Pistons Mailbag - December 30, 2020

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Lots of talk about Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose – and about the players at the other end of the spectrum, all of the Pistons rookies and young guys – in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Depressed pistons fan (0-3): What do you think the Pistons stock is without Derrick Rose or Blake Griffin? I think they looked great with just the young guys out there.

They’re a growth stock. The abiding truth about young players is that their challenge is consistency. So there are going to be inevitable ups and downs for 19-year-olds like Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart and those just slightly older like Sekou Doumbouya, who turned the ripe old age of 20 a week ago. There are eight players 23 or younger on the Pistons roster and six of them played big roles in Monday’s narrow loss at Atlanta. The evaluation of their progress isn’t to see that they can eliminate the downs, but to increase the duration of the ups and limit the degree of the downs. And you can’t really judge it on small sample sizes. But for Killian Hayes, who made a few glaring turnovers in his debut last week at Minnesota, to play as well as he did in crunch-time minutes at Atlanta on Monday when Griffin and Rose both were out is an encouraging step. It doesn’t mean he won’t commit any critical turnovers again – even All-Stars do – but now he has evidence of success under stress that he can file away in his memory bank to help him win future similar moments. It didn’t go as well for him on Tuesday against Golden State, when he exited early in the third quarter with a sprained ankle, but his defense on Steph Curry was a very real bright spot.The Pistons, of course, are not a better team without Griffin or Rose. Those guys are security blankets for the young players so they can grow at a more realistic pace. Sometimes it’s good to take those security blankets away and expose them to greater stresses, but a steady diet of it over a full NBA season – or even a slightly truncated NBA season, as 2020-21 will be – isn’t prudent. The Pistons have nine back-to-back sets in just the first half of the schedule that’s been released. I don’t know that Griffin or Rose will sit out all of them, but I suspect there will be other nights when the Pistons decide their two stars would benefit from a night off. There are going to be opportunities for not just Hayes and Josh Jackson and Svi Mykhailiuk to play big minutes but also for Sekou Doumbouya and Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey to step into broader roles often enough to encourage growth without overdoing it and risking suppressing that growth.

Miguel (@Miguel72742107): Griffin and Rose are two very important pillars. The mix of experience and youth is essential to build a great team.

Ding-ding-ding! You are spot on, Miguel. Somebody asked me on Twitter if I meant to imply the Pistons were better off without Griffin and Rose because I pointed out that late in the first half – on a night they were playing without the two players who have the ball in their hands most for the first and second units – the Pistons had committed just one turnover at Atlanta. No, that was not my point. It was that a team playing without Griffin and Rose – and with a bunch of players unaccustomed to being primary ballhandlers for long stretches at the NBA level – was doing an admirable job of taking care of the basketball. But it was one game and random stats from any singular game are not to be trusted. To suggest the Pistons aren’t better with Griffin and Rose in uniform is lunacy. Sure, everybody wants to see the young guys get minutes and, yes, the Pistons are heavily invested in them for the sake of the franchise’s future. But throwing them into the deep end without the lifejackets that Griffin and Rose represent would lead to a lot of unnecessary bruising.

Deviaire (Pontiac, Mich.): Troy Weaver did draft James Harden. Killian Hayes, Derrick Rose, Jerami Grant and first-round picks in 2021, ’23 and ’25 (maybe) for Harden. That would leave Frank Jackson, Saddiq Bey, Saben Lee, Sekou Doumbouya, Deividas Sirvydis, Isaiah Stewart and Josh Jackson all 25 or under. It would leave the Pistons a lineup of Delon Wright, Blake Griffin, Josh Jackson, James Harden and Miles Plumlee.

If you think that lineup gives you a legitimate title contender, sure. But you had better be really confident about that because giving up first-round picks in three of the next five years doesn’t give you much wiggle room to go in a different direction if you’re wrong. If Troy Weaver proved anything in his first off-season – really, his first week of being able to make moves – it’s that he determines a course and moves with utter self-confidence. Weaver has zero trepidation about sticking his neck out, so if he holds the same estimation of that lineup as you do then he would push all of those chips into the middle of the table. I would not be so bold. But that’s just me.

Oliver (Tartu, Estonia): How similar is Isaiah Stewart’s game to four-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace?

There are those who see some similarities in demeanor, physical toughness and energy. Whether Stewart has the sense of timing and quick-twitch reactions – and will to push himself in all endeavors beyond most human experience – that made Wallace a truly generational defensive player remains to be seen. I think it’s reasonable to expect Stewart to have a hard time living up to Wallace’s level of defensive impact but if he can contribute in the ways – if not quite to the extent – that Wallace did on defense while maximizing his offensive potential – where I’ve heard comparisons to a young Al Horford – then the Pistons are going to have quite a player in their midst. One thing Wallace had was great timing and an uncanny knack for never biting on pump fakes. Stewart is going to have to learn that. He’s a quick jumper with strength and long arms. He can stay on his feet until the shooter takes off and still have the ability to block or alter shots.

Motor City Hoops (@MotorCityHoops): Hate being excited about Jahlil Okafor being hurt but can’t help it if it means more Isaiah Stewart.

