Auburn Hills — In the midst of a whirlwind rookie season, Pistons guards Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas are having to do a lot of learning on the fly.
It’s enough to make their heads spin, but Brown started in the season opener because of an injury to Reggie Bullock and as he learned the ropes, he moved back from reserve to a starter in 24 games.
Thomas hasn’t risen as quickly but his playing time is getting steadier, as he’s played in seven of the past 10 games and is averaging 10 minutes per game in that span.
In Wednesday night’s loss to the Bucks, Brown moved from the starting lineup, but had a different role with reserves — as the second-unit point guard. Even after they drafted Brown, coach Dwane Casey saw that the long-term prospect was having Brown handle the ball more.
“It’s his eventual position in the future so we wanted to look at it and see. He did a decent job, but his nemesis was his defense,” Casey said Wednesday. “I don’t know if it’s the rookie wall or whatever it is, with the concentration, attention to detail, shooting the gap when he’s not supposed to … all those things are mental things that young fellas make when they’re mentally fatigued.
“He’s going to be a really important piece to our program.”
Brown is regarded for his perimeter defense, guarding the likes of James Harden, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook — and doing an admirable job — but as the season goes on, he looks to be wearing down.
“(The drop) has been noticeable. We’ve played 49 games and it’s probably two college seasons. You have to get amped up every night as a rookie for some of the best offensive players in the world — and that takes a toll,” Casey said. “It’s nothing negative and we’re not down on Bruce. It’s a normal part of the year for a young player; it could be a second-year guy. We understand it and see it and trying to help him with it, whether it’s cutting his minutes back a little bit.
“It’s not about not having effort, because he’s playing as hard as anybody. It’s the little mental mistakes that you make when you’re not as sharp mentally or focused.
“It’s nothing he’s doing on purpose or a lack of effort.”
While Ish Smith recovers from groin tightness, the Pistons will try to make it with backup options. They’ve taken a look at two-way player Kalin Lucas (Michigan State) as an additional option, but against the Bucks, Brown also became a viable option, even if it’s just to see where he is in the development process.
“He’s going to be a point guard of the future,” Casey said. “That position, until Ish comes back, is going to be fluid.
“He’s in the mix as far as that’s concerned.”
Thomas played 10 minutes and finished with three points and two blocks, showing his affinity for the defensive end as well. He hasn’t played nearly as much as Brown.
But he’s going to get a boost in minutes as they monitor Brown’s playing time.
On offense, Thomas is a little ahead of Brown, but he’ll get chances ahead of the veterans, including Langston Galloway, to shine also.
“Langston is consistent as far as effort; the thing that’s inconsistent with a lot of our guys is shooting,” Casey said. “Khyri and a lot of (the other wings) are close (together) and some guys have more experience than Khyri and Bruce and one thing you know you get from those two is the toughness and grit you need from young guys.”
Jackson rises to occasion
It’s been a tough season for Reggie Jackson overall, but he had one of his best games of the year, tying his season high with 25 points — on 10-of-15 shooting — and adding five assists against the Bucks. He played the pick-and-roll a little better and was more aggressive in attacking the basket.
“He really made a couple shots and that got him going. The way they play defense with (Brook) Lopez all the way back in the restricted area in pick-and-roll situations gave Reggie more opportunities and he took advantage of it,” Casey said.
“He played one of his better all-around offensive games of the year last night. (It’s just) consistency and bringing it every night.
“We ran the same amount of pick-and-rolls (Tuesday). It wasn’t like it was more plays; he took advantage and made plays. He was very decisive (Tuesday), which helped him a lot.”
Mavericks at Pistons
Tip-off: 7 Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Outlook: The Mavericks (22-27) won the meeting last Friday in Dallas and rookie Luka Doncic is coming off his first career triple-double, with 35 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, against the Raptors.