The Toronto Raptors are signing Nigel Hayes to a 10-day contract, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
It’s a nice addition with OG Anunoby on the shelf with a right ankle sprain and bone bruise, an injury that isn’t expected to keep him out long but is allowing the Raptors to take a look at their wing options. Norman Powell drew the initial start and was followed by two-way player Malcolm Miller, with head coach Dwane Casey suggesting after Sunday’s game that the situation will remain fluid. Alfonzo McKinnie was back from Raptors 905 to practice with the Raptors on Monday and could factor in as well. (Anunoby, by the way, was using the stationary bike at practice.)
Hayes adds to the mix here, and he more closely replicates Anunoby from a physical perspective. Hayes stands 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and weighs 245 pounds, so while he’s not quite the defensive prospect Anunoby is, he brings a good deal of size and isn’t afraid to use his body on either end of the floor. The Raptors took a look at Hayes in the pre-draft process and were intrigued, but the New York Knicks worked to bring him in for Las Vegas Summer League and the NBA preseason, ultimately receiving a partial guarantee and becoming an affiliate player in the Knicks’ G League program.
In the time since, Hayes has done nothing but improve his NBA prospects. There may not be a G Leaguer playing better right now, with Hayes’ numbers jumping off the page enough to earn him a 10-day look with the Los Angeles Lakers earlier in the year, too (he scored three points with two assists in 11 minutes with them). In 38 G League games, Hayes is averaging 16.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.4 steals while shooting 45.4 percent on 5.5 3-point attempts per-game. He’s been solid defensively, too, helping lead the first-place Westchester Knicks at both ends of the floor. He’s doesn’t possess elite quickness guarding the perimeter or in isolation, but he’s a magnet for steals given his heady play and strong anticipation and he can push well and set up teammates off of misses in the transition game.
It’s the 3-point shooting that really stands out, though, as it seemed the biggest impediment to Hayes’ potential over four years at Wisconsin, where he shot 33.2 percent on 304 career attempts over four seasons. Shooting inconsistency was one of the bigger knocks on him entering the draft, even though he’d flashed the necessary range to profile as a stretch-four eventually, the role some teams saw him playing due to his size. He’s not quite the kind of rebounder where a team would want to play him there full-time yet unless it’s in smaller bench groups, but the addition of an effective, high-volume 3-point shot makes him a lot more lineup-versatile due to the skills at play.
If it’s legitimate over a large sample – and he’s taken 200 catch-and-shoot threes now this year – it opens up a lot of potential for Hayes to find a role in the NBA, where he’s easier to find a spot for on offense while leveraging his positional size and switchability on defense instead of him being hit with the outmoded “tweener” label. He’s more of a face-up four from a pure talent perspective (the Knicks had him move away from the heavy dose of post-up possessions he received in college), the three just opens up more paths for him.
While the Raptors have other options to fill in for Anunoby, Hayes could get a look, too. Powell is a fairly known commodity when on – the team just needs to find a way to get him there – as a long, agile defender who does well chasing players around screens but has been inconsistent offensively, especially with the three this year. Miller is likewise a strong perimeter defender capable of guarding multiple spots, one who has hit in the high-30s from long-range consistently over three pro seasons, he’s just unproven at the NBA level as of yet. McKinnie is hyper-athletic and has combo-forward size, and he’s the best rebounding option of the potential fill-ins. Malachi Richardson isn’t quite there yet, behind Miller and McKinnie on the 905 taxi squad depth chart.
In Hayes, the Raptors get a look at someone who boasts both size and shooting and fits their culture of ostensibly good people with strong work ethics and high basketball IQ. Maybe he winds up just being 13th-man depth who gets some practice run, but it’s also possible he’ll see time with four games over the next six days and six over the life of his 10-day deal (it’s likely the Raptors wait until tomorrow to officially sign him to maximize his window). Even if the team sees him as more of a power forward than a wing, that’s a thin position on the depth chart, especially if Serge Ibaka is going to get the odd night off down the stretch.
There is an interesting sub-plot here in that Raptors 905 are currently chasing the Knicks for first in their division, which would earn them a bye through the one-and-done first round. The Knicks also just lost Xavier Rathan-Mayes to the Memphis Grizzlies. While a funny quirk, that was not a part of the Raptors’ thinking here. Hayes just happens to be the best wing/forward in the G League right now. As the 905 experienced last year, success over an entire G League season puts you at risk of losing players for the G League playoffs.
If nothing else, they’ll get a more intimate look at one of the best performers in the G League this year and a player they had interest in this summer as an undrafted free agent. The cost is minimal on a 10-day deal, with the Raptors projecting to have a bit of wiggle room under the luxury tax since their trade deadline swap of Bruno Caboclo for Richardson. They’d likely be safe signing someone outright for the rest of the season, barring unlikely bonuses converting, though they’ll probably want to give Hayes, Miller, and maybe Lorenzo Brown some opportunities down the stretch before deciding on one for the 15th roster spot for the postseason.