‘A basketball purist’ – Mykhailiuk putting in the work after breakout second season for Pistons

Nobody’s star was ascending more notably than Christian Wood’s when the NBA season was suspended – and ultimately ending it for the Pistons – back on March 11. Three times over his previous four games, Wood had established career scoring highs with 29, 30 and 32 points. Those 32 came in his matchup with Joel Embiid on a night Wood made 14 of 18 shots, including 3 of 4 triples.

Wood’s star burned brightly enough that you might not have noticed another one streaking on a slightly lesser celestial plane across the Pistons firmament. Svi Mykhailiuk was putting up some very encouraging numbers, as well, suggesting that there was more to his game than just the elite 3-point shooting that he’d exhibited earlier in the season.

Let’s start with the shooting, though, because at the levels Mykhailiuk – who just turned 23 earlier this month – has shot it for the Pistons, he’ll carve out a long and productive NBA career. Mykhailiuk is one of only six active NBA perimeter players who’ve shot 40 percent from the 3-point line on at least five attempts per game within his first two seasons, joining elite shooters like Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson and Buddy Hield.

In 56 2019-20 games, including 27 starts, Mykhailiuk averaged 9.0 points in 22.6 minutes and took 70 percent of his attempts from the 3-point arc while making 40.4 percent of them.

“I thought he made great strides as far as his shooting ability and his development,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said this month.

If there was a silver lining of Luke Kennard missing the final 2½ months of the abbreviated season, it was the opening it created for Mykhailiuk to assume many of his minutes and essentially Kennard’s role. And, like Kennard, Mykhailiuk began to expand his influence as a playmaker while growing as a defender, too.

Over a 10-game stretch that began in January, Mykhailiuk averaged 14.4 points on 43 percent 3-point shooting, then suffered a hip injury that forced him out of the lineup for five games. It took Mykhailiuk a few games to get back in the groove, but over his final six games before the suspension of the season he flowered in other areas. Over those six games, Mykhailiuk averaged 11.3 points on slightly depressed 3-point shooting (35.5 percent) but boosted his rebounding, assist and steals numbers. In three of those games, Mykhailiuk grabbed five or more rebounds; in five of them, he registered four or more assists; and in three of them, he came up with two or more steals.

“I felt like Svi took strides each and every game,” Kennard said. “He learned something every day. Svi – he’s a workhorse. He’s always in the gym, getting shots up early, staying after. He’s a smart player. He’s just smooth.”

Blake Griffin also saw Mykhailiuk’s growth and thinks another leap forward is coming.

“He’s like a basketball purist,” Griffin said. “He’s putting in the time every single day. He’s listening, he’s learning, he’s watching. And he has a really good feel for the game. Physically, right away you can see the things he brings to the table, but I think he grew this year. His mental approach and also just his confidence that he can impact the game in more ways than just shooting. I think next year will be a big year for him. He’s put in a lot of work and I feel he’s taken that step.”

Casey saw similar strides from both Kennard and Mykhailiuk defensively as their playing time increased and their confidence grew in parallel lines. It sets up the likelihood that Casey can put his two elite snipers on the court together next season for long stretches. Kennard – like Mykhailiuk – stayed in town to work out at the Pistons Performance Center when it was OK’d for reopening. While recuperating from the knee tendinitis that sidelined him, Kennard served as a sounding board for Mykhailiuk.

“I saw his confidence continue to grow throughout the year,” Kennard said. “Every time he came out of the game, we would talk to each other about something he saw or something I thought he could do better. Seeing his game grow, it’s going to be important for us next year. He’s working hard right now, I can tell you that. He’s in the gym. He’s putting the work in and it’s definitely going to show even more next year.”