Big nights for Diallo, Doumbouya, rough night for rookies in tough Pistons loss to Hornets
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 102-99 loss to the Charlotte Hornets at Little Caesars Arena
ROOKIE WALL – The 2020 draft is one that has the Pistons set up to start climbing the ladder in the Eastern Conference over the seasons ahead, but rookies are going to have their ups and downs and Tuesday night exemplified the wrong side of that equation for their three No. 1 draft picks. Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey all were part of the starting lineup again – the Pistons played without Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Josh Jackson, Wayne Ellington, Dennis Smith Jr. and Cory Joseph – but didn’t score a basket until Hayes hit a triple at the halftime buzzer to pull the Pistons within four points of Charlotte. They finished with a combined 13 points on 4 of 23 shooting. Bey, who finished with seven points and shot 2 of 10 from the 3-point arc, went 0 of 5 in the first half when Stewart went 0 of 3 and Hayes missed his first three shots before the buzzer triple. The Pistons got big nights for Hamidou Diallo, who scored a career-high 35 points, and Sekou Doumbouya, who scored a season-high 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Diallo’s triple – hit third of the game in six attempts – with 32 seconds left pulled the Pistons within two points. The Pistons got the ball back after a Hornets turnover with 17.6 seconds left and Killian Hayes had a chance to tie with two free throws with 9.4 seconds left but missed the first. It was the third game in four nights, the first time the three Pistons first-round rookies have been starters for such a stretch, and it’s entirely possible that the grind of the season and their recent heavier workload with so many veterans idled is catching up – the rookie wall, in other words. Charlotte was missing four of its top seven scorers in Gordon Hayward (19.6 points per game), Devonte Graham (14.5), P.J. Washington (12.8) and Miles Bridges (12.4). The Hornets came into the game 31-33 and in the No. 8 spot in the East with little chance to move up – trailing Boston, in seventh, by 2½ games – but just a one-game lead over Indiana and 1½ over Washington.
BACK TO BACK – For the first time since returning from injury a month ago, Killian Hayes was OK’d to play in a back to back. Hayes, who played 28 minutes in Monday’s loss to Orlando, finished with four points, five rebounds and seven assists . But the fact he’s returned to play without incident physically after suffering a hip injury on Jan. 4 in Milwaukee that was feared to be season-ending counts as a major win for the Pistons and, especially, for Hayes. Instead of spending his off-season rehabilitating, Hayes can get to work on the summer development that the COVID-19 pandemic cost him and all rookies last off-season. A few of Hayes’ passes were a little hot to handle – he was charged with seven turnovers in a very tough night in general – but the vision and zip on the ball that give him the toolkit of an elite playmaker were in evidence. His third-quarter pass from beyond half court that found Sekou Doumbouya for a layup was special. Hayes has now played 14 games since returning April 3 from a hip injury that cost him three months and 41 games. Hayes, the No. 7 pick in the November draft, opened the game going against fellow rookie point guard LaMelo Ball, the third overall pick. Ball played a solid all-around game with 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
ROOKIE BIGS – In the 2019 consensus recruiting rankings, Isaiah Stewart and Vernon Carey Jr. were two of the top five recruits in the nation – Stewart ranking second, Carey – son of longtime NFL offensive tackle Vernon Carey – fifth. Both considered Duke. Carey committed in December 2018, though, and Stewart hadn’t yet decided on a college. So Stewart, who also considered Syracuse, Michigan State and Kentucky, wound up committing to Washington a month later. Carey also considered Michigan State and Kentucky along with North Carolina and Miami. Both declared for the NBA draft after freshman seasons, Stewart drafted 16th overall and Carey 32nd. Carey has played behind veterans Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo this season so hasn’t seen nearly as much playing time as Stewart, who finished with three points and seven rebounds Tuesday. But when Zeller left late in the first quarter after a collision at the rim with Saben Lee that caused a five-stitch repair to his lip, Carey came on for four minutes and scored two baskets off of offensive rebounds. Carey had played a total of 100 minutes – more than 1,200 fewer than Stewart – in 16 games before Tuesday, averaging 2.6 points and 1.4 rebounds. Stewart came into the game averaging 7.6 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. In college, Carey averaged 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a game for Duke; Stewart averaged 17.0 and 8.8 for Washington.