Improving Pistons looking at bigger picture heading into All-Star break

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Boston — The Pistons head into the All-Star break with plenty more to prove and figure out in the second half of the season. Their eight-game skid prior to Wednesday’s matchup against the Boston Celtics showed some of the mental fatigue that a young team is going through during a grueling season.

While they only had 12 wins, some of the struggles were predictable given the youth on their roster and the path ahead with their rebuild. That still doesn’t take the sting away from their up-and-down play and the slew of double-digit losses.

Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham (2) shoots over Washington Wizards center Thomas Bryant (13) during the second half.

For coach Dwane Casey, each day is a reminder of other seasons in his career where he’s had to be in rebuild mode with a young roster, but the bigger lesson was looking at the bigger picture and a growth mindset.

“That is the biggest challenge for us, to continue to grow and understand there is growth, except it's not showing up in wins. If I hadn't gone through it in Toronto the first couple of years — we won 23 games in the first year, and it's like what we're going through now — I would have been pulling my hair out right now,” Casey said. “But I see growth, understanding throughout the organization, the players don't feel it, but there is growth, and just keeping them motivated.

Casey has talked about not harping solely on winning right now, because they’re not yet at that point in their development, but it’s about playing a certain way in close games and figuring out how to win.

That’s going to pay dividends down the road, but it’s not showing up yet.

Cunningham, Pistons continue to learn in trial-by-fire approach

“One thing I try not to do is all the time talking about winning now. It's 'We're going to get better today.' We have to have a growth mindset each and every day — and if you don't, you're going to go crazy, because as much as we're doing too, we have to be real going against a very talented team.”

Olynyk not quite the same

It’s been a struggle for Kelly Olynyk in his eight games since returning from COVID protocols, and a lengthy knee injury just before that. He hasn’t been quite the same player, getting back to 100% on the knee, but the COVID issues also have played into his subpar play.

In the last eight games, Olynyk is posting 4.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3 assists, hitting just 16% on 3-pointers. In the first 10 games of the season, he was at 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists, with 34% shooting beyond the arc.

“I would say this: COVID is real. I see a difference in his approach coming back versus the first time,” Casey said. “He was lively and moving around and he's just a little half a step slower after he went through the COVID bout and he had symptoms, and it's set him back a little bit.

“He'll pull out of it; it's just going to take a little time and this break couldn't come quick enough for him to get his body right and just get over the remnants of COVID.”

Time off key for Bagley

For Marvin Bagley III, it’s been a swift adjustment to a new team and getting to know everything around him. During his Pistons debut on Monday at Washington, he had 10 points and eight rebounds, but he had an odd moment in a play Casey called.

Detroit Pistons forward Marvin Bagley III (35) and guard Killian Hayes (7) defend against Washington Wizards guard Ish Smith (4) during the first half.

“It was my fault the other night; I called a play and as soon as I called it, and everybody got lined up, I looked up and there was Marvin. No disrespect to him, but he didn't know it, so that was on me,” Casey said. “Everybody else knew it, but he didn't know it.”

The Pistons will work to assess Bagley’s skill set and see how he best fits, but in a short timeframe and with only one practice, it’s hard to get him up to speed on everything so quickly. The All-Star break will provide some additional time and the practices will be a big benefit.

“That learning process and that getting to know each other and know what we're doing and knowing what he can do, it takes more than two days,” Casey said. “I like his skill set, though. He's going to be a player with new scenery, a new opportunity. He was very comfortable in his first game.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard