Team Blue beats Team Grey at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Pistons coach Dwane Casey sat at the scorer’s table during Saturday’s scrimmage at Crisler Center, as assistant coaches Micah Nori and Sidney Lowe guided the split-squad matchup.
It was a chance for Casey to step back and objectively view each group of 10. Casey didn’t just sit and watch, though; he called some specific plays he wanted to see them run and provided some feedback to individual players throughout the four quarters. Casey kept some mental notes but, in general, liked what he saw.
Installing new offensive and defensive principles and playing at the pace Casey desires are the biggest goals for the preseason. There were some positives to take from the scrimmage, but instead of simply focusing on the offense, Casey put the emphasis on both ends.
“This game today is a good video lesson for defense, some of our shot selection and discipline in that,” Casey said Saturday. “We have to get to the rim and if it’s not there, there’s the kick out. We’re further along than I thought we’d be.”
Before the Pistons open the preseason on Wednesday at Oklahoma City and Friday at San Antonio, here are some key takeaways from the week of training camp in Ann Arbor:
1. Dwane Casey is making a difference
Before he even joined the Pistons, Casey was lauded for building relationships with his players in Toronto. One week into the preseason, there’s a palpable difference in watching Casey deal with players such as Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Reggie Bullock. It’s the tone in Casey’s voice, the way he instructs and directs and the way the players talk about him.
Why does that matter? It’s about the set of games in the dog days of the season where they might fall into a double-digit deficit and drag through the middle parts of the game. Wanting to play for that coach and having that coach’s support could be something that pushes those players through the rough times.
That still doesn’t seem to matter much, but if that happens and turns around four or five of those games, it could mean the difference between making the playoffs or sitting on the outside. It might be the difference between a No. 8 seed and No. 7 seed. Or fourth and fifth. Every little bit matters.
More than that, it has the potential to draw out the players’ best efforts and getting them to play closer to their potential.
2. Drummond is poised for his best season
He’s a two-time All-Star already but Drummond looks more energetic, more focused and more versatile than he has in his first six seasons. It’s not just about trying to add the 3-pointer to his repertoire — though he made one in Saturday’s scrimmage — but his improved confidence and form in taking those 3s, plus his agility and comfort in the paint.
“I got my shackles off, plain and simple. I was able to play my game freely and took shots I was supposed to take that I know I can make and have fun with it,” Drummond said. “The open practice was more for the fans, but I showcased a lot of different things than I can do this season.”
Drummond showed last year he can play on the perimeter and distribute the ball effectively, but he’s becoming a better offensive option. Consistency, though, will be the biggest question about Drummond’s growth.
“The hardest thing to do in this league is to be consistent. It’s easy to be a big-time player one night and then disappear the next,” Casey said. “One thing he’s showing is consistency this whole week and whole month. That’s his next step to getting into the elite conversation.”
3. Reggie Jackson is getting healthy
Jackson was limited for most of the summer and through voluntary workouts. He got medical clearance to begin full practice this week and he’s getting into basketball shape. Jackson played the first half of the scrimmage and looked to be a little rusty, but didn’t show any ill effects of the ankle injury that kept him out of 37 games last season.
His shooting stroke is there, but he’s still working on regaining the speed and burst that will set him apart later in the season. Casey has expressed how important Jackson is to the Pistons’ success, but having him on the road back to 100 percent is one of the biggest takeaways from training camp.
4. The Pistons have wing options — good ones
Much of the talk has been about whether Stanley Johnson will continue to start, or be supplanted by Glenn Robinson III. There’s more competition with Luke Kennard and Reggie Bullock. What’s clear is that the Pistons’ wing depth is better than it has been in recent years. Between their starting and bench depth, they could start and finish with different groups, something that Casey hinted.
That could mean Casey gauges that group on a game-by-game basis, sometimes sticking with who’s playing well. The other consideration is Langston Galloway, who excelled in the scrimmage, with three 3-pointers and 17 points. He’s been something of a forgotten entity off the Pistons’ bench, but if he can be a dependable shooter, he also could be in the mix.
5. Young guys are going to play — somewhere
Casey has extolled the virtues of the Grand Rapids Drive, the Pistons’ development team. He wants players to play there with pride, and not to view it as a demotion when they go play there. It’s more of an emphasis on having them play rather than sitting on the bench just watching and only participating in practice. It could mean more playing time to stay ready for players such as Henry Ellenson and rookies Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas, plus two-way players Keenan Evans and Reggie Hearn.
Where there might not be playing time with the Pistons, a trip to play with the Drive, even for one game, could be beneficial.