Pistons Mailbag - December 9, 2020

Lots of questions about roster decisions and lineup possibilities to get us going in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Xegesis (@xegesis): If Svi takes a huge next step, do we have any money next year to sign him?

Langlois: They’ll have his full Bird rights and Mykhailiuk will be a restricted free agent. Look at the history of restricted free agency. Movement is pretty rare. And next year is a long way away. Given Troy Weaver’s activity this year, I would think there will be moves between now and then that alter the cap outlook. He’ll use the season to come to an honest assessment of both Mykhailiuk’s value and the options at his disposal and go from there. But the Pistons have powerful advantages in retaining their own restricted free agents, if it comes to that.

Curtis Rodriguez (@CurtisR215): Will LiAngelo Ball make the roster or be given a two-way contract?

Langlois: There are 20 players in camp – the maximum – and that means three players, at minimum, will have to be pared with 15 roster spots and two two-way contracts allowable. It looks like Saben Lee and Louis King are the front-runners for two-way deals, so Ball’s likeliest outcome is a spot on the G League roster. But there’s also the chance that roster moves create openings.

J Roze (@Det2UP): Who should we be watching in preseason games with regard to the final roster spots?

Langlois: There are only four preseason games and the season opener is 15 days away, so I don’t know that the final roster spots are going to be determined by what happens in the games. By that I mean I suspect Dwane Casey is going to use the preseason to shape his decisions for the top of the roster, not the bottom – what player combinations he thinks work best among the starters, how deep into his bench he wants to go, which backcourt combinations function best, etc. Decisions on the bottom of the roster will be determined in practice or maybe even after practice when players who aren’t given as much run during scrimmages will play three-on-three or four-on-four games. Players like LiAngelo Ball and Anthony Lamb might get into one or two preseason games for the last five minutes or so – if that. I wouldn’t say those appearances will have no impact on their fates, but the bulk of their evaluation will come in settings other than preseason games.

01/07 (@TeeChedda): What is Josh Jackson’s chance at cracking the starting lineup?

Langlois: The one spot in the starting lineup that seems like it’s up for grabs is shooting guard – that assumes Killian Hayes shows enough in preseason to give Dwane Casey the confidence that he’s ready for what faces him as a starting point guard and, so far, Hayes is getting strong reviews from Casey and teammates. Blake Griffin and Jerami Grant are virtual locks to start in the frontcourt and Mason Plumlee was paid like a starting center, so it’s fair to assume he’s penciled in for that spot ahead of Jahlil Okafor and rookie Isaiah Stewart. The leading contenders for the other backcourt spot are Svi Mykhailiuk and Delon Wright with Wayne Ellington a darkhorse. And who starts is probably more about how Casey feels they fit with the other four as it is about which one outperforms the other in the next two weeks. Casey knows generally that Mykhailiuk provides elite shooting and Wright is the more versatile – truly capable of playing either backcourt spot – and better defensively. I suspect the lean is to Mykhailiuk given the value of his 3-point shooting and what it would mean for the starting unit, allowing Wright to pair with Derrick Rose off of the bench to give Rose a strong defensive partner and someone capable of playing as the lead guard to give Rose some secondary attacking opportunities. But he’ll look at every possible backcourt combination in practices and preseason games to see what it looks like and go from there. As for Jackson, his best shot to crack the rotation will probably come at small forward behind Grant. Grant might be the guy who most often plays at power forward when Griffin sits, so there could be a big role available for another small forward. Sekou Doumbouya will also be in that mix, you would think. And rookie Saddiq Bey could put himself there, as well.

Superbowl 2021 (@averagelionsfan): Who is the starting five this year? Does LiAngelo Ball have a role?

Langlois: See above for my best guess at a starting five. Ball’s likeliest outcome is a spot on the G League’s Grand Rapids Drive – though the G League season is still cloudy – but Troy Weaver sees something there. Ball was signed by Oklahoma City’s G League team last season when Weaver was the assistant GM with the Thunder. Oh, and it’s Super Bowl – two words.

David (South Bend, Ind.): What is Sekou’s ideal position going forward? I know the league is moving toward position-less basketball with just guards and forwards, but I’ve heard Casey likes Sekou at the four. What is the logic of playing him at four vs. three?

Langlois: With the rather large caveat that the lines of distinction have never been fuzzier, it’s generally true that threes require more perimeter skills offensively and to be a little more nimble defensively to guard off the dribble. I think Doumbouya tips more to the modern-day four than a three, at least until he can tighten his ballhandling and show he can guard off the dribble by getting down in a defensive stance and staying in front of ballhandlers. There is so much switching in today’s defenses – it’s almost standard operating procedure these days to switch everything that doesn’t involve centers, or one through four, and what makes big men like Bam Adebayo so coveted is that he allows it go extend to one through five – that those rules apply to practically all players, though. In one respect, it simplifies defensive coverages – the rules for fours used to be significantly different than the rules for threes, for example – but it also demands physical skills that are not universally shared. Doumbouya seems better equipped to handle the four as of today, but with Blake Griffin there and Jerami Grant – who’s spent most of his time at that spot in the NBA – available to swing over to that side, his opportunity might be greater at the three.

