Detroit — The remaining 22 games for the Pistons aren’t an exercise in futility. There are still plenty of things to figure out, including the path forward for some of the young players and finding out who might stay around beyond this season.
There are some known quantities, such as Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown, but younger players such as rookie Sekou Doumbouya, Svi Mykhailiuk and Khyri Thomas will need to define their roles moving forward and determine where they fit in the long-term plan.
Even big man Christian Wood, in the midst of a breakout season, has some things to prove.
Some would think that he’s shown enough this season, with 11.8 points, six rebounds and an impressive 37% on 3-pointers. Wood has played in 56 games this season, more than his three previous NBA seasons, when he totaled 50.
He’s opening eyes that he can be an everyday NBA player, but coach Dwane Casey still sees more work for Wood to do.
“We’re going to see. He’s done a lot and he’s improved tremendously, but the key with him, as I’ve said all year, is consistency and not just scoring — consistent defensively, consistency with knowing the coverages consistently remembering the plays from the consistency of just everything,” Casey said. “He’s done a lot; he’s improved in a lot of different areas, mostly maturity. I’m really, really proud of the way he’s grown, but again, there’s a lot of basketball and a lot of season to play.”
Wood, 24, would look to be a long-term solution at center for the Pistons, but it’s not quite that simple. He will become an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team this summer. That opens the flood gates to some degree, but with only a handful of teams with salary-cap space, the pool will be limited.
The Pistons are one of those teams — they’re projected to have about $35 million in cap space — and if a team offers Wood the midlevel exception of about $9.7 million, the Pistons could go above that number.
That’s quite a jump for Wood, who was the last player to make the roster and was at a non-guaranteed veteran-minimum of $1.65 million this year.
Playing well has its benefits, and Wood can reap those if he continues his good play in the last few weeks of the season.
Casey is known for his player development but with the roster moves the Pistons have made, there’s something of a talent discrepancy between their lineup and most of their opponents’.
The Nuggets boasted an All-Star in Nikola Jokic and a potential future All-Star in guard Jamal Murray. Friday’s opponent, the Suns, will have Devin Booker.
In the midst of their rebuild, the Pistons will have to find young players to center their roster around and to add young supplementary talent.
“It's a talent-laden league and our guys working to get to that level. We don't have anyone like Jokic; we don't have anyone like Jamal Murray and I'm not ashamed to say that,” Casey said. “We're working to get there. So, again, it's a feather in their cap that they do come out and compete against some of those players.”
Even Doumbouya, who showed a brief flash this season, will have to build his consistency and play at that high level more frequently to reach the level that they envisioned for him as a first-round pick. There will need to be some additional development, so that players like Mykhailiuk and Thomas can fill in the gaps.
“Our guys, they're doing everything fine and are working hard, but you know there's a level of talent that you're going to have in this league, and so the four or five years with our program, that's what we're building, to get there,” Casey said. “We've got a lot of work to do, a lot of decisions to make, a lot of evaluation of everything we do — not only talent, but coaching (philosophy). …
“The next step is finding talent. … Right now, this is the foundation-setting time.”
Pistons at Suns
Tip-off: 9 Friday, Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix
Outlook: The Pistons (19-41) enter the third game of their four-game western trip with a seven-game losing streak. The Suns (24-35) are on the fringe of the playoff mix in the West, in a pack of teams trailing the Memphis Grizzlies for eighth place.