The Pistons will begin play in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas on Friday, opening the 11-day extravaganza against the Croatia National Team.
Last summer, they entered with some optimism, including a plan to play Luke Kennard some at point guard — until he suffered a knee injury on the first day of practice. Without their centerpiece, they struggled through summer league, and Kennard got off to a slow start.
This summer, there much more intrigue around the Pistons’ young players, with second-year players Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk expected to play, along with first-round draft pick Sekou Doumbouya and second-rounders Deividas Sirvydis and Jordan Bone.
That’s a nice group of backcourt players and wings to take into Summer League, even with the bigger names such as Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett on other teams getting more of the headlines.
In Summer League, each of the 32 teams — 30 NBA teams plus the national teams from Croatia and China — will have a four-game slate in the preliminary rounds, and the top eight teams will play in a bracket-style tournament for the championship.
Here’s a look at five things to watch from the Pistons’ squad in summer league.
Unlike last season, the Pistons had a first-round pick and selected forward Sekou Doumbouya with the 15th pick. At 6-foot-9, Doumbouya has a good build and because he’s only 18 years old, he still has plenty of work to do in getting his body to NBA shape.
Doumbouya played in France and his relative inexperience, having only played basketball since age 13, brings a slew of questions about how his game translates to the NBA. Before the draft, Doumbouya was projected as a top-10 talent, and the Pistons had him higher on their draft board than the 15th pick, but they deemed him too good a talent to pass up.
Summer league will be the first opportunity to see whether Doumbouya can adjust quickly and to see him against similar talent in live action. The Pistons aren’t looking for Doumbouya to be an immediate impact player — as few players selected at No. 15 are — but getting a good gauge of his skill set will be one of the biggest areas of focus in their games.
Brown was a starter last season and had to learn on the fly, rising to the occasion in defending some of the best guards in the league. He was very good on defense, but his weakness was on offense (40 percent from the field and 26 percent on 3-pointers). He has worked on his 3-point shot in the offseason, and if he can improve to even 35 percent, he could carve out significant playing time next season.
Thomas didn’t get much playing time because of the logjam in the backcourt and an early injury. The Pistons were optimistic about his defensive ability and he is a better shooter than Brown, so the expectation is that he could develop significantly in the offseason and become a contributor, potentially as a third option at point guard.
Mykhailiuk might be the biggest focal point of the three. He was on the All-Summer League second team last year with the Lakers and after a midseason trade, he was caught in a big learning curve in trying to adjust to the Pistons. A thumb injury limited his time near the end of the year.
All three will play big roles, getting opportunities to play some point guard, as the Pistons try to gauge the pecking order among the three young players.
The Pistons’ plan seems to be to keep Sirvydis overseas in Lithuania or to have him play in the G-League next season, but it seems clear that he’s not ready to play on an NBA level yet. The Piston like Sirvydis, having sent the No. 45 pick plus two more future second-round picks to move up eight spots to get him at 37th.
At 6-8, he has good shooting form and looks to be a solid prospect, so getting a chance to see him play against other NBA-level talent will be intriguing.
Bone and King
The Pistons look to have their pair of two-way players in point guard Jordan Bone and forward Louis King. With the addition of Derrick Rose, they still need a third point guard and Bone could fit the bill if they want to convert him to a standard contract.
They acquired Bone with the No. 57 pick in a draft-day trade and signed King as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon. Much of the focus will be on Doumbouya and the second-year players, but they will maintain an eye on their two-way players and what kind of future they could see, potentially on the main roster this year.
The Pistons also added big man Bennie Boatwright from Southern California, and there’s some question about the remainder of the roster, which hadn’t been released on Monday. Specifically, it’s the big men who will anchor the interior. The Pistons need a backup center and there could be an opportunity to look at a young player, if their overtures toward JeVale McGee don’t work out.
Former Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid also is on the roster and he could be another G-League option.