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Casey, Pistons players focus on balance, growth on the fly

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — Cade Cunningham looked to make a pass to a teammate, and almost immediately, it was time to start backpedaling to play defense.

It was another turnover for Cunningham, and in a rookie season that’s showing plenty of promise, the turnovers are becoming the biggest issue for the No. 1 overall pick.

Cunningham had six turnovers against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night, in the Pistons’ most lopsided loss of the season, a 46-point blowout to the Bulls, who are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham (2) is fouled by Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) in the fourth quarter.

The issues haven’t been limited to the Bulls, though. Cunningham had five against the Utah Jazz on Monday night, and he’s averaging 3.8 per game this season. With the responsibility of being one of the primary ballhandlers comes the learning curve of figuring out the difference between things that came easier in college and are now more difficult in the NBA.

Some games have been a bit cleaner and easier, and some have proven to be challenging.

“It's getting used to the NBA speed and length for all of our players. I saw where (the Bulls’) Lonzo Ball had one turnover and DeMar (DeRozan) had three, I think, and (Zach) LaVine had one,” coach Dwane Casey said. “That's where we want to get to, where we're reading the length and speed of the defense and making sure we've got two hands on the ball, fake a pass or make a pass.

“Not just Cade, but for all of our young guys, in college, you can get away with one-hand passes and the other teams didn't have the length or athleticism to take up the space or run through a passing lane.”

With a cadre of young point guards, it’s a growth process of having to learn on the fly and figuring out what will work and what won’t. With Killian Hayes and Saben Lee, it’s not going to be a quick learning curve, which is why veteran Cory Joseph sometimes closes out games, giving a steady hand with the ball in crunch time.

Casey has talked about how important it is to have a steely veteran, but as the younger players are gaining more experience and grow into their roles more, it’s not always going to be smooth sailing.

“We showed them multiple times, and not just Cade, but all of our guys, once you make that one-hand pass, it just takes a millisecond for that (defender) to cut through that passing lane,” Casey said, “so we've got to learn to read that, all of our players, that would cut down probably a quarter of our turnovers.

“The only thing that we can preach it, work on it in practice, show a video, but the only thing that's going to cure that is time. And that's definitely on our radar.”

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Hayes finding form

The numbers aren’t eye-popping, but Killian Hayes has been doing some different things, including looking to be more aggressive in getting to the rim and scoring in the paint. Mostly in the first quarters of games, he’s been finding openings and attacking defenders, finding his way to a midrange pull-up jumper or a floater in the lane.

He tied his season-high with 11 shot attempts in the Chicago game, and though he only made four, even taking a higher volume of shots is an improvement for Hayes.

Detroit Pistons' Killian Hayes drives to the basket as Chicago Bulls' Nikola Vucevic defends during the first half.

“He did a great job starting in training camp with that. We didn’t show it at all against Chicago, but that’s something that is his next step,” Casey said. “He’s showing it; he showed it (Thursday) in practice. His speed of the pace bringing it down the floor, even though we have to call plays, he’s still bringing the pace, and he has done an excellent job with that, and he just has to continue to get better.

“Cade (Cunningham) has to continue to push the pace down the floor. Again, that is something we are going to continue to work on.”

Action for Jackson

Frank Jackson looks like he’ll be available for Sunday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns. He’s still working his way through the COVID protocols, but an ankle injury prior to that was another concern.

“His ankle is better. He's just got to get back in condition,” Casey said. “He had (COVID) symptoms, so he'll have to pass the cardiac testing, so it's whatever timetable that takes.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard