Blake Griffin load management among key takeaways from Pistons' training camp
Detroit — After a 3-2 finish in the preseason, the Pistons are ready to make their final tweaks and get ready for the regular season, which begins Wednesday at Indiana.
The three weeks of preseason have provided some interesting twists and one roster spot that’s still up for grabs, with just a few days remaining before the final cuts. With their additions in the offseason, the Pistons bolstered their bench and brought in some veterans who can help them improve on their 41-41 finish last season and get them past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
Coach Dwane Casey and his staff have used player development as a critical tool in adding to the players’ skill sets, but the biggest change could be roster flexibility, with several players moving around to different spots and not just occupying one position in the lineup.
Here are some key takeaways from training camp, the preseason and the days leading up to the tipoff of the regular season:
Blake Griffin played sparingly in the first preseason game and had his best outing in the second. He missed the final three, including two on the road, because of hamstring soreness. If the preseason is indication, the Pistons will handle Griffin conservatively and plan on resting him for more than the seven regular-season games he missed last year. It seems that they’ll try to reduce his usage rate also, letting others — including Bruce Brown, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard — handle the ball and initiate the offense more frequently.
The best guess is the Pistons might try to go the load-management route for Griffin and rest him about 10-15 games. That could depend on how they start the season and even where they are in the standings around the trade deadline.
The last spot
The near-consensus is that the final roster spot will come down to Joe Johnson or Christian Wood, who play different positions and would have wholly different roles in making the team. Wood brings athleticism and a valuable frontcourt presence, while Johnson is a savvy veteran who could provide scoring and positional mismatches when he gets back to an NBA rhythm.
There’s a possibility that both could make it, if the Pistons make a trade and open another roster spot. Though that’s an option that’s being pursued, nothing seems imminent. Wood has posted 13.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in 17 minutes per game, but the competition isn’t just about numbers or production. Either would be on a veteran-minimum contract, so that’s not the consideration either.
By the end of the day on Monday, a decision should be made — one, the other, or a trade — so that will be the last big domino before the season starts.
Derrick Rose’s addition was one of the biggest headlines from the summer — and he showed the buzz was well-founded. He was one of the leading scorers and showed that he still has the burst that was the hallmark of his resurgence last season is still there. He’ll be the engine of the second unit and represents an offensive upgrade over what Ish Smith provided in previous seasons.
Rose’s speed and quickness were on display but establishing chemistry with the reserve group will be one of the things to watch early in the season. He didn’t show a flair for the outside shot but getting to the rim and creating opportunities and his ability to get to the foul line will be valuable assets moving forward.
Waiting on Sekou
After the Pistons got Sekou Doumbouya with the 15th pick, there was some optimism that he could be an immediate contributor in the rotation. Judging from his preseason playing time and production, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards — at least this season. He played sparingly — 5.1 minutes per game — mainly in the second half, suggesting he’s at the bottom of the rotation, at best. He posted 1.3 points and 1 rebound in four preseason games.
It’s likely that Doumbouya will spend some time with the Grand Rapids Drive in the G-League to get some seasoning and to get him stronger and more accustomed to the physical play here. There have been some short flashes of his athleticism, but it may be a couple more years before Doumbouya scratches the surface of his potential.
After some hand-wringing about possibly moving Luke Kennard into the starting lineup, the Pistons seem to be poised to keep Bruce Brown in that position and pair Kennard with Rose in the second unit. The Piston picked up the fourth-year option for Kennard, so they still believe in his potential but whether that reaches starter status still is unclear, at least until they figure out the long-term plan.
Tony Snell has played well with the first group, flexing his defensive muscle and showing some proficiency from the 3-point line. He’ll get his opportunities, filling in the role that Wayne Ellington manned after the deadline last season. The remaining starters — Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond and Griffin — will remain.
The middle ground
Beyond the core group of the reserves, the last few spots have been in flux in the preseason, with Langston Galloway holding his position as the third reserve wing. Svi Mykhailiuk has been up and down but has moved ahead of Khyri Thomas in the pecking order. If it comes down to keeping both Johnson and Wood, one of the young players could be the odd man out.
The Pistons also could look to keep Todd Withers and Craig Sword — both released in the last couple of days — on the Drive roster for further development. The depth created by adding Markieff Morris, Tim Frazier and Rose has solidified the middle of the roster and should provide more opportunities to rest the regulars.