PHILADELPHIA — The Detroit Pistons haven’t won a playoff game since 2008. That’s an especially remarkable 11-year run given that they’re in the Eastern Conference.
Last season’s Pistons finished eighth in the East before getting swept in the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks. They had little financial flexibility, making them somewhat hamstrung in regard to making changes. Detroit did trade for Tony Snell before adding Markieff Morris and Derrick Rose in free agency.
Still, if the Pistons are going to end that 11-year, playoff-win drought, there will need to be some improvement from within. Perhaps that comes from a group of young wings that includes second-year starter Bruce Brown and third-year reserve Luke Kennard.
Charged with lifting the Pistons out of mediocrity is former Coach of the Year winner Dwane Casey, who is entering his second season in Detroit. His inaugural season came and went … and then he watched his former team — the Toronto Raptors — win their first NBA championship.
NBA.com recently sat down with Casey after his team’s shootaround in Philadelphia. The discussion addressed both his team and his process.
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John Schuhmann: How different is the start of Year 2 than the start of Year 1 with a new team?
Dwane Casey: You know the strengths and weaknesses of guys in certain situations, whether it’s under pressure or whatever it is. You know what they can do and can’t do. Working guys this summer, we knew what to work on. It’s not just watching video, but you get to know personalities in certain situations. It wasn’t easier, but we had a clearer picture of what we wanted to do.
JS: How about the group as a whole? Do you have a better sense of the team’s identity that you did a year ago?
DC: Not really, because we got seven new guys.
JS: But the core is the same.
DC: The core is the same, but Derrick Rose is going to be an important piece. Tony Snell is going to be an important piece. Incorporating all those guys is going to be important. It’s a little bit different. We jelled a little bit quicker last year, because that group had been together the year prior.
JS: What is your summer process like, not in regard to player development, but in regard to the coaches planning for the season ahead?
DC: You spend time watching a lot of film. I spent the summer watching our previous year’s games, looking at our practice notes, and trying to see what we could tweak, what we could do differently, what we could add or take away, what didn’t work. I spent most of my summer nights, after the family goes to bed, doing that.
I talk to a lot of European coaches. I got friends over there that I steal stuff from, talk to, maybe have them look at what we’re doing and say, “Hey, what would you do differently?”. I might not take it, but just see what other options are there that we may be missing.”
Pistons coach Dwane Casey
JS: How many of your 82 games did you watch?
DC: I would say I probably watched 50 or 60 of them. And then the playoffs, but the playoffs didn’t take very long. [Laughs]
JS: And then you come into the office and compare notes with your staff?
DC: We e-mail back and forth over the summer if we’re in different cities. What do you think? Do you like that? I didn’t like this, or whatever it was. So you spend the summer trying to prepare for the season.
JS: And how much do numbers play a role?
DC: Quite a bit. The PPP [points per possession] of certain plays. If it didn’t work and there’s enough of a sample size, we’ll take that out. But my thing with PPP, if we got a great look out of it, we’re not just going to throw the baby out with the bath water. We’re going to make sure we know why [a play worked or didn’t work]. If we got a good look, we’re going to stay with it.
JS: Do you study other teams and try to steal stuff from other coaches?
DC: You do that. You look at what other teams are doing if something sticks out. I just don’t go for anything. If somebody’s doing something well, you may not know how they incorporated it (in practice or whatever), but you can see what they do well, what plays are run well, and that type of thing.
JS: Do you go outside the box to refresh your outlook?
DC: I talk to a lot of European coaches. I got friends over there that I steal stuff from, talk to, maybe have them look at what we’re doing and say, “Hey, what would you do differently?”. I might not take it, but just see what other options are there that we may be missing. An independent set of eyes may tell us something. You don’t change everything, but you look at it and be open-minded about where you are as a team offensively and defensively.
JS: There’s not necessarily a template for you guys offensively, with Blake Griffin being a playmaking 4 and Andre Drummond being a non-spacing 5. So there’s no simple formula for you to borrow from somebody else.
DC: The one beautiful thing though is that Blake has really transformed his game to be a stretch 4, to be a playmaking 4. He’s one of the better pick-and-roll guys that we have.
One-on-one play is so important for us. Blake gives it to us. Derrick Rose is going to give it to us, as far as creating off the dribble, pick-and-roll play. Those guys are going to have to take a step forward …”
JS: So you can play pick-and-roll with Blake and Andre, spacing the floor with three guards and wings.
DC: Right. And Reggie Jackson is one of our better 3-point shooters. So that fits in well to who he is as a player. It’s not Blake’s natural position, but for a veteran, he’s really worked at transforming his game.
JS: You had the league’s second most improved offense after the All-Star break last season, but that came with ranking last in post-break pace. Was that planned or did it just happen?
DC: It kind of just happened, because we encouraged guys to push it up. One of the negatives with our two bigs is our pace. At the same time, Andre can pick his spots to run.
But I still liked our offense, Even though our pace was slower, I thought the offense really picked up. Our shooting picked up. We got the ball where it needed to go. Our offense was more efficient.
JS: So do you envision this to be a relatively slow-paced team again?
DC: I don’t want to be. It may morph into that. I want Derrick Rose to be able to push the ball consistently. We’d like to do that. At the same time, I want make sure we’re efficient, getting the right shots. I don’t want to be a fast-paced team at the detriment of turnovers. I’m seeing that in our first few exhibition games.
JS: In regard to pace, you also don’t have the long and athletic wings that other teams have. That may make it tougher to get out and run.
DC: Luke [Kennard] is above average [in regard to length], I would say. Tony Snell gives us that a little bit and is an excellent 3-point shooter, but doesn’t put it on the floor as much. But, you’re right, our smaller lineup is smaller. But we try to make that work.
JS: It seems like Bruce Brown and Kennard are handling the ball more in the preseason. Is that more about having more ball-handlers when Griffin is off the floor, or do you want them also handling the ball when he’s on the floor?
DC: That’s the big dilemma we have with Luke starting. Now you have Blake, Reggie and he’s kind of the third ball-handler. I feel like one of Luke’s gifts is, other than his 3-point shooting, his pick-and-roll play. He’s one of our better pick-and-roll players, but for whatever reason, our numbers were down when he started. So we’re working him in. He’s going to be a major player for us.
And Bruce Brown has really improved in his pick-and-roll game. He did a great job in summer league playing point guard. He reminds me a lot of the path that [Pascal Siakam] took. He started and really wasn’t a key player with the starting unit, but that experience that he got gave him a lot confidence.
JS: It feels like your ceiling will be determined a lot by those two guys and how much of a step forward they both take, because wing play is so important.
DC: It’s huge. One-on-one play is so important for us. Blake gives it to us. Derrick Rose is going to give it to us, as far as creating off the dribble, pick-and-roll play. Those guys are going to have to take a step forward, like you said, to help us. And I think Luke has. He’s playing with a tremendous amount of confidence for us right now. It seems like he’s been here forever, but he’s only in Year 3.
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