Gators alumni Kevarrius Hayes has taken a huge step in his professional career, getting an invitation to play in the NBA Summer League with the Denver Nuggets. Summer League has become an important part of the evaluation for NBA teams and a number of undrafted players have earned guaranteed contracts from their play in this event. Many of these contracts have gone to role players who can come into the league and support established stars, something that could very much benefit someone like Hayes whose game is all about defense.
Hayes initially committed to Billy Donovan at Florida and remained committed when Donovan left and Mike White was hired, saying it was “still Florida” and that he couldn’t imagine playing anywhere else. His story at Florida was one of constant development. Early in college he struggled on the offensive end but committed to working on his hands and finishing ability, ultimately becoming a capable lob threat and dunker spot finisher in his senior season. That upward trajectory didn’t stop at Florida, and he has continued to improve throughout his time overseas.
After leaving Florida, Hayes’ first pro contract came in the Italian Liga Serie A with S. Bernardo-Cinelandia Cantu. The Italian league is a solid one, and Hayes instantly made an impact with his defense becoming arguably the top shot blocker in the league averaging 2.6 swats per game. This was exactly what he was doing at Florida, and even with the improved spacing of the pro game his foot speed and anticipation allowed him to translate the shot blocking effectively.
Overseas basketball is very different than American basketball from a professional standpoint. In Europe contracts are very short and player movement between leagues is rampant. There is little patience for development, and it’s very much a “what have you done for me lately” world. That meant when Hayes performed well in Italy, he was instantly flooded with contract offers from better leagues.
He ultimately settled on playing with ASVEL in the French league LNB Pro A. They had recently played well enough to qualify for the Euroleague, the top league in the world outside of the NBA, and were trying to bolster their athleticism to compete at the highest level. Them targeting Hayes when they did speaks to just how much they thought of him as a player and he was instantly able to play a role bringing exquisite defense off the bench spelling former NBA player Guerschon Yabusele.
After proving that he could play minutes in one of the best leagues in the world, he left ASVEL to go to the Turkish Superleague, another one of the elite leagues the world has to offer, to play for Frutti Extra Bursaspor.
At every stop in Hayes’ career he seems to get better, and that was once again the case for Hayes as he played some of the best basketball of his career last season averaging 9.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game.
With Hayes playing so well in some of Europe’s top leagues, NBA teams were taking notice. Denver reached out, and Hayes agreed to play with them in the Summer League, hoping to earn a spot with them on their regular season roster.
Targeting Kevarrius Hayes makes a lot of sense for the Nuggets who have been stellar on the offensive side of things in recent years but have struggled defensively. A low maintenance player like Hayes who knows his role and embraces it is just what they could use around their established core, and he’ll need to prove that during Summer League.
If the Nuggets don’t end up offering Hayes a regular season contract he’ll have an interesting decision on his hands. The G League would be an option if he wants to stay as close to the NBA as possible, but the pay and lifestyle in the G League isn’t great. On the other hand, he could go to Europe where he would make a lot more money and have a lot more control of where he wants to play and live.
Of course, it’s not just the Nuggets that could offer him a contract as it’s possible that other teams could see him and also send an offer, something that is commonplace in Summer League.
Even if he doesn’t end up in the NBA next season, Hayes’ journey has been one of perseverance and constant improvement. He constantly improved in Florida and he has constantly improved in Europe, and that hard work and dedication has him closer than ever to his goal of reaching the NBA.
In all levels of competition in Europe Hayes has averaged 7.2 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game. His career averages at Florida were 5.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game.