The Pistons liked what they saw from Trent Plaisted in the 2008 Las Vegas Summer League after making him the 46th overall pick of the draft a few weeks earlier. They never intended for him to crack the 2008-09 Pistons roster, encouraging him to sign with a European team to hone his game, particularly at the offensive end, and come back with a shot at sticking a year later.
But his season with Angelico Biela of the Italian league, whose roster also included 2009 second-rounder Jonas Jerebko of Sweden, was cut short just two games into the regular season when Plaisted’s lower-back pain became too much to endure.
He returned to the United States for treatment, ultimately undergoing surgery for a herniated disc in the lumbar region just before Christmas, and wasn’t cleared to return to full basketball workouts until the spring. By then, it was too late to return to Europe. Plaisted’s first year was pretty much a washout, meaning he’ll again be playing in Italy, this season with Reggio Emilia of Bologna.
So except for pickup games, last month’s Las Vegas Summer League play with the Pistons was the first five-on-five basketball Plaisted had experienced in more than eight months.
“The tough thing for him this summer was the fact he missed all last season, so it’s probably not the best or most fair evaluation to have of him right now,” Pistons vice president Scott Perry said after the 6-foot-11, 245-pound Plaisted averaged 3.0 points and 2.8 rebounds in less than 12 minutes per game over the five-game Las Vegas schedule. “Quite frankly, he was a little rusty. When you miss five-on-five competitive basketball for as long as he did, it’s tough to get your timing back.”
While Plaisted was rehabbing over the winter at his alma mater, Brigham Young, Pistons personnel director George David visited with him while he was in the area scouting at the NBA Development League Showcase event.
“One of the things we talked about was from that point to the summer, he was going to have to make sure he watched himself in terms of what he ate and staying in shape because he wasn’t playing basketball yet,” David said. “When he showed up at Summer League, aside from the basketball, the biggest thing he demonstrated was that his body looked as good as it ever did, including when he was at BYU. He definitely put a lot of time and effort into that.”
The Pistons have no doubts about Plaisted’s earnestness. Both last summer’s and this one’s coaching staffs raved about his aptitude and attitude, absorbing instructions and hustling at every turn. The most advanced part of Plaisted’s game is his defense, particularly his ability to defend from the rim to the 3-point line. Ex-Pistons coach Michael Curry lauded Plaisted’s knack for jamming up opposition pick-and-roll plays, the lifeblood of many modern NBA offenses.
“The things that led him to be an NBA prospect and for us to draft him two years ago – the ability to rebound, the hustle, the tenacious attitude – he has those qualities,” Perry said. “So I think now it’s just developing his skill a little more. Step away from the basket and shoot the basketball. Our game now, for (power forwards) in particular and a lot of (centers), too, you have to have that ability to step away from the rim, face up and shoot the ball and that’s an area he knows he needs to improve on.”
“That’s one of the things he missed out on last year,” David said. “I would say the No. 1 thing Americans who play internationally improve on is their ability to shoot the basketball. One of the biggest differences between European and American practices is the emphasis on shooting in practice.”
Plaisted started the first three Summer League games last month before coming off the bench in the last two, but his minutes were limited even as a starter for two reasons – the Pistons didn’t want to overextend him in his first exposure to full-court basketball in months, but they also wanted long looks at the three rookies they drafted this June, all of them destined to open the 2009-10 season on the roster.
“The message to Trent coming in the door,” Perry said, “was we all knew this was going to be kind of a trial for him, getting his feet wet again. It was ‘just do your best and go hard and we’ll see where you’re at.’ Everyone could see that missing that year just hurt him. But he’s a resilient young man and a guy that will do what he has to do over the next year. As long as he stays healthy, he can improve his game and we’ll see what happens from there.”