Atlanta — After a week in which the Pistons lost overtime games to the New Jersey Nets and Miami Heat amid a five-game losing streak, they bounced back with a needed road victory over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.
Coach Dwane Casey didn’t smile in his postgame interview; he still was preaching the basics of doing the little things that lead to wins: hustle, shot selection and reducing turnovers. He’s more concerned with effort than shots falling, which will establish an identity that goes beyond single wins.
“We’ve been saying it since training camp: one thing we have to do every night is play hard and raise our level of activity,” Casey said Thursday. “Last night, we had the most deflections of any game in the season and it showed. It can’t be a one-night thing; it’s got to be an every-night thing of playing hard.
“It’s a game of mistakes — the team that makes the least amount of mistakes read-wise or scheme-wise is going to win.”
The Pistons (5-5) have been error-prone in their five-game skid which has led to some head-scratching losses and erratic play. Casey has tinkered with the lineup, moving Glenn Robinson III to the starting group and putting Stanley Johnson with the reserves.
This week’s mailbag looks at some of the other lingering questions around the Pistons:
Question: Hey Rod! Why does the emphasis on 3s seem forced this season? Feel like I've seen opportunities to attack the paint disregarded for a 3. — Cedric Welton @CeDD_SAYS
Answer: Part of Casey’s “Shot Spectrum” is prioritizing a certain number of 3-pointers — not just any ones but smart ones within the flow of the offense. They’re doing more of that but the shots simply aren’t falling. They’re one of the worst 3-point-shooting teams in the league, as Reggie Bullock is struggling, Luke Kennard is injured and Langston Galloway is finding his range. It’s a concerning trend, but everyone seems confident the shots will start falling at a higher clip. They have to, if the Pistons are going to stay afloat in the first half of the season.
Q: Why have we given up on Ellenson? — Mike Moran @PodcastTC
A: Put simply, it’s a gamble. As I wrote last week, the Pistons don’t want to outbid themselves for Ellenson’s services next season. He hasn’t shown much in his three seasons, mainly because of a lack of playing time. They’re in a mode where they’re not trying to develop players as much as they’re trying to win. Ellenson is a good shooter, but he needs game time to work out his issues — and that playing time doesn’t seem to be there behind Blake Griffin and Jon Leuer. It looks like Casey would rather play small ball than play Ellenson, so the trips to the Grand Rapids Drive will be more frequent.
Q: Why are we so low on assists and passes, when Casey was preaching his movement philosophy all summer? — Blakdre Griffmond @RudonGayward
A: Assists only come after made baskets. The Pistons haven’t made a lot and they’ve struggled on the offensive end. It’s part of their growth plan to get more assists, but when they’re running so much for Griffin and when he kicks the ball out, the shots aren’t falling. They sometimes fall into isolation plays, which are less likely to yield assists.
Q: What is going on with Khyri Thomas? Is he injured or what? — Josiah Norman @NINK419
A: This is similar to the Ellenson question. It seems that rookie Bruce Brown has surpassed Thomas in the pecking order. Brown is taller and more of a dogged defender. The offensive skills still trail his defense, but Brown looks ready to play on that end. Thomas has had some encouraging outings with the Drive, but the minutes behind Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, Langston Galloway, Reggie Bullock and Jose Calderon don’t seem to be there. Casey is a big proponent of players developing with the Drive — and Thomas might get the most of those this season.
Q: What are the major differences in how Dwane Casey is rotating and managing this roster vs SVG? What are the early season analytics saying about Stanley Johnson? — Philip Shaw @Agridome
A: Casey is much more open to seeing how players handle new roles. Galloway was almost a forgotten entity last season but is getting big minutes (23.6) this year. Casey has shown a lot of looks with two point guards and even with using Stanley Johnson at power forward. It’s almost as if he’s using this first part of the season to tinker and figure out how they play together in selected combinations as a crucible for how he might extend those later in the season. Casey is using more of the bench for longer stretches and doesn’t have to have a starter on the floor, which Van Gundy liked to do for continuity.
Pistons at Hawks
Tip-off: 7:30 Friday, State Farm Arena, Atlanta
TV/radio: FSD-Plus/950 AM
Outlook: The Hawks (3-8) are reeling after losing six of their last seven. Rookie Trae Young is their leader, posting 18.6 points and 8.1 assists. The Pistons (5-5) are looking to sweep both games of their trip.