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Cut Through The Haze: NC State gets ready to build the offense around Cam Hayes

One of the premier high-volume pick-and-roll offenses in the country will no longer have to pick-and-choose who initiates offense. With Shakeel Moore now in the transfer portal, it’s unquestionable: Cam Hayes is The Guy at NC State.

During last offseason, I wrote about how NC State was faced with a changing of the guard — literally. Kevin Keatts was set to enter his fourth season in Raleigh; for the first time, though, Keatts would be without Markell Johnson.

While up-and-down at times, Johnson was a talent and a smooth pick-and-roll operator. For the most part, NC State stayed above water on offense: the Wolfpack finished top 40 nationally in adjusted efficiency.

According to Synergy Sports, NC State pick-and-roll ball handlers finished the season in the 84th percentile in terms of scoring efficiency: 0.85 points per possession (51 eFG%).

However, plenty of that production can be traced to senior wing Devon Daniels, who was in the midst of an All-ACC senior season (57.7 eFG% in the pick-and-roll) before an ACL tear in late January.

Now, one year removed from that pivot point, NC State’s guard room will look even more different. I remained bullish on the possibility of Hayes and Moore growing together as a dual-point guard backcourt; however, that clearly wasn’t in the cards. Daniels is expected to leave the program; Braxton Beverly, another security blanket of sorts at the guard position, has transferred to Eastern Kentucky.

In terms of proven half-court ball handlers, Hayes is the only one left. There are reasons for optimism. Hayes is a gifted young point guard; he put together a solid freshman season, despite missing time due to COVID-19. (It’s amazing that some of these guys even played again after getting the virus.) Let’s assess where things sit with Hayes — following his first year of college ball, with major opportunities on the horizon.

 

Cam Hayes: Quick Stats

    • Shooting Splits
      • 38.6 FG% / 36.4 3P% / 73.2 FT%
      • 47.2 eFG% / 50.4 TS%
      • 7.8 points per game
    • Assist rate
    • Steal Rate
      • 2.9 percent
      • No. 4 among ACC rookies — behind Richmond, Moore and Barnes
    • 1 of 7 freshman nationally with 20 percent assist rate, 2 percent steal rate, 35 3P% (4 3PA per 100 possessions)

 

Pull-up Shooting: Swing Piece

The best isolated aspect of Hayes’ freshman season was his jumper. The Greensboro native was very good both off the dribble and on catch-and-shoots.

According to Synergy Sports, Hayes recorded an effective shooting clip of 55.3 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts. The volume was on the low end (38 FGA), but that’s encouraging number, especially off some bits of slight movement.

The real intrigue centers on Hayes’ off-the-dribble shooting, though.

After a hot start, Hayes finished his freshman year with an effective shooting rate of 52.3 percent on pull-up attempts in the half court. Given the design of NC State’s spread ball screen offense, most of this work came out of the pick-and-roll.

Hayes can get to his pull-up game in a variety of ways, too. When opponents hard hedged, he showed patience stringing his dribble out and getting to the midrange.

When opponents dropped their big men on the ball screen, Hayes would take his time getting to his spot for a jumper — away from the rearview contest.

If teams went under the ball screen on Hayes, he showed flashes of impressive pull-up 3-point shooting range. According to Bart Torvik’s shot data, 39 percent of Hayes’ 3-pointers this season (11 of 28 3PM) were unassisted.

When opponents switched the ball screen action, Hayes could then get into his bag a little bit — using his handle to create rhythm vs. an opposing big man.

 

Hayes gets decent lift on his jumper, which also features a smooth gather. If an opposing frontcourt player wasn’t ready to meet him at the level of the screen, Hayes could get busy from deep pull-up range.

While he isn’t exactly a step-back artist just yet, there were moments of space creation this season. Hayes can change tempo with the ball in his hands — stop, separate and shoot. As Hayes takes on greater on-ball creation equity, he may need to unleash a few more tricks, including a crossover step-back move out to 3-point range.

