East Lansing — The two-a-day practices are the separators. If a player is out of shape, it shows there first. If he’s not mentally sharp, the mistakes will show.
For NBA players, it’s part of the routine: a week of training camp and a couple of weeks of preseason games before the Pistons’ regular season gets started on Oct. 23 at Indiana.
The days and weeks are grueling, at times, but it’s part of the journey toward getting ready for the real thing.
“This (stuff) is tough out here,” Andre Drummond said. “The two-a-days are fun and having a new role and learning new guys and learning a new scheme has been great. I’m excited and it’s going to be an exciting year.”
Even when the preseason games begin on Monday — the Pistons face the Orlando Magic at Little Caesars Arena — it likely won’t have a pedal-to-the-metal feel to it. While most of the starting lineup is back from last season, there has been almost a complete overhaul of the second unit.
Fitting all those pieces together and finding some chemistry and consistency will be a top priority. Even still, there will be an eye on not pressing the starters and seasoned veterans too much, so that the coaching staff can get a look at some of the other players to gauge where they might fit in the rotation and how they’ve developed through the summer.
“I don’t suspect that all of our starters will play big minutes in the exhibitions because we do want to see certain players play and perform in a game setting,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We’ll extend it some but to say they won’t play any in the preseason, I won’t say that.
“We’ll get a look at a lot of the young guys, second-unit guys and guys who are trying to make it.”
That likely means longer looks at Svi Mykhailiuk, Khyri Thomas, Joe Johnson, Christian Wood and others. Casey isn’t as concerned about looking at the results through wins and losses as he is the qualitative development and whether some players are ready for increases in playing time or different roles.
Blake Griffin, who missed the first couple of practices, was back on the court on Thursday after being treated for strep throat. He says there are no lingering effects, and he’s ready to start ramping back up to playing at a regular pace but not too quickly.
The preseason will give a glimpse of how some of the pieces fit together, but some of those things can be taken with a grain of salt.
“It’s nice to go against other people. You have to be smart about what you take away from preseason; some people put a little too much on it,” Griffin said. “You’ll see all the articles about how this guy worked on his 3-point shot. He’ll be 17-for-27 from 3 in the preseason and probably shoot 30 percent (during the season).”
There are some of those overreactions in training camp. But in a broader sense, Griffin wants to see how some of the younger players have augmented their games, whether the game has slowed down for them and if they’re ready to perform at a higher level more consistently.
That includes Bruce Brown, who had a good rookie season. He was tasked with working on his jump shot in the summer and will be looking to be more aggressive on the offensive end in creating his own shot, as well as opportunities for others.
“You’ve seen the work Bruce has done with his shot and the confidence is going to help him. He’s improved as a shooter, but just his confidence shooting the ball is going to be big,” Griffin said. “He’s such a great defender and if we need to use him late in the game or any guard that gets going, he did an unbelievable job on some of the premier guards in this league. That’s huge.
“Khyri and Svi both made significant improvements. I really like Svi’s game a lot. Whether it shakes out this year or next, he has a bright future — and the same with Khyri.”
Griffin was an All-American at Oklahoma, but at one time he caught the eye of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. They didn’t get a chance to interact much after Griffin stayed in-state with the Sooners, but Griffin maintained a healthy level of respect for the legendary coach.
“I like Coach Izzo a lot. I remember he came down my high school campus one time and I got to get out of class and go shoot in the gym. I didn’t get to talk to him but my dad, who was the coach and athletic director, talked to him while I got to shoot,” Griffin recalled. “I always liked Coach Izzo but because of the rules back then, I never got to talk to him in person that much.
“We talked on the phone a couple times. I liked the class that was coming here. I remember talking to Kalin (Lucas) and Durrell (Summers). I was here when they were in the Final Four in 2009 and I was doing all the press stuff. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Coach Izzo."