Beard: Casey opts to ease in Pistons rookies with bite-sized minutes
Detroit — A look at the box score from Saturday’s game presents an interesting dilemma.
The Pistons lost to the Cavaliers, 128-119, in double overtime, but of the 58 minutes, the rookies didn’t get a ton of run. Killian Hayes played 19 minutes — with none after an opening seven-minute spurt in the third quarter.
Saddiq Bey, who didn’t play in the opener, played just six minutes. Isaiah Stewart didn’t play at all. Blake Griffin played 44 minutes, Derrick Rose 33 off the bench, with Jerami Grant (43 minutes) and Delon Wright (42) also on the high side.
If the Pistons aren’t giving their rookies minutes, what was the point of declaring a rebuild or drafting them all?
It’s not quite that simple, especially with Hayes, who seems to have a weight of expectation heaped on him by outsiders, who may not consider the entirety of a season and are a bit impatient after two games.
“The word is rebuilding. We're retooling or rebuilding. This season is to develop Killian, develop Isaiah, develop Saddiq and those guys,” coach Dwane Casey said Sunday. “It may not be in a game; it may be more in practice. But as the year goes on and they get more comfortable, we'll feed them more minutes.
“If we're sitting here at the end of the year and Killian, Saddiq and Isaiah haven't grown, then shame on me. At the same time, it's a proper amount that you have to feed them to get them into the game and it's going to grow. They're going to get more minutes.”
Hayes was the No. 7 overall pick and from what general manager Troy Weaver and Casey have been preaching all offseason, he needs to — and will — see significant action this season. That doesn’t mean that he has to play every minute of every game in a season that doesn’t seem destined for a high seed in the playoffs.
There were times in the preseason that Hayes seemed taken by the moment and was just pressing too hard to make something happen. He had seven turnovers in the preseason opener, and he was pulled late in the regular-season opener after two careless turnovers helped turn the tide and the Pistons eventually lost their lead.
Putting Hayes in a high-pressure position in the fourth quarter would have been another opportunity to learn — or to struggle — against Cavs guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.
“I thought he was a little tight and uncomfortable early in the game and to throw him in the fire in an overtime game (was hard),” Casey said. “We were turning the ball over and (the Cavs) were playing well and to throw him in that situation with two dynamic guards like Cleveland had (was tough).
“If he had been playing well, it may have been a different story.”
That situation is going to recur several times this season, but it doesn’t mean that he should just be left out to the wolves to take his lumps. Everyone isn’t ready to handle that — and sometimes, it’s more prudent to let a rookie watch from the bench and see how games should be closed out.
Saturday’s final 15 minutes weren’t a thing of beauty by any stretch of the imagination, but after Hayes sat for the fourth quarter and the game got tight, Casey opted to lean on Rose and Wright to try to win the game rather than going to Hayes, who had sat for more than a 12 minutes of game time.
Finding a good slot to play him in the fourth quarter or either of the overtimes would have made sense, but in any case, it would have been a high-leverage situation. There will be others.
“It's not going to be an everyday thing; there are going to be a lot of times where Killian is going to be in there. I told him not to read anything into it and to continue to prepare himself and continue to play and continue to grow,” Casey said. “He's got a lifetime of basketball — he's 19 years old.
“You don't want to force-feed it because you could end up doing more damage than good. He's on the right track.”
Casey said that Hayes had an excellent practice on Sunday and that he returned with enthusiasm, and that attitude and approach is as important as whatever he would have done in the game. Keeping Hayes’ morale up will be as important as filling the box score with stats that may not be as important in a fleeting season.
Throw out the numbers and focus on what Hayes and the rookies look like as the season progresses. Rose is scheduled for a rest day Monday on the front end of a back-to-back, and the middle game of three in four nights. That could spell more time for Hayes in an intriguing matchup against Atlanta Hawks All-Star Trae Young.
It could test where Hayes is, but all signs point to it being a longer road to finding his full upside.
“It's about growth, it's about the process and it's about being patient,” Casey said. “Everybody wants an instant, overnight All-Star and that's not going to happen with a 19-year-old kid. It's a process with them.”
Pistons at Hawks
Tipoff: 7:30 Monday, State Farm Arena, Atlanta, Ga.
Outlook: Trae Young is off to a hot start, averaging 36.5 points, 8 assists and shooting 46% on 3-pointers for the Hawks (2-0). Blake Griffin (injury management) and Derrick Rose (rest) have been ruled out for the first game of the back-to-back.