It's been quite a whirlwind for Chuck Hayes, regardless of whether or not anyone has noticed.
This summer, I got the chance to interview Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Among other things, he had this to say about our probable roster:
Well, either they're going to make the roster, or not at all. Once you cut a guy, you lose your rights to him. It's possible that Chuck Hayes is one of those guys to cut and then bring back.
Still think the ole Chuckwagon is cuttable? It would be Morey's last hurrah.
Now, coming off of a 14/14 game against Andrew Bynum and the Los Angeles Lakers, Hayes is starting to create quite a buzz from the league and from the media. Earlier today, TrueHoop's Henry Abbott posted an article written by Rockets.com's Jason Friedman:
Jason Friedman of Rockets.com is kicking off a campaign to get Chuck Hayes on the NBA's All-Defense team. I'll second that. Friedman writes: "I may not be top in the league in blocks but if I'm guarding, say, LaMarcus Aldridge and I make him shoot a bad percentage, then I hope they pay attention to that," says Hayes. "I just wish there was a stat for keeping your man to the lowest field goal percentage."
Not only did Abbott and Friedman have praise for Hayes, but others across the 'Net did as well.
Chuck Hayes is a 6-6 Kevin Garnett. His footwork belongs on Mt. Rushmore. His hands belong in the Smithsonian. He had two steals tonight, and caused as many jump balls. He's a center that's in the top five in steals, per game, in barely half a game. His defense is unbelievable. And now (7-9 shooting, no hesitation around the hoop) you have to pay attention to him when someone drives and dishes.
Hayes has been one of the keys to Houston's surprising start with his ability to defend bigger players at the center position. He's listed at 6-6 and even that estimate seems optimistic, but he's so good at getting leverage and pushing opposing big men away from the rim that he's a very effective interior defender regardless. And unlike most bigs who defend the post, he also can step out to the 3-point line and pick up smaller players.
We knew this already about Hayes, but what's made him a viable performer this season is that he's become more willing to shoot and finish around the basket. Last season he seemed terrified to shoot at times and finished the year averaging a meager 4.2 points per 40 minutes, along with the worst true shooting percentage in basketball at a horrifying 37.5.
He'll never be George Gervin, but this year he's accepted all the layups that have come his way, and those have been frequent given how often opponents gamble off him to double other Houston players. Hayes scored 14 points last night and is averaging 8.8 on the season; he's done it efficiently, shooting 64.7 percent from the floor.
Tom Lorenzo of FanHouse (yes, Chuck is getting fantasy basketball attention):
Chuck Hayes is eligible all over the place -- small forward, power forward, and center. That's a good thing. That means you can move him around as needed. Right now Hayes is averaging 2.4 steals per game and is one of just two center-eligible players averaging more than 1.6 steals per game -- Anderson Varejao being the other at 1.8 per. In his last two Hayes is averaging 13 points, 11.5 rebounds and shooting above 75-percent from the field -- against the Jazz and the Lakers. His defense has never been in question, so add him as a filler in the middle and you'll benefit nicely from his active hands.
Those of us who consider ourselves to be Rockets fans have been quite aware of Hayes' defensive ability ever since he joined the squad. Chuck's problems had always resonated on the offensive end, where he was nothing more than dead air last season. However, the Rockets are quickly noticing his ability to run a successful pick and roll and finish in the lane. You'll see few "big" men out there with footwork as good as Chuck's. And perhaps Luis Scola taught him a thing or two about how to finish a layup automatically.
The Chuckwagon's offensive renaissance has prompted those who weren't initially looking to finally turn their heads. He doesn't necessarily need added motivation, but an increased respect from the public can't do much but raise his spirits. He deserves every last bit of it.
Oh, and it would be nice if Chuck could keep this up without getting fouled. He's only taken one free throw this season (which he missed, of course), and if he keeps converting in the paint, "hack-a-Chuck" could suddenly make an appearance. Please, dear referees, hold your whistles.