Detroit — The Pistons have learned from the last couple of seasons that not having enough depth can be a death knell to their success. Reggie Jackson has been the starter and after a couple of seasons of injuries that derailed their seasons, the Pistons signed Derrick Rose to provide an upgrade as a backup.
They also added Tim Frazier to give an experienced, veteran presence as a third option in case there was some recurrence of injury with Jackson and Rose.
Out went Jackson. Down went Frazier. Rested was Rose.
The Pistons were without a starting point guard — at least one who had started a regular-season NBA game prior to Saturday’s matchup against the Brooklyn Nets.
Enter Bruce Brown. The second-round pick in his second season had scant experience in meaningful minutes, but defied expectation by posting career highs of 22 points and seven assists in 40 minutes as the Pistons prevailed, 113-109.
In a point-guard pinch, Pistons coach Dwane Casey found out what Brown can do for him.
“He did an excellent job and being a point guard, that’s where the Summer League was beneficial for him, to make sure he learned to run pick-and-roll, to run the team and he did a good job,” Casey said Saturday. “We knew (about the injuries); it wasn’t a secret. We knew this morning it was probably going to be the way it was.”
What’s more impressive is that Brown outscored the Nets’ Kyrie Irving — who did post a triple-double — but also had the added responsibility of a difficult defensive assignment tacked on with his new offensive duties.
Ironically, after the Jackson injury, Brown had been relegated to the bench, as Casey looked to Luke Kennard to provide a boost on offense at the guard position. Brown had struggled with his 3-point shot — and the Nets gave Brown several outside looks, daring him to take the shots.
Instead, he drove the lane and created opportunities for others inside. It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but it proved effective as he ran some pick-and-rolls and found Andre Drummond for easy plays inside after breaking down the Nets' defense.
“I can play whatever (position). My shot wasn’t falling tonight, but whatever coach wants me to do, I can do,” Brown said. “I played the point guard all summer, so it built that confidence. In practice I played there a lot too, so I know all the plays and all the sets, so I was really comfortable out there.”
The Monday Drive takes a look at some other takeaways from the Pistons this week, after losses at Toronto and Chicago and the win over Brooklyn:
► Drummond made a hard pitch for Eastern Conference player of the week, with three straight 20-20 games, including the monstrous 25 points, 20 rebounds, six assists, five blocks and three steals against the Nets. He has four 20-20 games in seven outings this season. The rest of the NBA has one total: Anthony Davis of the Lakers. With Blake Griffin out, the starting unit needs a scoring hub and Drummond has diversified his game enough to create off the dribble and become a mismatch for many opposing centers.
► Griffin has resumed basketball activities after issues with his knee and hamstring to start the season. He played in the first two preseason games but hasn’t been in a game since. The medical team is being very cautious with him but signs are pointing to him possibly returning to the lineup this week, which could set some of the rotation back to its regular composition.
► Kennard took a big step forward in his development, after struggling in the first half against the Nets. He has a harder job in the starting unit and plays against top-line defenders, which makes finding his shot tougher. After a hot start to the season in the pairing with Rose, Kennard’s production has dipped with the starters but he’ll continue to work to get those same looks. When Griffin returns, he’ll likely go back to the second unit, where he’ll resume his rhythm.
► Casey has lauded Markieff Morris for being more than “a tough guy” as he’s sometimes described. Morris made a critical pass to avoid an 8-second call during the final minutes against the Nets. He’s been a steady post presence early in the season, subbing for Griffin in the starting lineup. That should only be enhanced when he moves to the second unit, where he can do more damage. He has brought the toughness and edge, too, with three technical fouls already in seven games.
► Christian Wood has been up and down and in and out of the rotation for regular minutes all season. When he’s good, he’s a big asset who provides energy and a defensive mismatch. When he’s not clicking, he sits. That appears to be the blueprint for how he’ll be used, at least in the early part of the season. He’s still making some mistakes on both ends of the court, but until he gets more comfortable he’ll continue to be one to watch.
Pistons at Wizards
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Monday, Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.
TV/radio: FSD/WWJ 950
Outlook: The Pistons ended their two-game skid with a win over the Nets on Saturday and could have Blake Griffin back this week. The Wizards (1-4) have lost three straight, including two at home.