Atlanta — The first game after the All-Star break brought a new starting lineup for the Pistons, who were looking for the right mix after dealing Reggie Bullock just before the trade deadline.
After going with Langston Galloway for one game and then Luke Kennard in the final game before the break, coach Dwane Casey opted for the newest acquisition, inserting Wayne Ellington into the starting group for Friday’s matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.
Ellington, who was signed as a free agent after he was traded from the Miami Heat to the Phoenix Suns ahead of the deadline, was waived and picked up by the Pistons to help their playoff push.
Ellington, 31, played 33 minutes in the loss to the Celtics before the break and finished with 13 points, including going 3-of-10 on 3-pointers.
The big question mark was the quick turnaround for Ellington and having to learn the Pistons’ terminology for plays and to become more instinctive rather than trying to figure things out on the fly.
It didn’t take long.
“Wayne showed in his minutes against Boston that he’s picked up things pretty quickly,” Casey said.
Over the break, Ellington worked more to help with his conditioning and was able to see more film and study their plays, so that when he came back, he was more acclimated.
Ellington’s ascent to the starting lineup could help clear up the rest of the playing rotation in the wing spots. With Stanley Johnson and Bullock gone the rest of the reserves need to step into bigger roles.
It could mean more minutes for rookie Khyri Thomas, who has been toward the back of the rotation. Thomas, who has played well in limited minutes, could see an increased workload, with the struggles that Langston Galloway has had.
“Both he and Bruce (can increase roles),” Casey said. “Hopefully, the break was good to him. He hit that proverbial rookie wall and hopefully the rest has been good for him.
“I wouldn’t say they’re taking Langston’s minutes but it’s getting Khyri in the mix. I don’t want to say somebody is in a slump. We’ve talked about Khyri being in the mix.”
For Thomas, it’s been an extended learning curve, with small morsels of playing time and getting to learn the ropes. Brown has been in the starting lineup for much of the season, out of necessity because of his defense.
While Thomas has made his share of mistakes, he’s starting to get things figured out and making a push to get more minutes. He’s had some instances of being out of position, but Casey is confident in his ability to pick things up quickly and to become a contributor.
“This time of year, that shouldn’t be an issue with him. That young man knows everybody’s positions on the floor — he’s that smart as far as basketball is concerned,” Casey said. “We have to find some minutes for him somewhere. Not only is it going to pay off, but in the future, it’s going to have huge dividends.”
Another option in that wing rotation could be rookie Svi Mykhailiuk, but it’s going to take more time for him to get into the flow and be ready to get some minutes if the opportunity presents itself.
“It’s a little tougher but he’s right there in the mix. They’re similar in their position. Bruce is ahead of him because he’s been here and knows what we’re doing,” Casey said. "Luke is ahead of him, so he’s got a tougher road to hoe from an inexperience standpoint versus a guy like Wayne, who’s been around and knows the league. There’s nothing new under the sun (for Ellington).
“For Svi, it’s tougher than for everybody else.”
Pistons at Heat
Tip-off: 7:30 Saturday, American Airlines Arena, Miami
Outlook: The Heat (26-31) are chasing the Pistons in the standings for the final playoff spot, although the Pistons have the head-to-head tiebreaker. It’s the second of a back-to-back for the Pistons and second game in three days for the Heat.