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1 pleasant surprise who stood out for Pelicans during 2021 NBA training camp

Pelicans training camp, nba Jaxson Hayes

This offseason has been quite a strange one for the New Orleans Pelicans. Some drama surrounding Zion Williamson surfaced at some point this summer. Not to mention, the 2019 no. 1 overall pick also reportedly underwent surgery this offseason to repair a broken foot. New Orleans also went through a coaching change, firing Stan Van Gundy after just one season at the helm and replacing him with former Phoenix Suns assistant Willie Green. They also let Lonzo Ball walk away in free agency and sign with the Chicago Bulls, while adding DeVonte Graham to take the reigns at point guard. The Pelicans also acquired Jonas Valanciunas and sent Steven Adams to the Memphis Grizzlies to add a more versatile offensive big.

In addition to all those roster changes, incoming third year center Jaxson Hayes also experienced his own offseason turmoil when he was arrested by cops in violent fashion after an argument with his girlfriend. The Pelicans hope that Jaxson will be able to fully get past those off-court issues eventually, especially since they have high expectations for him this upcoming season. The 21-year old seems to be in better spirits and has been quite a pleasant surprise for New Orleans in camp.

The biggest development from Hayes entering camp is his outside shooting. He reportedly worked on his extending his range this summer, which should further expand his game from being just a rim-running and high-flying big. His teammate, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who also projects to have a big leap this year, noted the improvement.

As Alexander-Walker also said, Hayes looks like he’s in tip-top shape heading into this campaign. He is now up to 235 pounds from being listed at 220 pounds a year ago. The added weight should help him against the bulkier centers he will go up against across the NBA.

New head coach Willie Green also envisions Hayes to be a huge part of their plans this season. The former NBA veteran spoke volumes about how the 21-year old has provided plenty of energy and communication especially on the defensive side of the floor. While Green did acknowledge how hard Hayes worked on his shot this summer, he did admit just how much havoc the athletic center can cause when he’s diving to the cup. The 40-year old detailed how Hayes’ threat as a rim runner and lob finisher opens up the perimeter for New Orleans’ outside shooters.

With the way Green talked up Hayes, it certainly seems like he is willing to unleash the former Texas Longhorn in his third NBA season. Unfortunately, Hayes suffered a minor setback after he rolled his ankle in their first preseason outing. While the injury does not appear to be serious and it should not keep the promising center out for too long, there is a possibility he won’t be available for their regular season opener.

Entering the season with an injury certainly isn’t ideal. Nonetheless, Jaxson Hayes looks poised to establish himself as a more consistent contributor for this young Pelicans squad.