Lakers make-or-break player No. 2: Jaxson Hayes
Now entering his fifth year in the NBA, Jaxson Hayes has shown flashes of his potential but has yet to tap into it fully. Last season on the New Orleans Pelicans, he averaged the lowest minutes of his career at 13.0 per game; this was also reflected in his stats of 5.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 0.7 assists per game.
Despite Hayes’ limited playing time, he is a 7-foot center with natural athleticism and rim-running ability. He can significantly boost one of the Lakers’ team strengths and identity of size and rebounding. With his untapped potential, there’s hope that Hayes can become a more significant contributor to the Lakers, adding depth and versatility to their frontcourt.
Anthony Davis has repeatedly expressed his preference for playing the power forward position, potentially leaving the center spot open for Hayes to fill. The Lakers might sign another center for added depth. But, as it stands, the center position is the shallowest on the Lakers’ roster, otherwise deep at every other position.
In their successful 2020 NBA Finals run, the Lakers had an athletic center in Dwight Howard playing alongside Davis. While Hayes may not replicate Howard’s impact entirely, he could offer a similar role as an athletic presence who serves as a target for LeBron James and other playmakers.
Hayes still needs to work on his defensive skills and is not known for stretching the floor with shooting, which could limit his overall upside. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that Dwight Howard’s lack of floor spacing didn’t hinder the Lakers’ success. If Hayes can unlock some of the untapped potential that made him the No. 8 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Lakers could have a successful formula similar to their championship team of 2020.
On the other hand, if Hayes continues to perform at the same level as last year, only getting limited minutes per game, the Lakers might find themselves in dire need of another center. Despite their deep rotation, lacking a reliable center option could be problematic, particularly during the regular season when they aim to preserve Anthony Davis’ health.