Krispy Flakes (@KrispyFlakes2k): What type of role can we expect for Sekou Doumbouya going into the preseason/regular season?

Langlois: As I wrote above, I think he’ll be competing for minutes at both forward spots. If Blake Griffin and Jerami Grant are both available, they’re going to probably account for more than 60 of the 96 minutes available at those two positions. That leaves Doumbouya, Josh Jackson and Saddiq Bey to compete for what’s left. But that also doesn’t include the times Dwane Casey will play with three-guard lineups. Svi Mykhailiuk, Delon Wright, Wayne Ellington and Killian Hayes are all capable of guarding at small forward.

ZJayes (@GoatZJay): Who’s getting more minutes – Saddiq or Sekou? There’s going to be a lot of fighting for those minutes at small forward and power forward on that roster.

Langlois: Forced to choose, I’d go with Doumbouya as of today. One year in the system and a strong off-season, by all accounts. But he’s 19 – he turns 20 on opening night in Minnesota, Dec. 23 – and Bey is 20 months older. Beyond that, he was lauded for his basketball IQ at Villanova and Dwane Casey has talked more than once already that he’s impressed with Bey’s feel for the game at both ends of the court. You can put Josh Jackson in that mix, too.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): In 1994, young All-Star Shaquille O’Neal did not know who All-Star team coach Lenny Wilkens was and had to be told that Wilkens was a Hall of Fame player. Today, do rookies get an orientation to the league? Are they told a little league history, who the greats are, how to handle their money, how to handle the media? Do the Pistons educate their new guys on league-franchise history?

Langlois: There is a rookie orientation program mandatory. In typical years – and 2020 is not one of them – the rookies are required to attend an NBA-sponsored orientation in New York/New Jersey, usually held in September, where they are advised on things like money management, media interaction and the perils of scammers who might prey on them. I don’t think any of that time is devoted to league history as it pertains to past greats. But you’d be surprised – I always am, at least – how knowledgeable young players are about league history. I think the YouTube generation has spent ample time watching videos of stars who were long retired before their birth.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): I’m trying to understand why Troy Weaver elected to stretch Dewayne Dedmon’s contract over five years, giving the Pistons five years of dead money. Couldn’t he have gotten the same result by just buying out Tony Snell’s one year remaining all at once this year?

Langlois: Snell was on the cap this year for $12.2 million on an expiring deal. Dedmon technically had a two-year contract with a reported $1 million guaranteed for 2021-22. That meant that for stretching purposes, the Pistons could take it out over five years as opposed to three years for Snell’s expiring deal. When you stretch a contract, you multiply the number of years remaining on it by two and then add one to determine the term. So a one-year deal is stretched over three years and a two-year deal over five. The $2.9 million cap charge for Dedmon represents 2.6 percent of the $109 million cap for 2020-21 and that percentage will decrease as the cap increases. It shouldn’t be a millstone.

Paul (Phoenix): I actually like the players Weaver has assembled for this team – depth at every position, defense at every position, scoring will be sorted out as the season progresses. The rookies all have talent and a desire to play defense. I’m not concerned with early results – by mid-season, we will have an idea how this all shakes out. I feel like the critics have underestimated the talent on this team. My only hope is Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose are not traded unless they want to be. The veterans are all character-type players and will be an asset to the rookies.

Langlois: Troy Weaver is going to do what he thinks is best to build a winner with the chance to grow and enjoy sustained success, the ultimate goal to compete for championships. Weaver might view the path to get there differently than conventional wisdom and he’s proven he’s not timid about forging his own path. That conventional wisdom would value trading veterans to get what you can for them, but Weaver very well might see it differently. There doesn’t seem any imminent likelihood that either will be traded. The trade deadline, reported to be March 25 this season, would be the first obvious possibility. Rose is the more likely trade target for other teams simply because of the contract disparity between he and Griffin. But it’s pointlessly speculative today to guess what might happen more than three months from now when the roster has been so radically altered. I think we can retire all trade speculation for the next few months and just see the results. And I’m talking beyond wins and losses. For one thing, the Pistons face a very challenging schedule with the half of it – 37 of 72 games, in their case – that’s been released to date. They’ve got 20 road games and nine back-to-back sets, which is tied for the most in the league with five others and features more sets with travel involved – eight of the nine – than any other team. Strangely, none of the Pistons back to backs involve the situations where they play the same team consecutively, something the NBA instituted in this pandemic season to limit travel and the exposure it necessitates. So, yeah, the record might take a hit early given the schedule challenges, the lack of familiarity and the fact the Pistons are one of eight teams that got a nine-month hiatus.