Experience key for Walton in emergency role for hometown Pistons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The NBA isn’t new to Derrick Walton Jr. He’s been here before, though in short stints and with a couple of different teams.

Walton’s ticket back to an NBA roster is on a 10-day contract because of the Pistons’ surge of players in the league’s health and safety protocols. It’s something of an emergency call-up, as all of their point guards were sidelined and Walton, who had been playing well for the Motor City Cruise in the G League, was a logical choice.

He had 42 games of NBA experience and he can get the job done. His season debut was a bit rocky, with him going 0-of-5 from the field with six assists on Sunday at San Antonio. Walton bounced back with eight points and a career-high nine assists on Wednesday against the New York Knicks.

Detroit Pistons guard Derrick Walton Jr. (25) looks for room around New York Knicks guard Kemba Walker (8) in the second quarter.

On a 10-day contract, it’s sometimes difficult to make an impact, but with the extenuating circumstances of so many players being out, Walton has been vaulted into the Pistons’ starting lineup. On Sunday, he was the only point guard available, and since the Pistons have added some short-term depth, but they’ve had to take a crash course in their offensive principles.

Walton, 26, has the benefit of playing for the Cruise, who have the same offensive scheme as the Pistons, so the transition wasn’t as difficult for him.

“I think I've been playing the same role, so honestly, it's not too much of a difference,” Walton said Thursday. “I'm just trying to be a guy who picks spots, makes plays when they're possible and be disruptive on defense, just kind of doing anything that I pretty much will be asked to do in my NBA role.

“Just staying within myself and when the moment calls for it, just do what I do best.”

On Thursday, that meant some heavy minutes defending Knicks guard Kemba Walker, who had been one of the hottest players in the league in the past week. Walton didn’t back down from the challenge and once he got into the rhythm of the game, he started facilitating for others, and then his shot started to fall.

Detroit Pistons guard Derrick Walton Jr. (25) looks for room around New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (23) in the first quarter.

Between his nine assists, Walton had a 3-pointer and a midrange jumper that helped the Pistons surge in the third quarter.

“He's a vet too. He's been in the league for a while,” said forward Saddiq Bey, who had a career-high 32 points. “He's always confident, a floor general trying to run the team and it's good to see him aggressive shooting the ball because he can shoot and score as well as play-make so it was good to see, and we've been seeing that since training camp.”

With players on 10-day contracts, that’s not a guarantee, especially with point guards. Although he had five turnovers on Wednesday, he was more than just a good replacement option on the depleted roster.

He showed that the NBA experience was valuable in helping to be the connector in the Pistons’ offense, but more importantly in his role, getting others involved on the court. In his NBA career, Walton has played on teams with more experience, but in this instance, with so many G League players, he was one of the few who had played more than a handful of NBA games.

“That's been my MO on every team I've been on. I know the importance of allowing people to be comfortable in what they're good at, and obviously being the person that's been in a role where I have nerves, I try to do that and help guys feel as comfortable as possible,” Walton said. “There was no real conversation had between me and coach (Dwane) Casey.

“It was just me more so trying to figure out what guys like to do with their strengths and weaknesses, and for new guys, just trying to let them know that the moment is not going to be too big. It seems like a lot in the moment, but when you think about it, and you slow down, it's still basketball.”

Ankle injury shelves Jackson

Another day, another player out of the lineup.

The bad luck continues for the Pistons, who already have eight players in health and safety protocols. They lost another one of their roster players to injury, as Frank Jackson has a lateral sprain in his right ankle, the team announced Thursday. He’s expected to miss 7-10 days, at which time he’ll be re-evaluated.

Jackson was one of just four regular roster players remaining after the Pistons were depleted by COVID issues. Bey, Hamidou Diallo and Luka Garza are the only remaining players from the regular roster who are healthy. The remainder of the roster is comprised of two-way players and G League players on 10-day contracts.

Detroit Pistons' Cheick Diallo (00) talks to teammates Frank Jackson (5), Derrick Walton, Jr., left, Hamidou Diallo (6) and Saddiq Bey during the first half.

“Every player is important to us,” Bey said Wednesday. “Obviously, it hurt seeing Frank go down and we're praying and supporting him. Having any player go down obviously hurts us.”

Jerami Grant (thumb surgery) is expected to miss a few more weeks and the team is expected to provide an update on Kelly Olynyk (knee sprain) in the next week or so.


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard