Lakers’ Jaxson Hayes making progress at defending without fouling

NEW YORK — Lakers coach Darvin Ham is known for being honest and straightforward with feedback to his players.

So when Jaxson Hayes went from being in the regular rotation and playing consistently to being out of the rotation and mainly getting late-game minutes when the game’s outcome was already decided, Hayes didn’t have to wonder why – Ham and his staff communicated with him.

And that dialogue gave Hayes the feedback he needed to improve, helping him have a season-best performance in the Lakers’ 114-105 victory over the league-best Boston Celtics on Thursday night despite the Lakers being without Anthony Davis and LeBron James.

Hayes had season highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds – six offensive rebounds – and three steals in the win in Boston. It was the eighth double-double of the 23-year-old’s career and his first since April 5, 2022, when he was with the New Orleans Pelicans.

But the most impressive stat: zero fouls in a season-high 34 minutes, demonstrating his growth when it comes to defending without fouling – an area of improvement throughout his five-year career.

“It was just keeping my hands back, showing my hands,” Hayes said “We’ve been working on that, me and the coaches have as funny as that sounds. In my individual workouts, I sit there with three coaches driving and just me standing out there going verticality and showing my hands or them doing a bunch of pump fakes and just making sure I stay down and show my hands.

“It was just practicing with the coaches the past month or so. That was a big talking point for Coach on why I was taken out of the rotation earlier in the year. I just wanted to make sure I did a good job on it.”

The No. 8 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Hayes’ talent and athleticism are evident as soon as he steps on the court.

But since coming into the league he’s struggled with fouling, averaging 4.3 fouls per 36 minutes entering this season. He entered Saturday averaging 6.6 fouls per 36 minutes – the second-most in the league among players who have played at least 30 minutes.

Being foul-prone not only limits Hayes’ playing time but also bails out opposing teams even when he’s playing good defense up until fouling.

So Thursday night represented a step in the right direction for Hayes.

“He’s learning,” Ham said. “And him getting these real game reps has been priceless. He [had so many times where he showed his hands. Zero fouls for him [Thursday] – he had a tough cover tonight with [Kristaps] Porziņģis, times he switched onto [Jayson] Tatum. Tatum was working his way downhill, Jaxson was moving his feet and just showing his hands.

“Earlier in the season, we’ve seen him come out with three, four, fouls quick. It just shows the growth that’s in him and the reason why he’s here. We feel like he’s a good young prospect for us that has a tremendous upside. And the sky’s the limit. He just has to keep working, keep focusing on the details.”

The Lakers don’t practice a lot during the season, so a lot of Hayes’ learning has had to come from watching film and playing 5-on-5s with the team’s “stay-ready” group.

“Just coming in, getting two workouts a day, coming back in at night, getting another workout in,” he said. “Getting a lift in every day. Making sure my body is physically ready for when I come back in the rotation and just mentally ready, too. Just watching a whole lot of film and seeing where I can impact the game. I felt like that month of me getting DNPs helped me a lot because I would sit there and just watch and see where I thought I could help out our team win some more games.”

JAMES, DAVIS UPDATE

James (left ankle peroneal tendinopathy) and Davis (bilateral Achilles tendinopathy and left hip spasm) are both listed as questionable for Saturday’s road game against the New York Knicks.

The matchup against the Celtics was the first time this season when the Lakers, who enter Saturday at 24-25, were without James and Davis in the same game.

LAKERS AT CELTICS

When: Saturday, 5:30 p.m. PT

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

TV/radio: ABC (Ch. 7)/710 AM

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