Pistons coach Dwane Casey warned against taking too much out of Wednesday’s preseason opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Neither team had a full complement of players, with Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson out of the starting lineup, as well as Russell Westbrook and Paul George for the Thunder.
The Pistons still had another star, though.
Andre Drummond looked to be in midseason form, as he finished with 31 points and 16 rebounds in 34 minutes, helping the Pistons take a 97-91 victory on Wednesday night.
The Pistons took the lead, 94-91, on Drummond's three-point play with 1:37 left and Ish Smith closed it out with a 3-pointer with 16.2 seconds remaining.
Stanley Johnson added 14 points, five rebounds and three assists in 37 minutes and Glenn Robinson III 11 points.
The Thunder had a 52-49 halftime lead but the Pistons surged in the third quarter behind Drummond, who had 12 points of his points in the period, with a high-energy performance, getting to the offensive boards.
The Pistons finish the road trip on Friday at San Antonio. Here are some observations from the opener:
1. The starting group: Without Griffin and Jackson, coach Dwane Casey went to Henry Ellenson in a surprising move and veteran Jose Calderon at point guard, to go with Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson and Drummond. Inserting Calderon in the lineup allowed Ish Smith to stay with the second group, which is something Casey wanted to maintain with the chemistry and speed Smith brings. Jackson had been limited in the preseason because of an rehabilitation from last season’s ankle injury, but the Pistons clearly are being cautious with Jackson in his return.
2. New-look Drummond: Yes, Drummond took a couple of 3-pointers — he went 0-of-3 — but he looked comfortable taking the attempts. He was more effective at his bread-and-butter, though, working his way inside and getting on the offensive glass. He shined in the third quarter, looking like he was going to go for a 20-point, 20-rebound game with his increased energy.
He played many roles, including facilitating at the top of the key, as he did last season, plus shooting from the perimeter and banging on the inside. He’ll continue to expand his game and he’ll get better looks, but it was encouraging to see the transition that his game is taking.
3. The new Stanley? Johnson hit two of his first three 3-pointers and looked more comfortable in his revamped shooting motion. It’s been a constant process of work on getting more fundamentally sound from 3-point range and aligning his body to get optimal results. The initial results looked to work out fine, as Johnson looked at ease on his jump shots.
4. The rotations: Casey was liberal in spreading the minutes around, finding playing time for almost all the players, including rookies Bruce Brown and Zach Lofton and going 12 deep in the rotation. As he hinted this week, Casey mixed the lineups and had some interesting combinations, including playing Glenn Robinson III and Johnson together at the forward positions. There likely will be more combinations that are unconventional, but the point is to find groups that work well together.
Smith started the third quarter for Calderon, more likely a matchup switch to put Smith on the quicker Dennis Schroder. The preseason lineups won’t be a contentious point, but as they frame Casey’s feeling on the ultimate rotation, they will become more important.
5. The bench players: Robinson and Zaza Pachulia looked good off the bench. Pachulia will be the primary backup center to Drummond, and Robinson could fill a variety of roles — possibly even starting at some point in the season. Casey showed that he's not afraid to put unconventional groups together on the court at the same time, which will make the rest of the preseason interesting.