The pull-up shooting is promising, but the sample is still small: 65 off-dribble jump shot attempts in the half court, per Synergy. For now, it’s hard to build too much off of that.

What will happen to his efficiency level when the volume of attempts doubles? Has NC State unearthed the ACC’s next stud pull-up shooter or did Hayes shoot above his head as a rookie? What type of regression is in store?

 

Pressure Point

The concern is heightened, too, because Hayes didn’t show a real willingness to get downhill and attack the paint.

During his freshman season, Hayes struggled at the rim — in both volume and efficiency. Hayes was one of only eight ACC players with 75+ 2PA to shoot under 42 2P%. Hayes shot just 10-of-26 on close 2PA (38.5 2P%) this season, according to Bart Torvik’s shot data. That would account for a measly 16.4 percent of his field goal attempts this season as well.

According to Synergy, Hayes was just 6-of-16 on attempts (37.5 FG%) around the basket in the half-court. This accounts for 10 percent of his field goal attempts. To go along with that, Hayes drew only 3.2 fouls and per 40 minutes, according to KenPom. (Hayes: 3.0 FTA per 40 minutes, too.)

Reece Beekman is an elite on-ball defender, but without a ball screen, Hayes can’t shed him on this possession, which leads to a turnover.

While Hayes was more efficient as a pick-and-roll play-finisher (0.92 PPP) than Moore (0.77 PPP), he’s not the same type of downhill driver. Nearly 24 percent of Moore’s shot attempts came at the rim in the half court, per Synergy: 17-of-36 FGA (47.2 FG%).

That’s not much of a surprise. Moore is a ridiculous athlete at the guard position; Keatts also tasked him with being a pressure point for the team’s offense this season.

This isn’t to say that Hayes is incapable of attacking the paint, either. Hayes has a nice floater/runner, which he likes to get to driving to his left and shooting back right.

It’s crucial for lead guards to be able to touch the paint as much as possible, though. The best offensive engines are guys that can consistently create offensive advantage from a live dribble. (This was one of the glaring holes with Caleb Love at UNC. Love struggled to separate from defenders and reliably get into the lane.)

 

Drop Off, Take Out

Finding ways into the paint does more than create high-percentage looks for the ball handler. Those downhill drives force help rotations, which in turn creates open looks for teammates. (It’s also a good way to draw fouls.)

The Wolfpack will need for Hayes to routinely collapses defenses and spray out to shooters next season.

NC State posted an effective shooting rate of 55.5 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts, according to Synergy. It takes a collective effort to create and make open spot-up shots; however, Hayes (5.3 assists per 40 minutes) will be asked to generate more of these looks than anyone else on the roster.

Up to this point, Hayes hasn’t shown considerable ability to throw crosscourt skip passes when faced with a trap. That’s fine, though. His processing speed is still quite good. Those passes are hard, too. For most guys, it takes time for the game to slow down and for the windows to open up.

To his credit, Hayes is plenty skilled as a passer. He’s patient with the ball and understands pick-and-roll concepts. If an opponent hard hedges on a screen against a spread floor, and there’s shaky help defense, Hayes knows where to go with the ball.

As Hayes continues to develop in NC State’s system, added muscle could go a long way. This would provide for additional core strength on certain pass types and make Hayes a more durable finisher at the rim.

Consistent rim pressure opens stuff up all over the floor: both above the arc and in the restricted area. From NC State’s Empty Spain pick-and-roll set: watch Hayes get two feet deep in the paint before dropping this pass off to Bates.

With Davidson switching the initial back screen (Beverly for Bates), Hyunjung Lee must make a decision as the back-line defender: step up or let Hayes shoot a layup, which leaves Bates open.

Plus, if Hayes continues to drain off-dribble jumpers, he can play off that pull-up gravity. When defenders get ready to contest his shot and start leaning in one direction, Hayes can use a hang dribble and crossover to attack top foot and get in the lane.

