Pistons Mailbag - October 13, 2021

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

With the preseason winding to a close and the NBA regular season only a week away, this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag looks at the likely lineup combinations and digs into Killian Hayes’ present and future.

Alt Country (@AltCountyMan): When injuries are not an issue, what are the two lineups?

The starters line up like this: Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, Isaiah Stewart, Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes. That’s three 20-year-olds and four rookies or second-year players, so it’s basically a college team with Jerami Grant, 27. The bench realistically looks like it has six candidates for five jobs. Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph are pretty much locks. Josh Jackson is off to a strong start, but it could be a three-way battle between Jackson, Frank Jackson and Hamidou Diallo for the two wing spots. Trey Lyles appears the front-runner to be the backup power forward. Casey says it’s conceivable to play all three of Jackson, Jackson and Diallo at a time but probably something he would only do against teams that really downsize. Rodney McGruder, Saben Lee, Luka Garza and rookie Isaiah Livers, when he’s healthy, round out the 15-man roster with Jamorko Pickett and Chris Smith, the latter rehabilitating an ACL tear from January, on two-way contracts.

His stats will swing on whether he plays well enough to play legitimate starter’s minutes or not. The shooting percentage might be the last thing to come around for him, but if Hayes can command the offense, limit turnovers and have the game slow down enough so that his elite vision and passing skills can click, that’ll be enough to get him 25 or more minutes a game. If he can get to a 2:1 assists-to-turnovers ratio or better, that’s a good starting point. If he’s defending at an above-average level – a key component of Hayes’ value – that’s even better. It’ll take a minute for Hayes and Cade Cunningham to strike the right balance in morphing in and out of playmaking/playing off the ball roles and for a strikingly young and inexperienced starting unit to form some chemistry. The fact he missed a week of camp with an ankle injury and is now dealing with a concussion that will sideline him for tonight’s game at New York, at minimum, doesn’t help. There are going to be some potholes in the road to respectability for all of those young players and for the unit as a whole.

Tj (@onlyuptjb): What is Killian Hayes’ role?

Starting guard as of today. Dwane Casey has pushed back on labeling Hayes a point guard, preferring to suggest that Hayes and Cade Cunningham will share playmaking and ballhandling responsibilities to lessen the burden of having to take on those jobs solely for either. Hayes has gone through one NBA season, but it was a most unusual one and he was sidelined for more than half of it, so he’s barely ahead of Cunningham in NBA experience. There aren’t a lot of teams in NBA history that have started two rookies, essentially, in the backcourt but I’d wager that the fates were not kind to those teams. So Casey’s approach is logical. But you can only protect young guys so much. They’re going to have to live with the ups and downs that go hand in hand with breaking young players in to major roles.

Paul (Phoenix): It would be nice if the Pistons just shot down some of the trade rumors for John Wall or Ben Simmons. Why would Detroit consider either of these players? Wall can’t play more than 25 to 30 games a year with an outrageous contract. Simmons is a ball hog, can’t shoot and can’t make free throws and also has a bad contract. The Warriors got rid of the barrage of rumors about Simmons with a simple explanation. Let’s see what Detroit has in the players already assembled. There are Pistons-related websites where writers propose mindless trade rumors.

I have seen zero rumors of the Pistons pursuing trades for either player. First, let’s separate “rumors” from “speculation.” Not that one is any more credible than the other, but they’re two different categories. A rumor is a report, often of dubious merit, that teams have actually discussed a trade. That doesn’t appear to be what you’re referencing, though. You sort of buried the lede, but if you’re talking about something a writer or two on a fan site proposed – even if only to debunk – then that’s different. And why you think the Pistons as an organization should respond to that or acknowledge it in any way, shape or form confounds me. That’s not the role of a general manager or anyone in a professional organization’s front office – nor should it be. People can dream up every far-fetched scenario they want. It has zero bearing on the operations of the Pistons or any other franchise. For them to acknowledge it only calls more attention to it.

Donna (Southfield, Mich.): Just a quick comment/question. I read that the Pistons are in the mix somehow for Ben Simmons. I know the guy is youngish and an All-Star, but he doesn’t seem to meet any other qualities valued on our team – having a good character, etc. He appears to be quite willing to screw over his team and teammates to get his way. Besides all that, he would cost way too much for us in terms of personnel. I wonder if we might be more likely to help out in a three-team trade? Draft assets welcome!

Again, I haven’t seen anything that connects the Pistons in any credible way to a potential Simmons trade – either as the recipient of Simmons or as a facilitator to enable another team to acquire him. There have been whispers about Simmons being less than a stellar team player going back to his days at LSU, where the Tigers went 19-14 and failed to make the NCAA tournament in his only season. The Australian national team has seemed lukewarm at times about the prospect of Simmons joining what has otherwise been a famously tight-knit collection of players. But who knows what to make of all of that or how much meat there is on the bones there? You can bet it’s a well-researched topic in NBA front offices and especially among those teams who have been rumored to be in the mix in a Simmons trade. I’ve consistently seen teams like Minnesota, Indiana, San Antonio, Cleveland and Sacramento mentioned as potential destinations, but Detroit? No, I haven’t seen that and have no reason to believe there’s a realistic chance of that. That said, I think it would be malpractice for any of the NBA’s 29 other front offices to not weigh the merits of a potential Simmons deal or to check in with Philadelphia to see what the thinking is on that end. For every question mark about Simmons, he’s a 25-year-old with three All-Star appearances, All-NBA ability and with four years of team control remaining. There is a point where he makes sense for almost any roster or situation. I would put the Pistons near the bottom of the team’s likeliest to acquire him, but you never know.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Many of us have traveled a lot due to our professions and have spent much time in the same hotels that NBA teams use. Standard hotel menus are tasty but often nutritionally unsound on a day-to-day basis. Do clubs get special menus for their players? I think staying healthy and sharp skill wise on the road for many days must take some real effort and planning.

Some hotels have menus designed for teams that arrive late at night after playing in another city, but I don’t think they’re put together with nutrition foremost in mind. It’s a lot of chicken fingers and sandwiches and things of that ilk. But NBA teams these days engage the hotel kitchens to cater buffet meals for their teams and team nutritionists are heavily involved in the selection of foods. It’s heavy on fish and chicken dishes that aren’t loaded with cheese or other high-fat ingredients with plenty of healthy vegetarian or even vegan options. Breakfast buffets might feature bacon but it will also have turkey/chicken/vegan sausage or bacon, fresh fruits, oatmeal and other healthy options. NBA teams try to balance the tastes of a bunch of 20- and 30-year-old athletes who burn a lot of calories and sometimes crave comfort foods with the nutritional requirements to keep their bodies highly functioning over the demands of an NBA season. More and more, players come to the NBA with at least some sense of what they should consume and what they should avoid or at least limit.

Robert (Albany, Ore.): Isaiah Stewart and Jerami Grant at 6-foot-9 against Stephen Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. at 7-foot-1 – game over. Luka Garza should have opportunities against the big lineups like Memphis.

There were a number of areas of vulnerability in the game with Memphis on Monday, but it’s not as simple as saying Garza is 2 inches taller than Stewart and therefore a better option against bigger teams. I think he’s going to seriously outperform expectations for the 52nd overall pick – because the average career of players going 52nd is decidedly unremarkable – but he also can’t be considered the immediate answer to how the Pistons cope with bigger teams as a rookie. As long as Stewart, Kelly Olynyk and Trey Lyles stay healthy, this year for Garza is going to be heavy on G League playing time to help him transition from college to NBA center in an age where those two things are often very different.

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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