Pistons' Casey sees comparisons with rebuilding Rockets
Houston — The Pistons and Houston Rockets had the top two picks in the draft, and there was a reason for it with their struggles in the regular season last year.
Both teams’ starts to this season have been just a bad, with the Rockets opening 1-9 and the Pistons 1-8 before their much-anticipated matchup on Wednesday night on ESPN. It’s been a struggle to find a good groove early in the season, and in the Pistons’ case, the brutal schedule didn’t help matters at all.
Coach Dwane Casey sees some similarities in the two teams’ rosters and how their trying to build for the future.
“(The Rockets) have a very athletic team, guys who play hard — a lot like us. They have guys trying to make it in the league and trying to find themselves in the league,” Casey said Wednesday. “Some guys have been to other places and didn't get an opportunity, and we have some of the same things, and top draft picks and young players.
“I mentioned yesterday that I think three of the guys with Kentucky and Duke, (our young players) are the same age as some of those guys that played (for Kentucky and Duke on Tuesday night).
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The Pistons are building around No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham and second-year players Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. The Rockets around a slew of first-round picks, including second-overall pick Jalen Green, along with Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba and Josh Christopher.
It’s a full-scale rebuild where the teams aren’t concerned about wins in the short term; instead, they’re looking more at the eye test and how the players are developing in the system.
“We both have (young players) and we're both in the same stages of our restore/rebuild situations. I enjoy it. I'm having as much fun teaching and coaching as I have going to the conference finals and winning the championship in Dallas,” Casey said. “You don't get the rewards right away, but you can see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Wednesday’s matchup looked to be a precursor to a long series of head-to-head matchups between Cunningham and Green, but both young players have downplayed the significance of one game and what it means moving forward.
"(Green) has been very consistent in his approach to every game,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said before Wednesday’s game. “(This game) will be no different."
For what it’s worth, Casey also has pushed the team approach as being more important than an individual matchup. Cunningham and Green have played against each other several times in their AAU careers, so it’s the same as it’s always been, but on an NBA level.
Casey said he hasn’t had to talk to Cunningham about internalizing the matchup, but he made sure that it wasn’t an issue.
“I mentioned it to him (Wednesday) morning that everybody wants to make it a Cade vs. Green and it's the Pistons versus the Rockets, and if we do anything other than that, we're doing ourselves a disservice,” Casey said. “We've got to keep our heads — that's part of growth. He's played in a lot of big games, and I'm sure Jalen has too, so this is just a regular season game No. 10.
“I'm sure everyone — and they should talk about it and make something of it — but from a player standpoint, try to keep things on an even keel and approach. We have a lot of work to do and we have a lot of growth to do. I'm sure Coach Silas is saying the same thing.”
Josh Jackson has played well in the early part of the season, earning the nod as the backup small forward. In training camp, there looked to be a competition for a spot in the rotation between Frank Jackson, Josh Jackson and Hamidou Diallo, and so far, it looks like both Jacksons have claimed those spots.
“Josh has done an excellent job. It was kind of a battle between him and Hami. So far, he's beaten out Hami and he's done a good job of what we asked him to do,” Casey said. “He's keeping it simple, doing an excellent job defensively. It's going to be an ongoing battle between those two, but right now, Josh is playing excellent basketball.”
Jackson is posting 8.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists, but his defensive awareness is making him a key player to keep on the court. He’s clicked on the second unit as a scorer and defensive catalyst, which has earned him more minutes.