard graduate who swept New York off their collective feet during “Linsanity,” made his way from the D-League to sustained success in the NBA. The same goes for Miami Heat Center Hassan Whiteside.
In the NBA, a team may only sign a player to two 10-day contracts, consecutive or not. After the second deal, the team must decide whether it wants to sign the player for the remainder of the season.
Hayes will have Badgers everywhere crossing their fingers and hoping that come April, the forward will be on a guaranteed deal in the NBA.