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Casey Q&A Part II: Gores’ commitment helps Stefanski build ‘all-star’ executive team

EDITOR’S NOTE: With his first training camp as Pistons coach approaching, reigning NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey sat down with Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois to get his perspective on the Pistons and the 2018-19 season. Here’s Part II of a three-part Q&A.

KEITH LANGLOIS: How important was Tom Gores’ presence in being able to hire the quality of candidate you were able to attract in both the coaching and front-office staffs with getting people like Sammy Gelfand from Golden State and Malik Rose from Atlanta and Sachin Gupta or Gregg Polinsky from other organizations, as well?

DWANE CASEY: Big time. Tom’s got an all-star lineup in the front office in Ed Stefanski, Malik Rose is a great up-and-coming leader in management – sharp, knows the game, knows people, great communicator. That was a huge get by the ownership group. Ed Stefanski, veteran mentor for all those young guys. The group that he’s put together and the management group is great. We have a great line of communication, which is huge in any successful organization. It’s not just top down; it’s collaborative. We communicate as far as what we need, what we want, what we see, what we don’t see. They do the same thing with us. Working with the medical staff – we have a new medical director, sports science director, which is great for us. We’re getting the whole organization well rounded. It’s not just coaching. It’s all of us together, working together, being on the same page, the same paragraph and hopefully the same sentence. All those things are very important as far as putting together a great organization.

KL: One of the most intriguing hires was Sammy Gelfand coming from Golden State with his specialty of providing analytical data in ways the coaching staff can understand it and apply it. How do you anticipate using Sammy and what role did you play in closing the deal?

DC: We talked this summer out in Las Vegas at Summer League before we hired him. When I first sat down and talked to him I knew he was great at what he did. Not only does he have a feel – the most important thing about analytics is I don’t know as much about analytics as they know about coaching, but sometimes analytical guys will come in and try to tell you how to strictly coach by numbers and you can’t do that. Where he has a great feel about how you present things, he has a great feel for the game, he’s seen it firsthand from a winning organization in Golden State but most of all just his approach is top-notch and he knows his stuff. All that together, Sammy is great. We had the same system in Toronto as far as our relationship. We had a great relationship with the analytical department. Most of all, he was with us 24/7 – practice, coaches meetings, what he saw, what he didn’t see and that is a huge resource in today’s NBA.

KL: Will he be behind the bench during games and when will you make the most use of him – before games, during games, after games?

DC: Yes, he will be behind the bench. Before games, possibly at halftime. During the game, it’s tough to try to do all of that with the fluidity of the game but after the game, before the game and game preparation is huge from that standpoint. And how we’re playing, how we want to make adjustments in our style of play or what we’re doing offensively or defensively. Just the ways we can use him are unlimited as far as the way we want to use him.

KL: To go back to the development of players for a minute, another intriguing hire was Tim Grgurich. How did that come about?

DC: I’ve known Tim since back when I was coaching in college because we used to recruit against UNLV back in the day when I was coaching at Kentucky. So I’ve known him since the early ’80s but then we worked together in Seattle back in ’93-94 with the Sonics and that was my first time working with him on the same staff. I learned so much basketball, about teaching, about fundamentals. He is one of the best teachers in the NBA. I don’t know how many guys that he’s helped their career, improved players if they want to listen and want to work with him. His experience, his knowledge, his feel for people, his ability to connect with anybody is, for myself, that was a great hire for our staff. He’s a great resource, great mentor to me and so he’s a big-time catch for our organization. He knows guys. He’s been around the league. Every player probably in the NBA has been to what we call “Gerg’s camp” in the summer. They know who he is. The respect factor is there. They respect him and that’s what I think is the most important thing as far as who he is. He’s like the godfather of work-developmental programs and putting him with our young developmental coaches is like a home run for us.

KL: You talked at your introductory press conference about the need to shoot more 3-pointers for a team that set a franchise record by taking 29 a game last season. When Stan Van Gundy was in Orlando and took that team to the Finals in 2009, they took 26 a game and that was No. 2 in the league. Last year, 29 a game finished 17th. Do you have a number in mind that you’d like to get to for attempts per game?

DC: We have a number. I don’t want to give it to the world but we have a number we want to shoot per game. It’s a philosophy. Like you said, Stan set the tone back when he was in Orlando utilizing the 3-point line and some of it’s personnel driven. What he did in Orlando is now almost on steroids, so to speak, because the league has gone to that philosophy. But it’s also the rhythm you get the 3-pointers in. It’s not just coming down and jacking up shots. There’s a method to the madness, there’s a way we want to utilize them, there’s a way we want to get to those types of 3-point shots. We know what type of 3-point shots we want to get, the way we want to start the offense to get to that, so there’s a method to the madness of it but we definitely want to utilize the 3-point shot. It’s incumbent on our players to understand where they’re coming from, how they want to get them, who’s taking them, when we want to take them and make sure we utilize our shot spectrum to a T.

