Another Summer League, another opportunity for Mykhailiuk to open eyes for Pistons
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LAS VEGAS – Among the players named to the 2018 All-Summer League second team were three of the top five picks in that draft: DeAndre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young. Also included was a guy taken long after the green room had cleared out: 47th pick Svi Mykhailiuk.
Ayton, Jackson and Young would go on to be named first team All-Rookie and are at the center of rebuilding lottery teams. Mykhailiuk – 17 when he debuted for Kansas and, having only recently turned 22, just a year older than Ayton and Young despite the wide disparity in their college resumes – played sparingly for the Lakers before being traded to the Pistons. Shortly thereafter he suffered a season-ending hand injury that knocked him out of their playoff drive.
He remains a blank canvas to Pistons fans curious to see what his future might hold when Summer League games begin on Friday. There’s a need for what Mykhailiuk offers – prototypical small forward size at 6-foot-8 with elite 3-point shooting potential – even after the Pistons acquired Tony Snell in trade two weeks ago.
At Summer League, the Pistons pick up where they left off in their assessment of how Mykhailiuk could piece together that position with Snell and others.
“We’re always trying to figure out what are your strengths, how do you play to them and also how does it fit into what we’re doing as a team,” said Sean Sweeney, Dwane Casey’s assistant and again coach of the Summer League Pistons. “For him and anybody else, there’s development to play and development to do more. Those usually go hand in hand. On the defensive end, he’s going to have different roles and responsibilities we want him to fulfill and execute as well as he can.
“Offensively, there’s things we want him to do and, obviously, he has a skill set that we like. Trying to develop on both sides and understanding there’s going to be an emphasis on competing and guarding and doing things defensively to help the team win, same as there’s going to be an emphasis on making plays and good decisions on offense to help the team win.”
That lines up neatly with Mykhailiuk’s aims for his second Summer League. He feels infinitely more assured than a year ago while acknowledging that last year’s achievements don’t count for much in establishing his place with the 2019-20 Pistons.
“I feel like there was no pressure (last year) because nobody expected me to do what I did. I just came out and played basketball,” Mykhailiuk said. “I’m not trying to think about what happened. Just trying to come out and play basketball, help my teammates win and play as hard as I can.”
Mykhailiuk helped the Lakers win the 2018 Summer League title, averaging 17.7 points while shooting 40 percent from the 3-point arc and making 2.9 of them a game. That Mykhailiuk was an elite shooter didn’t surprise any of the NBA front offices that had scouted him over a 136-game college career at Kansas. That he looked so comfortable putting the ball on the floor, operating as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, and showed frequent flashes of athleticism did.
It also influenced Pistons front-office leader Ed Stefanski when he was shopping for value and interested in taking back something other than multiple future draft picks for pending free agent Reggie Bullock at last winter’s trade deadline.
The Pistons saw plenty to validate their estimation of Mykhailiuk in practices and especially in the post-practice and pregame two-on-two or three-on-three skirmishes for players at the end of the roster.
He’ll play all three perimeter positions over the course of Summer League, Mykhailiuk said, with Sweeney saying this week that the Pistons want to put the ball in the hands of all three second-year Pistons – Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas the others – to increase their comfort level with decision making.
Brown said when he’s at point guard, he’ll be looking to his wings for both Thomas and Mykhailiuk.
“Knock-down, lights-out shooting,” Brown said of his fellow 2018-19 rookies. “Just know I’m going to be finding them a lot these next few games.”
As much as Pistons fans might focus on Mykhailiuk’s shooting and playmaking, Casey and his staff will be at least as interested in his defense. Casey and Sweeney have mentioned increasing his defensive awareness as key for Mykhailiuk’s advancement – and he knows it’s something he needs to show.
“That I can play defense, basically,” Mykhailiuk said of his mission for his second go-around in Las Vegas. “Just be always aggressive, be always alert and pay attention to details.”
Sweeney sees all the tools necessary to be an effective defender.
“He’s got good size, he’s got good athleticism,” he said. “Understanding concepts, where to be, what to do, just in general making sure he’s in the right spots. Then, as always with any player, it’s multiple efforts and competing as hard as you can.”
Just as on draft night 2018, Mykhailiuk might get lost in the hype bubble with not only Brown and Thomas sharing the spotlight but much attention on 2019 draftees Sekou Doumbouya and Deividas Sirvydis, two European teenagers even more mysterious to Pistons fans than Mykhailiuk. But there’s arguably no one on their Summer League roster with a greater opportunity to make an impact on the 2019-20 Pistons than the guy who went 47th in last year’s draft.