Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Pistons' young core getting chance to shine

Anthony Edwards and Tyrese Haliburton lead the latest ranking, which includes a look at Detroit's rookie-heavy roster.

Pistons rookies Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Killian Hayes have seen plenty of opportunities this season.

Nobody’s tossing around “Fab Five” to describe the collection of raw newcomers on the Detroit Pistons’ roster. That nickname was taken 30 years ago, becoming famous in the state of Michigan by one of the most memorable collections of young talent in college basketball history.

Still, the Pistons are trying to accomplish a lot of the same things those Wolverines did with Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. Tossing them into the deep end of the hoops pool? Playing them together against far more experienced opponents? Seeing development by the day as young guys throw off the training wheels?

Yes, yes and yes.

In this case, the names are Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes, Saben Lee and Deividas Sirvydis, and they’re all rookies on an unusually young Detroit team.

“You first think about it, you say, ‘Wow,’” said Pistons coach Dwane Casey, who once nurtured a bunch of Toronto youngsters into a playoff contender. “But it really has fulfilled me as far as teaching, coaching, going back to the basics. Teaching all the fundamentals of the NBA has been fun.

“I know the older guys have been bored with it, they’ve heard it for how many years now. The losing sucks, but teaching and growing those guys is fulfilling.”

They all arrived via different routes, drafted by five different organizations. In the 2020 draft, Detroit used the No. 7 pick on 6-foot-5 point guard Hayes. Stewart went at No. 16 to Portland. Bey was Brooklyn’s choice at No. 19 and Lee went from Vanderbilt to Utah with the No. 38 pick. Lithuanian wing Sirvydis was a 2019 pick, selected by Dallas at No. 37 and stashed overseas last season.

When the smoke cleared from general manager Troy Weaver’s control center, though, all were on hand when the 2020-21 Pistons arrived for training camp. Little did they know how their roles and opportunities would play out.

“When we first came to camp, we didn’t know much about each other at all,” Stewart said last week. “We were all strangers to each other.

“From camp all the way up till now, we’ve definitely grown together. We’ve built some chemistry since then, and we’re continuing to learn about each other every day.”

Sirvydis’ contributions so far have been meager. But the other four have made their marks for Detroit this season. From Bey’s 3-point shooting and sticky defense, to Stewart’s old-school grind as a 6-foor-8 center, to Hayes’ injury-interrupted season and recent crash course work, to Lee’s performances in reserve at the point.

The Pistons have even been so bold as to start three at a time, using Bey, Stewart and Lee at various points.

Casey praises all of them, but Hayes’ return from a hip tear just seven games into the season has made him a special project since his return April 3. “It probably was the worst and the best things at the same time,” the coach said. “He was able to slow down and see the game, understand the NBA. He just turned 19. But he’s passing the ball all over the gym. Finding people on pick-and-rolls.”

Detroit’s veterans deserve kudos, too, for working with rather than resenting the rookies. Mason Plumlee, Cory Joseph, Jerami Grant, Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder all have sacrificed minutes or goals on behalf of the new kids. Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin were both moved to help serve the youth.

“We knew this year would be about grooming those young guys, and it became apparent it wouldn’t be fair to Derrick and Blake,” Casey said. “We needed to give those young guys NBA minutes.”

The minutes are coming, the victories less so for the 19-43 Pistons. But a bumpy present suggests a bright future for Detroit fans who stick with them.

The Top 5 this week on the 2020-21 Kia Rookie Ladder:

(All stats through Monday, April 26)

1. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

Season stats: 18.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.7 apg
Since last Ladder: 20.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 1

How has Edwards’ shooting percentage gone from 35.8% in January to 37.2% in February, improving to 42.3% and 43.1% the past two months? Not form, not distance, but shot selection. Addressing that, rather than nitpicking other parts of his game, was a priority for coach Chris Finch when he took over late in February. “We wanted him to be more efficient,” Finch told The New York Times recently. “So much about being a good shooter is getting rid of the bad shots.” Edwards’ improvement means Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball will have to do more than just lace up his sneakers when he comes back, as far as ROY competition.

2. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 12.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 15.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 8.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 4

Slipping without drama or setbacks into the Kings’ starting PG role (De’Aaron Fox went out under health and safety protocols) was another example of Haliburton’s smooth ability to help, regardless of role. “For Tyrese, it will help speed up where he goes as a player,” Kings coach Luke Walton said. Said teammate Mo Harkless: “He’s shown a level of poise that a lot of rookies don’t have right away. He has a really good feel for the game. He doesn’t really force anything. He just lets the game come to him. I really enjoy watching him play and playing with him.”

3. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 11.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.7 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 2

A head-to-head clash with Minnesota’s Edwards showed the contrast in the two rookies’ styles. Rockets coach Stephen Silas likes Tate for his all-around game. “He’s super important to the team,” Silas said. “I would say his versatility is the thing that stands out the most. His ability to handle the ball, play on the perimeter, play down low, guard multiple positions. He has defended fives and played the point for us.” In their game Tuesday, Edwards had 19 points, nine rebounds on 9-of-22 shooting and was plus-2. Tate had 20 points on 9-of-12, seven rebounds and played 40 minutes in Houston’s loss.

4. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 11.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 9.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 3

Bey likely will run out of opportunities to chase down Donovan Mitchell’s rookie record for 3-pointers, set in 2017-18 with 187. At his current pace of 2.3 per game, Bey would fall short even if he had a full 82-game season vs. this 72-gamer. But he’s making his at a 37.7% rate, which would be tops for a rookie who averaged at least six attempts from the arc (Mitchell hit 34% of his).

5. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

Season stats: 15.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 6.1 apg
Since last Ladder: DNP
Last Ladder’s rung: 5

A two-day schedule gap Thursday and Friday might be what Ball needs to get some live scrimmage time as the launching pad for his return to action. “That’s our next step,” coach James Borrego said of Ball (fractured wrist) and Malik Monk (ankle sprain). “Both are on the court, both are progressing. There’s been no setbacks.” The Hornets have home games Saturday and Sunday vs. Detroit and Miami.

The Next Five:

6. Isaiah Stewart, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 7.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 0.9 apg
Since last Ladder: 8.0 ppg, 8.8, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 7

Pistons’ bruiser continues to lead all rookies in rebounds.

7. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks

Season stats: 11.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.5 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 0.8 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 9

Strong week helped Knicks cap their win streak.

8. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies

Season stats: 9.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.7 apg
Since last Ladder: 3.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 2.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 6

Two points in a combined 32 minutes in pair of games vs. Portland.

9. Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers

Season stats: 8.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.8 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.8 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A

Career-high 20 points (but oh that 1-of-8 from the arc) in loss vs. Toronto.

10. Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic

Season stats: 11.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 15.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 6.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: T10

Making the most of his minutes in an uncertain Magic season.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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