Rash of ankle injuries slows progress for Pistons' rotation
Detroit — The Pistons have had their share of injuries that hurt their seasons. Just recently, Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose have had major injuries that have derailed the Pistons’ outlook and made them start thinking about future seasons earlier than they wanted.
Even last season, their first-round pick, Killian Hayes, had a hip injury keep him out for three months, which seemed to deflate their expectations for developing their young core.
To a lesser degree, it’s happening again — before the season even gets off to a start. The first days of training camp have brought a slew of sprained ankles to some key rotation players: Cade Cunningham, Hayes and Frank Jackson.
Cunningham missed the preseason opener on Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs because of an ankle sprain that he suffered in the first days of training camp. Hayes also suffered a sprained ankle that made him a game-time decision for the first preseason tip.
Neither injury is believed to be serious, but the days Cunningham is missing are valuable for his development. Hayes sat out of Tuesday’s practice, but that was more a precaution.
More: Beard: Pistons taking patient approach with Cade Cunningham's development
“It's nothing serious; (all of the tests were) clean and clear,” coach Dwane Casey said of Hayes’ injury. “It was just sore and just wanted to be cautious (Tuesday) and so we'll see. He should be OK, from talking to him (Wednesday).
As common as ankle injuries are, they seem to be hitting the Pistons a little harder than normal, and all at the guard positions. The good side of that is that the backcourt is one of the positions where they have the most depth. That will offer opportunities for Cory Joseph, Saben Lee, Josh Jackson and Rodney McGruder to fill in.
Taking care of the ball
One of the biggest concerns in the preseason will be turnovers. Casey has referred repeatedly to the high number of turnovers the team had last season and that they finished near the bottom of the league.
That’s an area of improvement that he wants to address, with limited the numbers of players who will be handling the ball and living with the results of having players such as Hayes, Cunningham and Joseph make turnovers.
“Most of all, it’s making the right basketball decisions with the ball, moving it and getting from playing on the second side and making the right decision, not forcing things,” Casey said. “We don't want to roll with the punches, but we want to make sure that they learn right now how valuable the ball is.
“I thought last year we played a little too fast for conditions and forced a lot of turnovers and some of the wrong people were trying to make decisions and that's one of our things this year is making sure the right people are making the right decisions.”
Many of the players have carte blanche to get the rebound and get out in transition, but when those decisions lead to turnovers, that’s where Casey is drawing the line and wanting to have the ball in the hands of his point guards.
The players and coaches have remarked about Hayes’ aggression in Summer League and training camp and on the offensive end, that same aggression can lead to turnovers and bad decisions with the ball.
Casey is fine with those, though.
“He's one of the guys that should be making those decisions, and that's a great example.”
Stewart's next step
In his second season, center Isaiah Stewart will be one of the focal points, as he tries to increase his offensive range on the perimeter and become a better defender. He’s projected to be the starter in the regular season and the growth that he’s made since his rookie season will have a big impact on the Pistons’ success.
“His ability to stay between the ball in the basket now is much better. He's not as antsy to get back to his man and then leave the ball — I can see that growth in his pick-and-roll defensive game,” Casey said. “His ability to communicate his coverages is much better, coming from college to the NBA, because a lot of times young players don't understand, they don't feel comfortable saying the wrong thing, and he's much more comfortable in his communication skills on the defensive end.”