Miami — Fitting the mosaic of his ever-changing playing rotation has been a challenge for Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey. Injuries have made it a daily task, with Blake Griffin’s uncertain status, Derrick Rose’s hamstring issues and Reggie Jackson’s lingering back problems.
In their first 12 games, the Pistons have had five starting lineups, and it could be another on Friday when they face the Charlotte Hornets and could have Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose back in the lineup.
Both played in Monday’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves but rested in Tuesday’s loss at Miami. The next step for Casey will be integrating his two superstars back into the lineup, without upsetting the successes they’re having.
The Pistons (4-8) lead the league in 3-point percentage (40.2 percent) and are fifth in field-goal percentage (46.9 percent). Casey’s offense is working, with Andre Drummond and Luke Kennard carrying most of the scoring load, but Casey is looking to get a boost from the return of his best two offensive players.
“Our issue is integrating everybody together: Luke, Blake, Derrick. The other night, we had some continuity in the second half, but that’s without Blake and Derrick in, so now we have to integrate other guys in,” Casey said after Thursday’s practice at American Airlines Arena. “I like our group; I like what we have but it’s taking a little more time to get that rhythm and togetherness that you have to have to win.”
Kennard has been the big revelation, boosting his average to 18.9 points and growing in a starting role. On Monday, Griffin and Rose both started, despite Casey’s preseason insistence that Rose would stay with the second unit, along with Kennard. Out of necessity, Kennard has joined the first group, but there could be more shifting to come.
White Griffin and Rose get back to consistent playing time and fit into the rotation, Casey will continue to tinker with the lineups, trying to find the rhythm he’s seen in some games, but not as consistently as he’d like.
“Integrating all those guys back is a challenge and to get in a rhythm, for them as much as anything else. There’s a big difference in individual workouts, game speed, game situations, rest or whatever it is,” Casey said. “It’s always a challenge and that’s why we’re struggling.
“We’re basically two different teams with Blake and Derrick in and them out. That’s the rhythm we have to come to. We found it in the second half (against the Heat), but we dug our hole in the first quarter.”
Turnovers have been the biggest issue for the Pistons, who are averaging 17.3 per game. Those miscues offset the offensive efficiency, giving them fewer offensive possessions to execute — and in many cases, giving the opponent easy transition opportunities off the turnovers.
Kennard has improved significantly with more playing time and a starting opportunity, with the offense primarily running through him. He’s almost doubled his scoring average from his first two years, a progression that Casey predicted when he arrived before last season.
“I saw the shooting and that’s where the league is going. He’s developing right before our eyes with his ballhandling, passing, playmaking and overall NBA toughness,” Casey said. “That’s where the growth that I’ve seen is. That’s what you have to have if you’re going to be a primary scorer: toughness about you that nothing can bother you — physicality, mental games, whatever it is. That’s where his growth has come; he’s not a finished product.
“It’s a natural growth; I don’t think we’ll ride him until the wheels come off. The growth will happen naturally and some mistakes he’s still making as a young player he’ll grow into. He’s getting better and better at not being physically beat up or taken out of a play physically. That’s going to continue to grow and be better.”
Pistons at Hornets
Tip-off: 7 Friday, Spectrum Center, Charlotte
Outlook: The Pistons look to have Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose back at full strength. The Hornets (4-7) have lost four straight games; Miles Bridges (Michigan State) is posting 13.1 points and 5.5 rebounds.