Pistons beat writer Rod Beard gives his initial impressions of Detroit's Summer League roster following Friday's 90-63 loss to the Bucks, including the debuts of rookies Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown. Rod Beard, Detroit News
Las Vegas — It’s just one game — and it’s only Summer League.
That’s one way to look at it.
It might be the best way to frame the Pistons’ 90-63 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night at Cox Pavilion in the opener of the Las Vegas Summer League.
The Pistons were shorthanded, playing without Luke Kennard (left knee strain) and two-way point guard Keenan Evans (foot).
It might not have made much of a difference.
Henry Ellenson scored all 16 of his points in the second half but struggled from the field, hitting just 4 of 11 field goals and going 1-for-6 on 3-pointers.
The Pistons didn’t shoot the ball well in the first quarter and fell into a 14-8 hole, converting only three field goals in the 10-minute period. Rookie Khyri Thomas had a solid debut, scoring five of his seven points in the first quarter, with a 3-pointer and a jumper.
Detroit Pistons rookie Khyri Thomas talks about his defense and getting his first taste of action in Dwane Casey's system following Friday's 90-63 loss to the Bucks. Rod Beard, Detroit News
“It feels good; I wish we could have won. It’s a first time for everybody,” Thomas said. “All of us bonded together within one week. It was fun and a good learning experience getting a feel for the whole NBA vibe.”
While the Pistons fizzled on offense, the Bucks pulled ahead behind D.J. Wilson (Michigan), who had seven points in the period, for a six-point lead heading into the second quarter.
Pistons Summer League coach Sean Sweeney ran new coach Dwane Casey’s new offensive system, which targets more corner 3-pointers and high-percentage shots closer to the rim.
The shots were there, but the execution wasn’t.
The Pistons started the second quarter with a 10-6 spurt and closed the gap to 20-18, but didn’t get any closer. Travis Trice (Michigan State) had a three-point play and Sterling Brown added three points to help push the lead to 30-20 during a 10-2 run.
Brown scored the last five points of the period for a 39-22 margin at halftime. The lead extended to 60-41 entering the fourth before the Bucks pulled away.
“It was a little frustrating, but I tried to stay with it,” Ellenson said. “It was the first game in a new system with new guys. Shots weren’t falling but it felt good. I wasn’t too discouraged.
“We’ll learn a lot from it — it’s Summer League — and be ready to go tomorrow.”
The Pistons face the Memphis Grizzlies at 9 p.m. Saturday at Cox Pavilion.
Pistons forward Henry Ellenson talks about getting used to Dwane Casey's new system after Friday's 90-63 loss to the Bucks. Rod Beard, Detroit News
Here are some other observations from the Pistons’ loss:
■ Ellenson struggled to find his shot, missing several 3-point attempts before making his first basket at the 6:42 mark of the third quarter. He finished with eight points in the period and had eight more in the fourth, when the margin bulged to 20 points.
“We’ve got to keep shooting. Guys are great and kept telling me to shoot it,” Ellenson said. “They’re great shots, all right there. Guys were unselfish, throwing it back.”
■ One of the keys to Casey’s offense is setting up corner 3-point opportunities — which worked well with the starting group, with some good passing — but the shots didn’t fall. Ellenson especially struggled, but Thomas was able to find his footing and make a corner 3 in the first quarter.
“I’m a 3-and-(defense) guy and that’s one thing he pushed on the guards, to get to the corner and knock down the open threes," Thomas said.
■ Rookie Bruce Brown looked okay in his debut, but didn’t shoot well, either. He showed his athleticism and got to rebounds but didn’t flow well in the offense as a scorer. As expected, both Brown and Thomas, who were regarded for their defensive prowess, looked good on that end of the court.
■ Casey was a celebrity spectator, sitting courtside with Pistons senior adviser Ed Stefanski and other members of the front-office staff. Casey, who sported a Tigers cap, did the rounds of interviews on NBATV and greeted fans and well-wishers on his new coaching job.