Casey explores options as Pistons await word on Smith’s status
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
AUBURN HILLS – There was no update on Ish Smith’s status when Dwane Casey gathered the Pistons for Thursday’s practice, so logic dictated preparing for what comes next on the assumption they’ll need to be prepared to play without the pulse of their second unit.
Smith said he heard a pop in his right groin in the second quarter of Wednesday’s loss at Milwaukee. A few possessions later, he was out and headed to the locker room, never to return. Smith, forever upbeat, expressed optimism after the game that he’d be fine, but an MRI scheduled for later Thursday will determine his immediate future.
In the meantime, the murderer’s row of NBA opponents remains on the docket for the Pistons, the availability of Smith and Reggie Bulllock – who missed the Milwaukee game after spraining his left ankle against Oklahoma City – notwithstanding. After back-to-back losses to the Thunder and Bucks to snap the momentum of a five-game win streak, the Pistons get Philadelphia and New Orleans – oozing star power with Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis – at home before hitting the road for a return match with Philadephia in a fraught three-games-in-four-days stretch.
Casey improvised a little more intense practice than he’d planned, given the weight of the schedule awaiting his team, to clean up the mistakes that led to two of the season’s most convincing losses. Casey was particularly alarmed that the Pistons allowed the Bucks to get up 41 3-point shots in outscoring them 42-27 from the arc.
“We were number one in the league up until last night,” Casey said – and the Pistons remain No. 1 in 3-point percentage defense, opponents making 31.3 percent of their attempts. “Discipline is a huge thing. That’s why it was shocking last night. We lost our discipline with how we wanted to guard the 3-point line. Just doing things that were uncharacteristic, last two games. I’m at a loss as to why after having success against some of the top teams in the league.”
The injuries don’t help, of course, as both the starting and second units have been disrupted by the losses of Bullock and Smith. Langston Galloway was taken off of the bench unit to take Bullock’s spot and Jose Calderon replaced Smith as point guard with the second unit after his departure.
Casey liked what he saw, though, from rookies Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas in Wednesday’s second half. Based on matchups and feel, either could be a candidate to fill minutes at point guard if Smith is unavailable for Friday’s game and beyond. The Pistons have toyed with the idea of using Brown at point guard long term, but hadn’t publicly broached the idea of Thomas there until Casey mentioned it Thursday.
“We always do a lot to prepare them to play point,” Casey said. “Khyri’s been handling the ball a lot in the G League, which is a great experience for him. So they’ve had reps at the point before. They know what to do.”
Another possibility is staggering Blake Griffin’s minutes to play him more with the second unit and run offense through him, shifting more traditional point guard duties back to Reggie Jackson with the first unit when Griffin slides to the bench. Casey is wary, though, of putting any more of a burden on Griffin.
“That’s always a possibility,” he said. “But we also have to be smart with his minutes and not ramp his minutes up. End game is important. Before you know it, he’s up to 38, 39 minutes regularly – and that’s not good.”
Luke Kennard’s playmaking ability off the dribble makes him another candidate to help shoulder some of the duties Smith fills with the bench unit, but he’s still finding himself after returning Monday from a 16-game absence with a separated shoulder.
“I still don’t think he’s 100 percent – he is physically, but just mentally,” Casey said. “Bringing him along slowly. Luke is a big part of what we’re going to do.”