KL: You’ve used that phrase a lot – shot spectrum. Where did that come from?

DC: We had that in Toronto for three, four, five years. We had it in Dallas the year we won the championship, the kind of shots we want to take. What you’re shooting for is efficiency more than anything else. More than just jacking up shots, we want to make sure we’re taking efficient shots and play the analytical game.

KL: Someone like Luke Kennard uses a lot of pump fakes and gets inside for 15-footers, which for him is a high-percentage shot. Do you make allowances in instances like that?

DC: You do. DeMar DeRozan in the history of the game is one of the best mid-range shooters – non-paint, two (-point) shooters in the history of the game. That says a lot. But we had to change the way we approached his game so it’ll be the same for Luke. Those 15-foot shots, there’s a number we have that we’ll allow. We have a goal we want to reach and there’s a cut-off point for that where those shots become non-efficient. In today’s basketball, you just can’t make enough of those to win.

KL: You probably don’t want to reveal this number either, but I think Houston took about half of its shots from the 3-point line last year and the Pistons took about a third. Is there a percentage in there somewhere that you hope to get to?

DC: There’s a number of shots you definitely want to get to and emphasize. But it’s getting our players – we’ve got to make sure we work on those shots, understand those shots, have a confidence in those shots and there’s a counter to them. You wish other teams would let you stand out there and shoot them but they’re not going to, so what do you do after that? There’s a method to the madness when they do run you off of the 3-point line.

KL: Blake Griffin took very few threes before the All-Star break in 2016-17 and then started shooting them more frequently. I think he took more than five a game last season. What’s a good mix for Blake, because he still remains an effective post player?

DC: The game is going to tell him what shot, whether he’s shooting a three or getting to the rim. The game will tell what that number is. And he’s a smart player. He’s going to understand what the game is giving him and our goal is to put him in position where those shots are easier. But don’t want to put a number on it and be a computer system. But there is a goal, a number, that we want to take of certain positions on the floor and every player will understand that and know their role, know what their number is, know what their shot is in the shot spectrum and so the guys will know that. We’ll make sure they’ll know that.

KL: What are your expectations for Reggie Jackson? Before Blake arrived, the offense was heavily predicated on his pick and rolls, mostly with Andre Drummond. With your vision for this offense, being more spread out, how will Reggie mesh with that and do you expect it will benefit him?

DC: Big time. The spacing is huge for him. What we do to trigger our offensive approach is going to be huge and Reggie initiating that. Reggie is so good with the basketball. The biggest adjustment he’ll have to make is having a point-five mentality of moving the basketball, getting it back, moving it again, making quick decisions. That’s a big part of the change and of the approach we’ll have is no matter who it is who has the ball, we don’t want to hold the ball. We want to make quick decisions.

KL: So the point-five mentality is you’ve got half a second to make a decision?

DC: You’ve got a half a second to make a decision. That’s going to be a big emphasis. To develop it, you’ve got to practice that way. You’ve got to play that way and that is the biggest change I would say for all of our guys to make.

KL: For a point guard who’s used to putting it on the floor five or six times, that’s a big change. Have you had players who’ve successfully made that transition?

DC: We did it in Toronto. DeMar DeRozan sacrificed and made a commitment to the team. Kyle Lowry did it. Jason Kidd in Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki. It can be done. It’s not easy because you’re asking a guy who’s been great at doing something all their life. It’s an adjustment more than anything else. We have smart players. They know analytics. They understand the analytical game so that’s the biggest change. The hard part for Reggie is being healthy where he can get on the court and be with his teammates and work on the change that we have and the way we want to play, so that’s the biggest thing because he hasn’t been able to be on the court all summer long. So that change is going to be a big adjustment, just as much for Reggie as anybody else because he’s our starting point guard.

KL: When you’ve talked to Reggie, how receptive has he been to the changes you plan to implement?

DC: He understands it. My thing is with all of our guys when things get hard, when things seem like they’re getting bogged down, we can’t revert to holding the ball, going iso and not moving the ball. We’ve got to move, exchange, cut and we’ve got to be in constant motion to make sure we utilize the court and to maintain our spacing.

KL: Another adjustment for Reggie is playing with Blake. They got a taste of it last year with eight games together, but if I can assume you’ll play through Blake a good deal then Reggie will need to be comfortable playing off of the ball often. Are there any concerns about how he’ll adjust to that?

DC: No. I know he’s a smart player and he’s going to get enough repetitions in what we’re doing to understand. He’s watched from the sidelines all the workouts in L.A. and spent a lot of time with coach Grgurich in Los Angeles working on different things. When I go down there we’ve talked about it. He understands what we’re doing, our philosophy. I don’t think it will be as hard for him mentally. I just think when things get hard – not just him, every player in the league – will go back to what got them there and a lot of it is with dancing with the basketball and beating their guy off the dribble. That’s the adjustment that we’re asking guys to make.