Auburn Hills — Sometimes, less is more. As NBA practices go, 80 minutes is short. While many coaches like to cram as much as they can into their daily work, there’s a time for a truncated workout, giving the players a needed respite ahead of the start of the season.
After a certain point, there are just diminishing returns in what can be derived in the dog days of preseason, with the regular season just around the corner. Pistons coach Dwane Casey saw that and decided to shorten Monday’s practice, with consultation from a veteran leadership council that includes Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, as well as Zaza Pachulia, Jose Calderon and Ish Smith.
“I’ve learned through experience that there’s a lot of things you understand that you can get in a conversation as much as you’re trying to use their legs in practice,” Casey said. “The players appreciate it — especially guys like Griffin and Andre and Reggie, who have a lot of minutes on their legs. The young guys need to work and the cardio. The older players really appreciate it.”
The rookies and players not in the regular rotation played 3-on-3 after practice, while the veterans did some light skill work. It was a welcome break for their knees and other body parts, especially for Griffin and Jackson, who were on minutes restrictions in the preseason.
While Stan Van Gundy leaned more toward longer practices in previous years, Casey has chosen to gauge the players’ physical and mental states and vary the practice times accordingly. Drummond didn’t focus on comparing the two coaches but noted that the results show which side he prefers.
“We have a new coach now; he has a different coaching style and whatever he’s doing is working right now,” Drummond said. “I’m looking forward to Wednesday and trying to get a win.”
Undrafted rookie wing Zach Lofton, who played well during the preseason, garnered a longer look from Casey before they finalized the roster before Monday’s deadline. Lofton showed himself to be an effective 3-point shooter and scorer — good enough to earn a two-way contract.
The Pistons announced Monday evening that they had converted Lofton to a two-way deal and waived forward Reggie Hearn.
At 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, Lofton likely won’t see much time with the Pistons, but could spend significant time with the Grand Rapids Drive in the development league. Lofton played in four preseason games and averaged 5.5 points and 2.0 rebounds and shot 40 percent on 3-pointers in just 9 minutes per game.
Lofton's ascendance made it a tough choice for the Pistons, who had Hearn and rookie point guard Keenan Evans under two-way contracts. In the end, Lofton won the job.
Casey has made strides in implementing his read-and-react offense and focusing on 3-pointers throughout the preseason. It’s been tougher because of the minutes restrictions on Jackson and Griffin, but he’s seen some encouraging signs.
The major focus will be on the chemistry between Jackson, Griffin and Drummond for the Pistons’ overall success, but it likely will take some time for the three to mesh.
“It’s coming. It’s not going to happen through the exhibitions because guys aren’t playing the regular minutes,” Casey said. “I like what I’ve seen with those guys in the cohesion and the type of offense we want to play, with not as many play calls but just playing.
“What we have to do now is knock down shots — that’s our Achilles’ heel offensively. Guys know what shots we’re looking for and cut down on as many challenge 3s as possible. That’s going to take time, also, probably five to 10 games to do that.”
Stanley Johnson (toe) and Jon Leuer (knee surgery rehab) continue to make progress toward being ready for the start of the season. Johnson didn’t practice for a second straight day but Leuer is working his way to playing shape, where he will fit into the rotation and provide needed front-court minutes in the rotation.
“(Leuer) is coming (along). We tried him the other night and I didn’t think he was there and I didn’t put him back in,” Casey said. “He’s a smart player and we’re going to need him before it’s over, so we want him to hurry up and get back in the flow.”