Beard: More positive signs from Killian Hayes, Josh Jackson, Delon Wright in Pistons' loss
The Pistons finished the preseason with a 2-2 record after Saturday’s 99-96 loss at Washington. They split two games at home and two on the road, but as the book closes on the exhibition season and moves toward the regular season on Wednesday, there are some good takeaways from the four-game preseason.
The starting group had its ups and downs, but the reserves, led by Derrick Rose and Josh Jackson, brought some optimism about the depth that the Pistons will have. Because of the shortened training camp, they’ll lean more on the second group to play some of those minutes.
Here are some observations from the final preseason game:
The Pistons stayed with the starting lineup of Killian Hayes, Delon Wright, Jerami Grant, Blake Griffin and Mason Plumlee. The reserves were about the same, with coach Dwane Casey going deep into the bench again, with 12 players seeing the court.
Casey reiterated after the game that there shouldn’t be any guesses at the rotation from the exhibition games and that the preseason was just a trial run for several lineup combinations. It will be that way for the first couple of weeks in the season at least, as he tries to ramp up the minutes for the starters and figures out a way to get minutes and determine which groupings work best for the team. It’s a preseason game, so worrying about how many minutes any of the starters plays is pure craziness.
Wayne Ellington played nine minutes in the first half — after not playing at all in Thursday’s game — and struggled from the field, but there will be times he’s needed in the lineup. When the regular season rolls around, he won’t get a ton of minutes, but they’ll be valuable, and most likely, they’ll need him to be solid.
There were limited minutes for rookies Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Saben Lee, as Casey is trying to get a handle on which players will get the majority of the minutes when things get real in the regular season.
Josh Jackson had another strong outing off the bench, with 13 points and eight rebounds. He went 3-of 7 from beyond the arc and his strong play on the defensive end was one of the catalysts for the second-half comeback.
He’s been one of the biggest surprises of the preseason, with consistent play in the final three games. Jackson looks to be a very nice pickup for the Pistons in free agency and if he can continue to provide the two-way production that he has in the preseason, he’ll be a big part of the rotation and garner significant playing time, possibly with the starters to finish some games.
“Josh has really played well on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he's shot the ball well. He's a talented young man who just needed an opportunity,” Casey said. “He's going to be a big plus for us this year, the way he's playing. Defensively, he sets the tone for us and he had seven rebounds, which is huge for a guard.”
At 6-foot-8, Jackson’s length and inside-outside game complement the starting group well and there are times he could be there instead of Wright if the situation calls for it.
More from Hayes
Following a subpar game in the opener with seven turnovers, Hayes has looked much more comfortable in the starting lineup and getting a rhythm. Though the shots haven’t fallen as much during the preseason, he’s stuck with trying to get his step-back jumper to go down.
"It's something I've always had and something I use when I want to create space,” Hayes said.
Hayes did return in the fourth quarter for another stint and had his best scoring game of the preseason with 11 points, but just being comfortable is a big step up for Hayes heading into the regular season.
Hayes had a 4-point play, one of his two 3-pointers to fall on Saturday. He’s still doing well defensively without getting lost in rotations or switching onto bigger players off defensive changes.
Watching the boards
The Pistons outrebounded the Wizards, 51-45, which will be something to watch this season. Without Andre Drummond, they’re not going to dominate the boards quite as much, but they can get more rebounding out of Grant (nine) and Jackson’s eight were a pleasant surprise.
Plumlee also had eight rebounds, along with four from Jahlil Okafor, which is decent production from the centers. Getting some help on the boards from the guards and small forwards will determine how well the Pistons do in getting extra possessions on the offensive end or cutting down on having to defend extra time defensively.
That rebounding margin is a key stat that something gets overlooked.
The Wright choice
The more that Delon Wright can play like he did Saturday, the more he looks like the right fit in the starting lineup. He went 3-of-5 from the field, including a 3-pointer, for an efficient nine points.
The more minutes he plays with the starters and that rotation is trimmed down, he’ll be a more integral part of the opening group. If he averages nine points and four rebounds this season, that’s a win. They can count on Griffin, Grant and Hayes for more of that production in the first group.
His feel for the game and handling the ball to give Hayes more opportunity to get acclimated is just as important as the scoring to open the game.