Salt Lake City — Injuries make way for opportunities.
That’s the best way for some of the young Pistons players to look at the spread of maladies that have limited starters Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard and decimated the roster just as the heart of the schedule hits on their six-game western swing.
Rookie Louis King is trying to make the most of the few available minutes, and he’s found success in the last two games. King, a 6-foot-7 forward who played one year at Oregon, scored his first NBA points in the win Thursday against the Washington Wizards and followed with his first 3-pointer Saturday at San Antonio.
King, 20, has been a fixture with the Grand Rapids Drive, but with a few days off following the G League Winter Showcase, he got a chance to spend a few days with the Pistons. With injuries to Markieff Morris and an illness hampering rookie Sekou Doumbouya, King got a bigger opportunity in his first two NBA games.
With his lanky build and knack for scoring, King has found a niche with the Drive, averaging 16.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and shooting 35 percent on 4.3 3-pointers per game.
“One of the new things in today's NBA is length, athleticism and versatility — and he fits that mold,” coach Dwane Casey said Monday. “We have a lot of developing to do with him, which is why he’s here, why he’s there in Grand Rapids back and forth, but he fits the mold of the new wing that you’ve got to have, that size that can guard (guards and forwards).”
King went undrafted but latched on with the Pistons and is finding his game. In one season at Oregon, he posted 13.5 points and 5.5 rebounds and hit 39 percent from beyond the arc. Some analysts expected him to be drafted but with the unpredictability of the draft, trades and teams’ needs changing, King fell precipitously.
It’s a lesson in teams looking for the big names in the draft and missing on some good players in the second round.
“I’m all confused (on the draft), so I don’t know where he was on (other teams’ draft boards) but he’s a good pickup for us,” Casey said. “The draft is the most critical thing and most difficult thing to get right. Some teams have a lot of luck with it and that’s what’s important — that’s probably the most important part of your program is the draft process to scouting and recognizing and having a feel for what your team needs.”
Griffin was slated to miss Monday’s game against the Jazz, in what has become an enhanced attempt to manage his playing time and ease some of the soreness in his knee. He played Saturday in the loss to the Spurs but it’s possible that he could miss more games if the knee doesn’t improve.
Casey indicated that there was an initial plan for how the team would manage Griffin's number of games, but that has gone out the window because of the issues he’s experiencing. If a few games of rest would help, they’d give it to Griffin. But the other issue is trying to stay competitive and get wins so that they don’t fall out of playoff contention this early in the season.
Play Griffin and try to get wins or rest him and let him get healthier? It’s a dual strategy.
“It's both. We’ve got to do both. I mean there was no you know you're going to work to do both and I know it's difficult to do that,” Casey said. “But that's what we're trying to do is get some wins, as well as get people healthy.”
Even with multiple starters missing several games, there isn’t a drop-off in morale after losing six of the last seven games.
“We try to do a good job of preaching about where we are, not to feel sorry for ourselves. You know we’re down so many starters, but nobody in this league is going to feel sorry,” Casey said. “They’re looking like ‘Okay, let me let me try to get my stats up against Detroit,’ and that’s not going to happen.
“That can’t happen — you’ve got to go in and compete.”
Casey pointed to the dismal third quarter against the Spurs as an example where the Pistons didn’t come out of halftime with the same intensity that they started the game, which led to the blowout loss.