Gigi Getting Close

Datome getting over camp injuries, hopes to rejoin Pistons practices

Luigi Datome
Luigi Datome is close to returning.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)

The status of their backcourt has dominated Pistons health concerns, obscuring the absence of a player 99 percent of their fans have never seen and know little about. But Gigi Datome’s ability to penetrate their consciousness could take a dramatic turn for the better as soon as Monday.

He’ll test the foot that began bothering him during September’s EuroBasket tournament, in which he played 11 games as the offensive focal point of the Italian national team, and the hamstring he clutched at during the Oct. 5 open practice the Pistons held at The Palace, the only fleeting glimpse fans have had of the 6-foot-8 Italian league MVP who comes to the Pistons with a reputation as a remarkable shooter. And if they feel as good as they felt on Sunday, he’ll plunge into his first full practice in more than three weeks.

“If everything is OK, I practice a whole practice,” he said. “If not, I’ll step out when my body will tell me. There is no rush. I want to come back at the right moment, for sure as fast as possible, but if you rush this stuff maybe you’re going to become a bigger problem later. So better to listen to my body and wait for the right moment.”

He’s given his teammates reason to believe his reputation is dead-on in competitive shooting drills, including a memorable display he put on during a morning shootaround before their Oct. 12 game at Brooklyn. But until he does it when the bullets start flying for real …

“It’s easy to shoot when you’re not playing,” Maurice Cheeks said after Sunday’s practice. “His seem to go in even when he’s just kind of hanging out, but it’s a little different when you’re running up and down and getting some contact.”

The Pistons have no shortage of candidates for minutes at the backup forward spots behind starters Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, a list led by Kyle Singler and filled out in the preseason by 3-point specialist Charlie Villanueva, hustle king Jonas Jerebko and the supremely athletic rookie, Tony Mitchell. They all have a considerable head start on Datome, but if he capitalizes on his practice opportunities it’s not out of the question he could quickly force Cheeks to reconsider his options.

“We’ll figure out how to get him minutes in practice,” Cheeks said. “We’ll just figure it out and see how he does, how he runs, how he shoots. … You have different guys out there who’ve played, so it would only be right for those guys to continue to play and then, depending on the game and what other guys are doing, he gets a chance. But you’ve got to get out on the court first and see him making shots and doing certain things and go from there.”

Datome has been in uniform for preseason games, participated in pregame warmups and observed games from the bench. He’s seen enough to know that he can’t confidently say he’ll help the Pistons win games until he’s fully healthy.

“In the NBA, I cannot be able to play like 50 percent, 60 percent,” he said. “I need all my body 100 percent, so that’s what we’re looking for. Watching from the bench, I can see a lot of athleticism, a lot of very quick players. So you have to be ready to make a quick decision on the court, quick execution. They are the best players in the world.”

If all goes well, he’ll be standing among them on Monday, beginning a push to prove his renowned shooting stroke is fully portable.