 

Bates, who finished with 37 dunks this season, is a solid pick-and-roll target, too: 73.6 FG% on rolls or slips to the basket, per Synergy.

This is another way for NC State to generate pressure on the rim: activate Bates as a roll player and lob presence. The vertical spacing he provides could do wonders for other aspects of NC State’s half-court offense.

 

Something to dream on: Cam Hayes

Hayes obviously had a lot of bright moments throughout his mostly impressive freshman campaign. For my money, though, one play stands out above the others. This may seem like an otherwise nondescript layup from Hayes vs. Virginia; however, it’s a little more than meets the eye.

Following a miss from Trey Murphy III, Hayes takes off up the floor in semi-transition; Murphy is tasked with stopping the ball. DJ Funderburk sets a drag screen on Murphy, though, which allows Hayes to get to the second line of defense — Jay Huff in a relatively high drop.

Instead of shooting a pull-up or driving left, Hayes snakes back across the screen and gets Murphy on his hip. Once Hayes gets back to his right hand, he sees daylight, while Beverly lifts up from the strong-side corner. Funderburk seals Huff, and it results in an open up layup.

That snake move — the change of direction while shifting speeds — is really good stuff. It showcases more than just Hayes’ uptempo pick-and-roll chops; it’s a testament his functionality as a ball handler. Even if he doesn’t have elite/high-end burst, Hayes can mix speeds — stop and start — and use his handle to get to the rim.

 

Lack of Proven Secondary Threats

NC State could to be a dangerous matchup for opponents this season due to a multitude of perimeter playmakers, screen threats (Manny Bates, DJ Funderburk and Jericole Hellems) and enough 3-point shooting.

Hellems was the lynchpin for most lineups, although the Wolfpack found better balance with Bates and Funderburk on the floor together during the final month of the season.

LineupPlus/MinusMinutesNet Rating
Bates, Funderburk, Hellems on+27170+10.5 points per 100 possessions
Bates, Funderburk, Hellems on, final 8 games+27138+13 points per 100 possessions
Bates and Funderburk on, Hellems off-3131-1.5 points per 100 possessions
Bates and Hellems on, Funderburk off+39320+7.5 points per 100 possessions
Funderburk and Hellems on, Bates off+27223+7.4 points per 100 possessions

Data courtesy of Pivot Analysis

Of that group of ball handlers, only Hayes remains, which raises concerns regarding the team’s list of secondary creators. Without the southpaw slashing of Moore, opponents should be able to load up more defensive attention on Hayes. If Hayes is still unable to consistently turn the corner, then NC State could have real issues creating pressure on the rim.

One name that should be in line to help matters is Dereon Seabron — a 6-foot-7 wing who stepped during the team’s stretch run.

Over the NC State’s final eight games, Seabron averaged 8.4 points (60.5 FG%), 5.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.0 steals per contest.

Seabron is long and rangy, but he showed an ability to get into gaps while driving to the hoop. During this eight-game stretch, Seabron was 23-of-36 on close 2PA (63.9 2P%).

(The trio of Hayes, Moore and Seabron played only 40 minutes together in this eight-game run, according to Pivot Analysis. NC State was -16 with a net rating of -24.5 points per 100 possessions. I still would’ve liked to have seen more of this group.)

While Seabron showcased some half-court creation skills (he’ll be used plenty in NC State’s Iverson ball screen action), he’s more comfortable in the open floor. Seabron really is one of the better grab-and-go players in the ACC. However, the Pack will need more offensive initiation from Seabron against set defenses.

One of the more notable ACC names on the move this offseason was Casey Morsell. After two seasons of struggles at Virginia, Morsell transferred to NC State.

When Morsell committed to the Pack last month, I wrote about his hypothetical fit in NC State’s lineup. It’ll be an interesting adjustment; Morsell will flip from Virginia’s blocker-mover offense and pack-line defense to NC State’s spread ball screen offense and switch-heavy defense. That’s a major shift on both ends of the floor.

Morsell is built like a powerful driver: 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. Up to this point of his career, though, Morsell has shown only flashes of live-dribble rim pressure.

Unfortunately, in nearly 1,000 career minutes at UVA, Morsell registered only 25 FTA (1.0 FTA per 40 minutes) and 26 assists. He never seemed comfortable in Virginia’s screen-oriented motion offense, ultimately he settled far too often for inefficient midrange jumpers.

However, there’s still hope for Morsell; a significant shift in scheme could allow the former top-50 recruit the opportunity to hit the proverbial reset button on his career. If NC State can help Morsell get back on track with his pre-college projections, it’ll be a major boon for everyone.

Thomas Allen returns, too, although he’s far more comfortable in a spot-up role. NC State will need Allen to move around and hit 3s at a healthy clip this season.

Of course, incoming 4-star guards Breon Pass and Terquavion Smith will also have opportunities to run offense as secondary targets.

 

Play through the post

Back in early March, I put together a deep dive on how NC State, after some initial struggles, started to right the ship without Daniels. Given the team’s roster constraints, this meant more playing time with Bates and Funderburk on the floor together. Unsurprisingly, NC State posted up far more frequently during this stretch of games.

In fact, this was by far the most frequent post-up offense that Keatts has ever coached — even going back to his time at UNC Wilmington. According to Synergy, 8.6 percent of NC State’s possessions this season were used by a post-up player: FGA, turnover or shooting foul.

SeasonPost-up FrequencyPost-up PPP
2014-153.6%0.84
2015-162.2%0.70
2016-171.8%0.96
2017-187.9%0.90
2018-192.9%0.96
2019-204.8%0.94
2020-218.6%0.88

Now that Funderburk is off to the professional ranks, my guess is that NC State will move away from twin-tower lineups and post-up less frequently. A projected starting five of Hayes, Allen, Seabron, Hellems and Bates makes a lot of sense. (According to Pivot Analysis, this group played only five minutes together this season.)

Bates improved as a post player: 51 FG% on post-up attempts. He has a little hook shot that he likes, and there were some (very minor) passing flashes late in the season, too.

With Hellems at the 4, NC State can get back to 4-around-1 offense; this in turn should create more space for Bates to operate on the block. While Seabron struggles to shoot it from deep (25 3P%), he’s proven to be an opportunistic cutter, which can help compensate for a lack of shot gravity.

Incoming 4-star power forward Ernest Ross is a long 6-foot-9 athlete. He could absolutely share the floor with Bates this season, though he doesn’t seem quite ready for high-volume post-up reps.

(Quick note: Bates improving as a post-up threat is good for NC State. But it’s important to remember: once he leaves college basketball, Bates will rarely be asked to post-up again. It’ll be all about turning him into an even better rim runner out of the screen-roll.)

 

More Motion?

One of the other notable late-season changes for NC State was a greater reliance on off-ball actions to generate jumpers, which I detailed in that same piece.

(Play: Iverson Ricky)

As the team’s top movement shooter, Beverly (39.5 3P%) was heavily featured in these sets. However, he wasn’t alone; Hellems (37.8 3P%) was involved as well.

(Play: Cross screen/pindown STS — screen-the-screener)

With Allen (37 3P%) and Hellems firmly a part of NC State’s rotation for the 2021-22 season, the Wolfpack could look to continue mixing in more of these types of actions. Hayes could move off the ball and look for offense in these sets, too.

Going forward: an offense that features Hayes as its primary creator/pick-and-roll operator, Bates as an interior force (screen-roll, offensive rebound, post), Seabron as a slasher, Allen’s movement shooting and the all-around game of Hellems is super interesting.

For this to work, though, it’s on Cam Hayes to make a leap as a playmaker.

 

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