Pistons Mailbag - November 27, 2019

Pistons defense, Svy Mykhailiuk and Sekou Doumbouya are hot topics in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Lee Caver (@wataman66): How can we be hopeful about the defense? They played defense against Atlanta and Orlando but show no defense against Milwaukee. We continue to play down to the competition but do not get charged up and focus for the tougher teams. Why is that?

So your contention is “no defense against Milwaukee” – the No. 4 offense in the NBA, held to 104 points by the Pistons? That’s not a very good argument, Lee. You can say the Pistons haven’t been a very good defensive team this season and you wouldn’t get much pushback. They’re currently 21st in defense. Certainly the lineup disruptions due to injuries have had a hand in that and the fact they’ve had a turnover problem – again, likely tracing to the fact that Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin, three players who dominate the ball when healthy, have missed so much time – has exacerbated it. Turnovers have led to a ton of opposition points. But they held the Bucks 16 points under their scoring average. They were within eight points after three quarters on a night they lined up without three starters. They scored 90 points and that gets you beat 98 percent of the time in today’s NBA, but to point the finger at their defense in Milwaukee defies logic.

Bobby Bishop (@imbobbybish): With Tony Snell out, Sekou Doumbouya is our only other player listed as a small forward. It is clear that Casey is set on not letting Sekou play quality minutes while he is still developing. Do you think we will run into any problems continually playing three-guard small ball?

Sekou Doumbouya isn’t playing for the Pistons because he’s not ready for that – and that was never the expectation. The Pistons said they wouldn’t hold him back when they drafted him last June because what else are you going to say? But no one ever contended they thought he would be ready at this point of his rookie season to play a meaningful minute. He’s 18 for another month, not only the youngest player in the NBA but in the G League. As I discovered during training camp at Michigan State, Doumbouya would be the second-youngest player on Tom Izzo’s roster – missing out on being the youngest by six days. He’s younger than all but one player on Michigan’s roster. Doumbouya is exactly where he should be right now, the G League. He’s making an impact at that level, but not yet dominating it. I don’t think it’s out of the question, given his talent and the progress he’s showing in the first few weeks with the Grand Rapids Drive, that Doumbouya puts himself in position to be an option for Dwane Casey at some point this season, though I think it’s more reasonable to say he’ll challenge for a rotation spot next season. As for the Pistons playing three-guard lineups, more often than not they’ll be lined up against teams fielding similar configurations. It’s more the norm than the exception these days that at some point in each game, teams will field three-guard lineups.

Bama (@bamahoopslg): Does Donta Hall have any shot at playing in the NBA anytime soon?

Sure. I don’t think what he’s doing in the G League so far is any surprise, but he’ll need to do it consistently and probably need to do it at an even higher level to really put himself in position to land a 15-man roster spot or a two-way contract. It’s tough for a player in Hall’s situation to win an NBA roster spot during the regular season, but if he establishes himself as one of the G League’s top interior defenders and rebounders, he’ll have a real shot to land a deal with some level of guarantee next off-season. The Pistons have already shown their hand with Hall, bringing him to Summer League and putting him on an Exhibit 10 contract after his showing in Las Vegas last July. The evaluation process will extend throughout the season, but all indications are that the Pistons are pleased with all aspects of Hall to date.

Gary Clark (@gadclark): What is a good upside comp for Svi Mykhailiuk? Good handle. Good passer. Good size. Seems like a whole lot of upside. In what ways can he expand his game so that I can live a Luka Light fantasy?

Doncic might wind up a top-five MVP finisher this season on his current trajectory, so that might be a little lofty. But Dwane Casey has said, and it’s apt, that Mykhailiuk has a similar skill set to Luke Kennard for exactly the reasons you cite plus one big one: deep shooting ability. He can and likely will become an even better ballhandler and pick-and-roll operator with experience of having the ball in his hands more often. Mykhailiuk’s outing against Orlando on Monday was encouraging not so much because he hit 4 of 8 3-pointers but because of his hustle plays and solid defense. The expectation was always that Mykhailiuk would shoot well once he got enough minutes to acquire a comfort level, but would his defense and other areas of more nuance catch up enough for him to be able to win those minutes? One game isn’t enough to have the jury come in, but it was promising.

Remember the Alternatorz (@JonBarrySZN): How unique is the Pistons front-office situation compared to the rest of the league? To me, it feels like there’s too many cooks in the kitchen. I assume Ed Stefanski has the final say, but who else has a voice? What’s the ladder of influence?

I don’t think it’s unique in most respects. Maybe that perception exists because Ed Stefanski has a unique title – senior advisor to Pistons owner Tom Gores – but, for all intents and purposes, he’s the general manager or the head of basketball operations, whichever title you prefer. Like most front offices, Pistons decisions are reached collaboratively with final power resting with Stefanski. The Pistons have Malik Rose and Pat Garrity as assistant general managers and Gregg Polinsky as director of player personnel. None of that is out of line with structures of other front offices. Those are the key voices on personnel decisions, none of any import that get made without input and approval from Gores. If there’s anything unique about the organizational flow chart, it’s the presence of Pistons vice chair Arn Tellem, who while not directly a part of basketball operations brings to the equation his insight and vast network of contacts as a premier agent, decades spent in that endeavor before Gores scored the coup of wooing him to the Pistons. The days of a general manager with a slim scouting staff and someone to answer the phones comprising a front office are over. The NBA conducts itself as a big business, commensurate with the revenue it generates and the payrolls it supports.

