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Pistons' McGruder making most of playing time since deal with Denver nixed

By Steve Kornacki
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — Pistons guard Rodney McGruder is averaging 13.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in the four games since returning to the Pistons after the trade that would’ve sent him and Brooklyn’s 2022 second-round pick to the Denver Nuggets for forward Bol Bol. It was voided after Detroit found an issue with Bol’s physical.

McGruder has taken advantage of extra playing time with several Pistons guards injured or unavailable. He hasn’t started any of his 21 games, but is upping his contributions after averaging 4.6 points and 2.0 rebounds for the season.

Pistons guard Rodney McGruder (17) drives as Nets center LaMarcus Aldridge (21). McGruder has found his shooting stroke.

Detroit coach Dwane Casey said Tuesday night, prior to facing the Nuggets, that he admires how McGruder has responded to a difficult situation, recalling the scene prior to Sunday’s 117-111 loss in Denver.

“For him to go through what he went through — to go back to Denver — I saw him saying hello to the players over there, the coaches,” Casey said. “He came back here in the right frame of mind and attitude, and the basketball gods have been good to him because he has handled it properly.

“He has approached it in a professional way, and good things happen to people and players like that.”

More: Five things to watch from the Pistons in the second half of the season

When asked for the best part of McGruder’s contribution, Casey didn’t hesitate: “Shooting. He’s knocking ‘em down. I told him I didn’t know where it came from, but he’s been a good shooter, and he’s had an opportunity to show it.”

Since taking that four-game break while physicals were taken and the deal fell apart, McGruder has been a beast behind the 3-point line. He’s made 14-of-24 (.583) after making 5-of-21 (.238) earlier this season.

McGruder is a .346 3-point shooter over six seasons that also included stints with the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers.

However, the Kansas State product has a solid all-around game and has also been a good influence on Detroit’s young players.

“It’ just his overall pace,” Casey said. “The play he had in Denver — just the speed in his cuts. A lot of time if players are not involved in the play, it’s not for them, they’re kind of, ‘OK, I’ve got to go through it.’

“But every player has a job to do on the offensive end and the defensive end, and Rodney is one of those older players who understands, ‘If I cut hard, it’s going to suck a defender in.’ He got us a couple baskets just with his cutting. Things like that don’t really show up in the stat sheet.”

McGruder had just six points and two rebounds Sunday at Denver, but found other ways to be a difference-maker.

Grant, Jackson return

Leading scorer Jerami Grant (20.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists) and valuable reserve guard Frank Jackson (10.7 points, 1.5 rebounds) were recalled Monday from the Motor City Cruise. Jackson was activated for Tuesday's game. Grant was held out.

Grant has been out since Dec. 10 with a thumb injury that required surgery. Jackson was shelved after suffering an ankle injury Dec. 24. Then both were ready to go but entered health and safety protocols last week.

Casey was asked about transitioning Grant (33.2 minutes prior) and Jackson (22.7 minutes) back to their normal playing time.

“It’s an adjustment,” Casey said. “Guys still have to do the same job that they’ve had (with) less minutes in certain areas. Then it gives us the luxury where the best players were on the court at the end of the game (Sunday), getting the job done. ... There is competition at those positions, competition for minutes. It’ll figure itself out. I’m sure happy to have the problem.”

Frontcourt players Hamidou Diallo and Trey Lyles and McGruder are among those who have responded to the extra playing time brought about by injuries.

Livers update

Rookie forward Isaiah Livers has played just one game for the Pistons and several for the Motor City Cruise while coming back from a foot injury. Casey said he was being fitted for an orthotic shoe insert to help the situation.

“He took some time off and I think he’s pretty close to coming back,” said Casey.

By the numbers

Detroit is fifth in the NBA with 38.3 points per game off its bench and ninth with 7.9 steals per game with a roster that is the league’s second youngest at 24 years, 161 days on the average. ... The Pistons are 7-22 when making 10-plus 3-pointers and 5-2 when making 15-plus from behind the arc.

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.