Pistons veterans taking rookies under their wings as preseason looms
By the time the Pistons play their first preseason game on Friday, they all will not have been practicing together for a whole week. With the team portion of training camp starting on Sunday, it’s been a furious rush to get all the players on board with the specific offensive and defensive principles.
According to coach Dwane Casey, some of the scrimmages in the twice-daily practices have been sloppy, with turnovers and other miscues. Overcoming those is the key to how the sauce is made and in the short time that they’ve had, there’s been a dual focus of getting to know each other on the court as players and away from the floor as people.
With only four returning players from last season, there’s going to be a learning curve. What helps is that Wayne Ellington played with the Pistons two years ago and Delon Wright played the early part of his career under Casey, so there’s some level of familiarity.
What’s helping more is the mentorship that the veterans are doing with the young players — and it’s not forced; there’s an element of knowing the importance of establishing a long-term culture and helping the rookies and young players mature.
“Things like that have to happen organically and naturally,” Casey said Wednesday via teleconference. “The new guys are coming in and they're kind of hanging together with all the rookies. Blake is doing a good job of hanging with the rookies. Derrick is doing a good job of talking to them and really trying to help them and give some information that's going to be useful.
“We have a good group of veterans that have been around the league. Knock on wood, it's one of the best groups I've had in a long time as far as the unity and togetherness on the floor and off the floor.”
Notably, Casey has pointed out the relationship that Derrick Rose is building with rookie Killian Hayes to help get Hayes ready for a likely started role. Instead of competing against Hayes for the spot, Rose has been more of a guide.
“Here's a guy who's older and has been an All-Pro and everything else, a Hall of Famer. He's taking a young kid like Killian and Saben (Lee) under his wings and talking to them in practice. That's priceless,” Casey said. “Usually in that situation, the older guys usually eat (their own) and want their minutes but Derrick is trying to perpetuate a relationship and push those guys in practice.
“He's going after Killian in practice — not to take his minutes, but to make him better. That's something where you can't force it, and you can't stop it. And it's one great thing for Killian. He'll look back at this time in his career and really appreciate a guy like Derrick Rose.”
That attitude could pay dividends later in the season, when players who genuinely like each other and are playing for each other need to lean on those bonds they created in preseason. In the shorter term, it can help to create an identity, a flag under which they march toward the start of the season.
Many of the additions in the offseason brought in misfit pieces that didn’t have a defined direction. In the first few days of camp, that personality is apparent.
“The vibe I get is everybody has something to prove and wants to do good. The organization has something to prove,” guard Josh Jackson said. “I feel like we got a lot of really good pieces. We're really versatile; we have guys who can guard multiple positions and we have guys who can play multiple positions on offense.
“Jerami's got a great handle and is improving his shot a lot; he's been hitting it a lot in camp. Derrick is just tough and a really good leader and he's been super-good for our young guys. I'm feeling pretty good about the group that we've got. We just have to find our identity and that will make it a lot easier.”
New roles for big men
A significant part of the Pistons’ roster construction was them loading up on centers before trading a couple ahead of the start of training camp. General manager Troy Weaver admitted his affinity for big men and how they can control a game.
Casey expounded on the notion, but also explained the different way the Pistons are depending on their big men.
“There will be situations that we'll go small because of what we want to do offensively mainly. The game is one where you've got to have that guy who puts pressure on the rim offensively,” Casey said. “It’s a guy who can roll to the basket, make decisions, and make plays, so you do have to have a big guy.”
Adding Mason Plumlee and Jahlil Okafor gives the Pistons two nimble big men who can do different things, but notably are versatile options in the paint. Casey expects them to work well in the pick-and-roll but their job is on both ends.
“They're good guys as far as rolling to the basket and excellent screeners. And then defensively, they do a good job of protecting the rim and going vertical, blocking shots,” Casey said. “I think sometimes playing big or having a big guy, people mistake that for 'Okay, we're going to go and be a post-up team.' We're not a post-up team.
“If we do go in the post, it'll probably be with certain players. We're not going to force-feed it inside. You have to have big guys, mainly defensively to protect the rim. For us, we have to have a guy who puts pressure on the rim with his rolls and offensive rebounding. We will utilize them in that way.”