Rashad (Detroit): As a longtime fan I’ve watched the Pistons draft poorly for years or watch them release young talent they’ve given up on too fast. The rookies are lighting it up in the G League. I understand the language issue with Sekou Doumbouya, but if he can grasp the language well enough to understand his coach he should be in the NBA. And there is no excuse why Jordan Bone isn’t playing with the Pistons with Bruce Brown starting at point guard. I think sending Doumbouya to the G League helped him but it’s time to call him up.

No, it’s not. It amazes me that people with a fraction of the information available to them relative to those in whose hands the decisions rest assume a level of certainty that would be ill-advised even if they were privy to all the data unavailable to them. You base your assertion that it’s time to call up Doumbouya based on what? That Jordan Bone should be playing over Bruce Brown on what? Christian Wood positively dominated the G League last season, averaging 29 points and 15 rebounds, and that – four years after he left college – has put him in position this season to challenge for a rotation spot with the Pistons. Doumbouya, 18, has a handful of promising – but less than dominant – games and he’s ready to contribute to winning in the NBA? Bone is really just learning how to be a point guard at the pro level. They’re both very intriguing prospects, supremely athletic for their positions. But they’re not ready to help win NBA games. You know why I can say that? Because the Pistons have a large staff of professional coaches and talent evaluators who watched every second of practice through training camp and the preseason and made that determination.

Mark (Bendigo, Hawaii): I chose Hawaii as it’s closest to Australia and from here it looks like it’s time for a Pistons rebuild. Trade Blake Griffin to a contender for future assets and friendly contracts. Trade Reggie Jackson and his expiring contract to see if we can leverage something more. See what Andre Drummond and his player option are worth on the open market. Trade for friendly contracts and future picks, suffer for a while – I think we are already doing that – and bounce back in a few years, a la the 76ers or Suns, though I know it’s early on Phoenix. From a frustrated Aussie Pistons fan and Carlton Blues (AFL) supporter.

Well, I hope your Blues are having a successful and injury-free season, at least. As for the Pistons, keep reading. Others support your proposed action plan.

Randy (Okemos, Mich.): With the Pistons off to a sluggish start, the trade rumors have started swirling. Portland with all of its talent has fizzled out of the gates with their rash of injuries to the frontcourt. What are your thoughts about sending Blake Griffin or Andre Drummond to Portland for a package including Nassir Little, Anfernee Simons and picks? It might be tough to do given the Blazers being over the luxury tax but a package of Bazemore, Labissiere, Simons for Blake works. A future core of Simons, Little and Doumbouya looks promising.

If Drummond goes to Portland, the logical return would almost have to include Hassan Whiteside. Their salaries are a match and their skill sets would preclude them playing together. The sweeteners would have to include either a good young player (Simons or Little fit the bill) plus a pick or two. The more likely target would be Griffin, but I suspect Portland would have other targets that would be more attainable – or at least come with a less daunting sticker price. I’ve seen Kevin Love, Danilo Gallinari and Robert Covington listed as potential trade targets for the Trail Blazers. I wonder what the sense of urgency is in Portland. I know we’re less than a quarter of the way into the season, but at 6-12 in the wildly competitive West, it’s getting late early. And if Portland is itching to do a deal now – or, say, on or shortly after Dec. 15, when nearly all free agents signed last summer are first eligible to be traded – then that likely doesn’t match up with a Pistons timeline. I don’t think the Pistons are willing to punt on this season so soon, not in the East, before they have a chance to really see what they have. Blake Griffin just got back and it still a few levels away from top gear, Derrick Rose is in similar straits, Reggie Jackson likely is at least a few weeks away and Tony Snell has missed the last four games. That’s an awful lot of man-games missed from very key players already. Generally speaking, there comes a point where all teams must decide a route for the short term – sometimes a team never realizes a fully healthy cast – but there is no sense the Pistons are at that point yet.

Mystery Team (@marcfoust): How does Christian Wood’s contract work after this season? Is he an unrestricted free agent with Bird rights?

They’ll go into free agency holding early Bird rights on Wood. They’ll be able to sign him either with cap space or by using the mid-level exception.

Snooty the Clown (@cl0wn_sn00ty123): When will the front office realize this team isn’t going anywhere and start selling? Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, et al – time for a shakeup!

Got to this some in my response to Randy, but it would be awfully rash to do a 180 at this point of the season. If they were intent on a shakeup, it would have come in the off-season. Maybe that would have been your preferred course, but it’s not the one this organization – headed by owner Tom Gores, who has never indicated he’d advocate for deliberate non-competitiveness – chose to take last summer. And since that’s the case, reversing course now would show a lack of conviction that I’d find alarming 17 games into the season. If the injury situation doesn’t resolve itself and their record come mid- to late January makes a postseason appearance unlikely, then I’d expect a re-evaluation. The roster, one way or another, is due to undergo significant changes next off-season with so many expiring contracts on the books. That shakeup you desire is coming in some fashion.

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