I understand your excitement about seeing Stewart get some minutes. He’s the type of player who’ll endear himself to fans out of the gate because of his flat-out hustle. He’s got a live body and a motor that runs hot and those two things lead to being around the ball and making things happen. It’s going to take a minute for him to figure out how to channel all of that energy to the good and that’s why Okafor, who’s been around the block a few times and can be a force as a post scorer, isn’t likely to surrender his role as center of the second unit anytime soon as long as he’s healthy. Stewart and Saben Lee would have been the two players, I think, who would have benefited most from having a normal G League season. Killian Hayes is going to get as many minutes at the NBA level as he can handle as a 19-year-old rookie point guard, so I doubt he’d have spent any time in the G League. Saddiq Bey is on the fringe of the rotation and, at 21 and with two years of the highest levels of college basketball under his belt and given his pretty complete game, wouldn’t have gotten quite as much out of the G League experience as the other two. But Stewart has a chance, for however long Okafor is out with his ankle injury, to get some valuable experience. I thought he acquitted himself well in Atlanta – five offensive rebounds in less than 15 minutes is impressive – and didn’t appear to be awed by the moment in the least. He did enough to have Dwane Casey entrust him with 23 minutes – including crunch-time minutes – against Golden State. He’s won over his veteran teammates, too, with his attitude and effort.

Zerin (Dearborn, Mich.): If the NBA considers having 16 teams play a one-game tournament and then play a seven-game series in the NBA Finals, would this be a more competitive format rather than having seven-game series throughout the playoffs to determine a champion?

If your definition of “competitive” translates to “more chance of the lesser team winning,” then yes. I wouldn’t call that more competitive; I’d call it less equitable. The longer a series, the better chance of having the best team emerge the winner. A three-game series is more likely to produce an upset than a five-game series and a five-game series is more likely to produce an upset than a seven-game series. A one-and-done? Let’s leave that for the NCAA. There’s another reason you’d never see the NBA go to a single-elimination format for all postseason play except the Finals: economics. The playoffs are what drives the lucrative TV packages that allow the NBA to prosper. And those home playoff gates are significant revenue generators. The play-in tournament will give the NBA a semblance of the drama of March Madness’ one-and-done zaniness and is a nice compromise. But it’s not going to carry over to the traditional playoff format – nor should it.

J.R. Swish (@swish_jose): What are the chances Josh Jackson keeps the starting spot?

That’s an interesting one. In their first games in different roles, both Jackson and Delon Wright thrived – Jackson as the starter, Wright as point guard of the second unit instead of running alongside Killian Hayes with the starters. Before Tuesday’s game with Golden State I asked Dwane Casey – who has said a major reason for starting Wright was to have a player with considerable experience as a point guard next to Hayes to take some of the onus off of him – if that gave him something to think about and he said this: “It does. And there may be a time where Delon – I don’t know if now is the time – once Killian is more comfortable playing by himself out there and handling the ball, the need for Delon in the first unit is not as important.” Bottom line, Casey had an impossible task in figuring out who fits best with whom with 11 new players and none of the typical run-up to training camp where players work out together and scrimmage in voluntary workouts for three weeks or so. He’ll be tinkering with lineup combinations to a greater degree and deeper into the season, one suspects, than most coaches ever would be forced to do so.

Adam (St. Petersburg, Fla.): How much of what Josh Jackson is doing is sustainable? And do you think Casey has a defined role for Svi Mykhailiuk with the second unit? It doesn’t seem like he’s gotten as many minutes as people expected.

I think it is. If you were concerned that a regression in his 3-point shooting would diminish his effectiveness, he went 0 of 5 from the arc against Golden State but still scored 17 points and played well. He’s been good coming off the bench in two games and good as a starter in two others and he’s versatile enough that he fits with pretty much any personnel groups Casey puts around him. He’s terrific in transition and he’s been very good at getting to the rim and finishing. Dwane Casey says he’s been a model citizen since coming to the Pistons and he’s been great – honest and realistic about his experiences – with the media. By all indications, he’s matured to the point that the talent that made him the consensus No. 1 recruit in 2016 and the No. 4 draft pick in 2017 can be fully realized as he continues down this path. As for Mykhailiuk, he wasn’t part of Casey’s first-half rotation against Golden State. He’d opened the season in a 2 of 18 slump from the 3-point arc, but Casey said before the game he wasn’t concerned about Mykhailiuk’s shooting. Once injuries to Blake Griffin and Killian Hayes created the need for a deeper reach into the bench, Mykhailiuk played in Tuesday’s second half and hit 2 of 4 from the arc. Delon Wright, Josh Jackson, Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey and Mykhailiuk give Casey five wings for four spots – two starters, two reserves. Jackson has done enough to elevate himself in that competition, so it’s really Bey or Mykhailiuk for one spot unless the rotation goes to 11. But Wright getting minutes at point guard and Grant getting minutes at power forward could create enough space for all five to fit into the rotation.

Odai (Pontiac, Mich.): Is it possible that Dwane Casey will play Blake Griffin some at center or even off of the bench since Killian Hayes and the young guys look more comfortable without Griffin out there?

He used him at center in last week’s double-overtime home opener when Mason Plumlee fouled out and Jahlil Okafor was ruled out with an ankle injury – and that’s when I would expect to see him use Griffin at center again: break-glass-in-case-of-emergency cases. There are responsibilities the center has defensively that I don’t think the Pistons would want to put on Griffin at this stage of his career and potentially take something away from him at the offensive end, where he remains at the heart of what the Pistons are. As for the young guys looking more comfortable, it’s a fool’s errand to draw meaningful conclusions about that sort of thing based on a single-game sample size. I thought Hayes looked more comfortable, too, but there are any number of things I might cite before getting to Griffin’s absence as a possible cause. By and large, Hayes should grow in comfort level week over week and month over month. There are going to be certain situations that he might see in March, for instance, that are new to him and will make him temporarily uncomfortable again. But the more he sees, the fewer instances of “I’ve never seen that before” will occur and he – and this goes for the other rookies, as well, but it’s especially true for point guards, one would expect – will become increasingly in his element.

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. To have your question considered, submit it along with your name, email address and city/state using the form below.

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