Pistons mailbag: Can Luka Garza carve out a role in Detroit? Will Sekou stick?
Now that the NBA Summer League is over and free agency has cooled down, the Pistons are in a slower period before training camp gears up in the last week of September.
The roster is mostly set and there are only a couple of issues to resolve, the biggest of which is they have 16 players — one above the maximum — on the roster. They won’t have to sort that out until the end of training camp, so there’s still time.
On social media, players are posting pictures from various trips and vacations, so they’re enjoying some down time before they head back to getting in the swing of a full 82-game season.
This week’s mailbag focuses on how the G League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise, will mesh with the Pistons and some roster fits with players who might go back and forth between the Pistons and Cruise.
► Question. Can you explain how the G-league team will work? Can we send guys like Saben Lee and Sekou who have signed a guaranteed contract? How often can the two-way guys jump back and forth? And what about the rest of the roster, can anyone bring them up or do we retain some rights? — @MatthewCrowe313
► Answer. Each G League team can have four types of players on the roster: NBA-assigned players (those with an NBA contract), two-way players, drafted players and affiliate players. Because Saben Lee and Sekou Doumbouya have NBA contracts, they would fit in the first category. They can go between the Pistons and Motor City Cruise as much as the Pistons deem necessary, so there are no limits or issues like a minor-league baseball team might have.
The two-way players for this year are Luka Garza and Chris Smith. Normally, they have a limit of 45 days that they can spend with the Pistons, but during the pandemic season, the league took that restriction away. It probably will return this year.
A drafted player goes through the draft but doesn’t get an NBA contract and the NBA team holds the rights and assigns him to a G League roster and retains his rights, so another team can’t sign him. Affiliate players are on the G League roster, but any other NBA team can offer them a two-way contract or NBA contract.
Jamorko Pickett is on an Exhibit 10 contract, so he’s on the G League roster but not the Pistons roster. So, it’s possible that another team could offer him a more lucrative two-way deal or an NBA contract.
► Q. Do you expect Luka Garza to be part of the rotation? — @tarikbazzy
► A. That’s a trickier question than some might think. My reflex answer is no, because they’ll probably have Isaiah Stewart and Kelly Olynyk eating most of the minutes at center. That seems to be the logical road forward, considering Olynyk was their biggest free-agent addition.
On the surface, Garza is on a two-way contract, so he won’t project to be a rotation player. It’s likely that he’ll see some time, but to put him in the “rotation” category right now is a bit optimistic. He’s 6-foot-11 and he can stretch the floor and has the profile of a traditional center, but his agility and mobility are big question marks, even with the work he’s done this summer since leaving Iowa.
The thing to watch is how the Pistons balance out the roster in training camp. If they decide to waive Jahlil Okafor to get the roster down to 15, that would leave them with just two centers, which potentially could open playing time for Garza. I think they want to take a look at Garza in the NBA this year, but it’s still too early to see how things might shake out.
► Q. Do we expect Sekou to play primarily on the cruise this year? He’s shown a lot of flashes as a cutter and shown some nasty defense but it doesn’t always translate to the NBA game - many have suggested he really needed to play on the g league this last year. — @ScArisen
► A. Doumbouya is somewhere in between that purgatory of being a very good G League player and being a good NBA player — and that’s not a good spot to be in for a former first-round pick. Doumbouya has shown flashes of being a good fit for the Pistons, but when his 3-point shooting isn’t on, he becomes a one-dimensional cutter, which teams can defend.
Defensively, he showed some more good skills in Summer League, but at this stage, he should be doing that more regularly anyway. Given the logjam at the forward spots on the Pistons’ roster, Doumbouya should get a good chance early to show he deserves a roster spot, but if he struggles, they won’t hesitate to give him more reps with the Cruise. If the G League were an option last year, Doumbouya would have spent a chunk of time there.
► Q. What is Diallo’s role on this team? Does he start or come off the bench and play starter minutes? They don’t have another player with his athletic ability. Big fan of his potential. — @slaphappycookie
► A. The Pistons brought Hamidou Diallo back on a very friendly deal for two years and $10.4 million, when some projections had him getting that amount per season. He probably slots in as an athletic reserve wing who can shoot from the outside (39% on 3-pointers in 20 games with the Pistons last season). If he can replicate his production of 11.2 points and 5.4 rebounds, that would be a big plus.
He probably won’t start, given Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes appear to be the backcourt to open the season, with Saddiq Bey and Jerami Grant at the forward spots and likely Stewart or Olynyk at center. The Pistons will have a good bench if they return with some internal improvements over last season.