Pistons mailbag: Detroit's reserves revved up; can 2nd-year players make jump?
Detroit — Following their victory in the preseason opener, the Pistons have some positives to be optimistic about. They played well without Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes, who each missed the game because of an ankle sprain.
Many of the questions surrounded their young backcourt, but aside from that, the 115-105 win provided some other points to ponder about how good the Pistons can be and what some of the injured players could bring to the table when they return.
The Pistons’ 3-point shooting was good for most of the game, building on a 7-of-10 start, although they finished at 35% (12-of-34). They didn’t rebound well, and they had some other concerns, though they only had 10 turnovers.
There’s still more to see in the preseason, but some the early indications are good.
This week’s mailbag focuses on the opening win and projecting into the season.
► Question. How good do you think the bench unit can be? — @TheRealESiV
► Answer. The reserve unit was one of the highlights of the preseason win over the Spurs. They had three players in double figures: Josh Jackson (16 points) and Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph (14 points each), with two more (Hamidou Diallo and Trey Lyles) at nine points each.
The experience showed in their time together on the court, and with their veteran savvy, they may just become a strength as a unit instead of a group that coach Dwane Casey holds his breath, hoping that they just keep the lead.
Joseph has shown himself as a very capable backup point guard, which will make it hard for others to get minutes at that position. Jackson and Diallo provide an athletic and talented group of wings, and Olynyk was impressive in his decision-making and his 3-point shooting.
If they can stay consistent, the starters will work well in the middle quarters off what that second unit provides.
► Q. What’s the projected ceilings/jumps for Hayes, Stewart, Bey, Lee in their second year? — @stephenbrauer
► A. It’s reasonable to expect Hayes to get to about 10 points and five assists per game. That would be a nice improvement for him, and it would mean that he’s found a happy medium with the rest of the starters, allowing them room for growth, too. Bey is showing that his game is diversified and that he can do much more than just be a 3-point shooter and defender. If he can be more efficient and get to about 16 points and 40% from beyond the arc, that would be a nice jump for him.
For Isaiah Stewart, just getting to some solid starter’s minutes would be an improvement. Maybe averaging a double-double (an additional two points and three rebounds) would be solid. Stewart can increase his minutes by staying out of foul trouble, and Casey has noted he’s doing better with switching on guards and getting back to his man.
► Q. Do you think Luka Garza’s going to be ok on the defensive side? — @Rodneymarentet3
► A. After Garza was drafted, the questions immediately started about how he’d be on the defensive end. He readily admits he has a lot of work to do with his footwork and being able to get out on pick-and-roll plays to defend guards. All that is true, but there’s more to the story than that.
As you pointed out, Garza has been getting blocks and he’s not looking out of place, for the most part. It’s going to be a continual work in progress, but the initial observations are Garza can be OK on defense, without being a huge liability. That’s a positive, given where he was drafted, and the net positive that he could provide on the offensive end.
► Q. Why can’t Jerami Grant rebound? Will rebounding be a team weakness again because of it? — @whodean
► A. It’s not that Grant can’t rebound — it’s that he doesn’t. His career high in rebounds in a season is 5.2, which is a tad low for a forward. Grant isn’t a big threat on the offensive boards, either, as he posted 0.6 offensive rebounds last season, which was near his career-low mark.
Casey has said he’s looking for Grant to be more active in rebounding, taking some of the pressure off the bigs to provide that advantage. Against the bigger Spurs on Wednesday, Grant had just two rebounds in 24 minutes, and San Antonio had a 57-41 margin on the boards.
It’s true the Pistons could use a little rebounding help from their guards and forwards, but it will remain an area of concern throughout the season.
► Q. What do you think livers can bring to the team once he is finally healthy to play? — @ripcity82
► A. Isaiah Livers can add some size and athleticism when he returns from his foot injury. Livers has said his projected return date is by Nov. 1, so it might just be a couple more weeks until he’s medically cleared for full basketball activities. It might be a few more weeks of getting back up to speed and in a good basketball rhythm.
Livers can fill in and play some small forward, helping the depth at that position, and add another high-level 3-point shooter.