Five takeaways from Pistons’ preseason opener

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Pistons lost their preseason opener, 108-106, to the Charlotte Hornets in Wednesday night’s debut at Little Caesars Arena.

It’s only the first of five preseason games, and there’s plenty of progress to be made before the real games start on Oct. 18 — also against the Hornets — but there were some good and bad things to glean from the first game.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from the opener, ahead of Friday’s second home game against the Atlanta Hawks:

■ Starting from the start: The first unit looked good, with Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson on the wings and Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond in the middle. Ish Smith started for Reggie Jackson (groin) and ignited the offense, with four assists and three steals in the first six-plus minutes. That group is athletic and can run the floor well when in transition, especially with Smith at the point. They jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first part of the opening quarter, which is a step forward from some of the miserable starts they had last season.

■ Drummond’s free throws: Andre Drummond went 6-of-8 from the free-throw line. That’s not a misprint. He worked on his form during the offseason and sought a shooting coach to help him with his mechanics. The result is a more fluid motion, without the hitch on the release that he had. He’s squatting a bit more and using his lower body to help propel the shot to the rim. In fairness, Drummond started the regular season 8-of-16 last season, then tapered off considerably. He also had a routine in which he’s walk back to the halfcourt line and compose himself, but the NBA outlawed that, making it a delay of game. The big test will come in regular-season games and on the road, when he has more distractions.

■ On the wings: Johnson and Bradley were a good combination defensively, creating opportunities to get out in transition after turnovers. It’s clear that Bradley is an upgrade over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Johnson seems to be coming into his own in his third season. Bradley also showed an ability on dribble-handoffs to attack the defenders and get closer to the rim to finish his shots — an area that wasn’t a strength for Caldwell-Pope. Johnson looked aggressive in seeking out his shot and went 3-of-7 from the field, though only 1-of-5 on 3-pointers.

■ The young guns: Coach Stan Van Gundy opened the rotation, finding plenty of minutes for Henry Ellenson — who was the first reserve off the bench on Wednesday — and rookie Luke Kennard. Van Gundy tilted the minutes toward them, to get a good look at what they could produce. Johnson (eight points) started, Ellenson (10 points) got a good look and Kennard (10 points) — the Pistons’ last three first-round picks — all acquitted themselves well. The final four preseason games will help smooth out the roster, but from the initial indications, all three will have big roles moving forward.

■ Not just visiting: Drummond caused a little stir when he commented on Twitter that Little Caesars Arena didn’t have the feel of a basketball arena, which is understandable, given it was built for the Red Wings. There are some Pistons displays around the concourse, but the red seats in the upper and lower bowls scream that it’s a more of the Pistons being a tenant than full partners in the venture. Remember, the Pistons ownership didn’t get in on the deal until late, after construction already had begun, and some of the design of the arena had to be retrofitted to accommodate their arrival. That could change as the season goes along, and as they move into next year. For the time being, there’s still some last-minute tinkering and finishing being done to complete the building.