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Early impact of Texas F Jaxson Hayes warrants increased playing time

The precocious freshman has provided rim-running and rattling ability on the offensive end in addition to a big-time presence at the rim on defense.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

Jaxson Hayes wasn’t supposed to have this significant of an impact. Not this soon, at least.

The Texas Longhorns true freshman arrived on the Forty Acres ranked outside of the top 100 talents in his class, per the 247Sports Composite, yet now just nine games into his collegiate career, Hayes owns a pair of Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors and continues to garner praise as a legitimate NBA prospect.

Whether or not Hayes’ first season on the Forty Acres will be his only remains to be seen, though there is momentum to that end, as evident with the former four-star prospect being pegged as the 22nd pick in Bleacher Report’s latest 2019 NBA Mock Draft. As far as his tenure at Texas is concerned, though — however much of it remains — his early efforts have provided productivity that head coach Shaka Smart would be wise to consider when constructing his frontcourt rotation going forward.

Despite seeing the floor for just a hair over a full half at 21 minutes per contest, Hayes has cracked double figures in the scoring six times in nine appearances, which is tied with Kerwin Roach II for a team-best effort. Furthermore, Hayes headlines the team’s rotation in points per 40 minutes, as his 19.7 points is more than two points more productive than Roach (17.4), and a full 6.2 points superior to Jericho Sims (13.5), who currently starts, but is seeing only 21 minutes per contest as well.

And therein lies the current conundrum in Austin — Sims entered the season as the starter, and remains as such, but the sophomore’s step forward many projected is yet to take place. Meanwhile, in playing the exact same amount of minutes as Sims (189), Hayes has been far-and-away more impactful.

As if Hayes’ points per 40 minutes productivity isn’t notable enough, consider that feat in regards to how the team fares when he’s on the floor.

Per HoopLens ($), Texas is averaging 1.07 points per possession when Hayes is on the floor, compared to only 0.91 when Sims is on the court — the two have shared the floor for only 52 of 649 possessions this season, and given that their skill sets don’t exactly pair perfectly, the results are as poor as one would expect at 0.81 points per possession.

Why is it that Texas is averaging 0.16 more points per possession — a large margin, especially for a Texas team that ranks 97th in adjusted offense, per KenPom — with Hayes on the floor in favor of Sims?

As the eye test has revealed on numerous occasions this season, Hayes is much more adept at running the floor, and with a 7’4 wingspan, provides a considerably more lengthy lob target. To that end, with 77.4 percent of Hayes’ shots coming at the rim, where he’s connecting at an 82.9 percent clip, per Hoop-Math, the freshman currently leads the Longhorns in true shooting percentage (.696) and effective field goal percentage (69.8).

If defense is what Smart desires, Hayes is enjoying his fair share of success on the end of the floor as well.

Though Texas is allowing slightly more points per possession with Hayes on the floor — 0.94 when on vs. 0.91 when off — he’s emerged as the only true rim protector for Texas to this point. After recording three blocks in each of his previous four appearances, Hayes is now up to 23 total rejections on the season, which is more than the rest of the team combined (22) and more than twice as many as Sims, whose seven rejections rank second on the team.

In fact, Hayes is actually averaging 4.9 blocks per 40 minutes, which is the same rate Mohamed Bamba finished at last season with the Longhorns.

Unsurprisingly, opposing offense’s aren’t enjoying as much efficiency with Hayes on the floor, connecting at a 44.8 percent clip compared to 48.1 percent when he’s sidelined.

If numbers never lie, they tell the tale of a Texas team that’s quite simply better with Hayes on the floor, and the eye test will certainly support that sentiment.

Whether it’s point productivity, paint protection, or the sheer energy and enthusiasm that he comes equipped with, Hayes provides exactly what the Longhorns have lacked throughout lengthy stretches this season. Now sitting at 6-3, though, those are each traits Texas can’t afford to go without going forward.

More minutes for Hayes will almost certainly have to come at the expense of Sims spending more time on the sidelines, but such a shift in playing time is warranted. Just nine games into his collegiate career, Hayes is no longer the fourth-best freshman in Smart’s 2018 class — he looks the part of one of the top two or three players on the entire team, and it’s time that he’s utilized as such.