Casey Q&A V: ‘Everything starts with a sense of urgency’

Bruce Brown
Bruce Brown comes back a more confident player with a chance to join the starting lineup in his second season with the Pistons
Brian Sevald (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(Editor’s note: Today concludes a five-part interview of Dwane Casey with less than two weeks until training camp opens for the 2019-20 Pistons season. He spoke with Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois last week. In Part V, Casey talks about young players Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas, Svi Mykhailiuk and Thon Maker – and about his expectations for the season ahead.)

KEITH LANGLOIS: I know there’s a strong argument for keeping Bruce Brown in the starting lineup to give you that defensive stopper and flexibility to guard point guards or the No. 1 perimeter threat to suit the situation. On the flip side, sticking Luke Kennard in with the starters makes that a pretty dynamic offensive unit. Does the fact you’ve got Derrick Rose with the second unit, given his ability to create offense, give you a little more flexibility with balancing your units and to do whatever is right for the team?

DWANE CASEY: No question and that’s the key – keeping the balance for both units. The issue with Luke in the first unit – it’s not an issue, it’s a good thing – but it’s just you kind of take away one of his strengths as far as his pick-and-roll game, his ballhandling game. There’s only so many pick-and-roll games with that first unit. You’ve got Blake in the pick and roll, Reggie in the pick and roll, you’ve got Bruce running pick and roll some and now you’ve got Andre bringing the ball down the floor with the DHOs. But like I’ve said, winning time, last five minutes of the game, you need all those shooters and Luke is by far one of our better shooters so that’s when you really judge. Not whose name gets announced in the starting five. He’s a huge part of our team with his ballhandling and decision making. We’ll re-evaluate it this year and see how it goes, what fits, who we need with the first unit, who we need with the second unit. To me, there’s no honor to say I’m going to start. As long as you’re getting minutes, you’re closing games, that shows more of the value to the team than to say you’re a starter.

KL: Bruce made you look pretty good in Las Vegas. You said often last year you felt that point guard might be his ultimate destination. You’ve got Jackson, Rose and Frazier so maybe not this year, but did Summer League reinforce your belief that his future is at point guard?

DC: At some point. He’s so much better this year than he was a year ago. The Summer League I thought helped him tremendously, gave him a lot of confidence. But his calling card, bar none, is his defense. He’s a defensive stopper. His energy, his toughness, his persistence as a player. He made a mistake today – gambled in the backcourt, playing pickup, and before you know it he had sprinted back, got in the play and ran in the passing lane to get a steal. What I didn’t want to do – I wanted Bruce to work on his 3-point shooting, which he did all summer – but I didn’t want him to start thinking about that and forget about his calling card. And his calling card is as an elite defender. Not a good defender, an elite defender. And so I didn’t want him to lose that edge, that niche that he’s come out with – and he hasn’t. He’s such a great kid, plays hard. He’s a winner. He did an excellent job of playing the point this summer and there’ll be some scenarios where he’ll be in there with Derrick and Reggie and just gives you another ballhandler.

KL: Even if he’s not playing point guard, the judgment he showed you this summer, you can still make use of that to put him in position to make plays, I would imagine.

DC: No question, for sure. His next thing is – and we’ve talked about it numerous times – once he gets in there, in college he had the ability and the strength to go up on those 6-10 centers to dunk on them or finish in there. It’s a different animal when you’re in the NBA. You come in this league and you’ve got 7-footers who play 7 foot who are going to protect that rim come hell or high water. And so that’s his next thing is making that decision, dumping it off, kicking it out to the corners or at least understanding how to finish at the rim vs. an eclipse at the rim trying to keep you from scoring.

KL: I know Rudy Gobert wasn’t playing in Summer League, but he did show very advanced judgment in knowing when to kick it out, when to make the drop pass, when to take it to the rim.

DC: That’s what you’ve got to have. You’ve got to have that ability and that’s where his growth at the point guard position is, that’s where he is.

KL: Two other rookies from last season. We’ve talked a little about Svi, but let’s talk a little more about him. On a depth chart, you’ve got Tony Snell at small forward and then Svi. I know you’ve got more flexibility than that and I know you’re not hesitant to use Langston Galloway or others there, but with Svi’s size there would appear to be an opportunity for him to take some minutes if he shows he’s ready in training camp.

DC: And the reason why is his shooting. He has worked on his shooting, dynamic. He’s an excellent playmaker. He’s a lot like Luke with his playmaking. He can come off the pick and roll, find people, make the drop pass, lob pass. His shooting sets all of that up. He is a knock-down, knockout shooter. Going down to the G League last year helped him. I thought the Summer League helped him this summer get his confidence back. Then, too, his size. He doesn’t have the length that Tony Snell has, but is still a big man.

KL: When you’d be asked about Bruce last season, you almost always went out of your way to mention Khyri, too, and how it was only a matter of opportunity for him. That’s a pretty crowded position right now, but what role might Khyri have in that?

DC: Defensively and shooting the ball. We have eight guys, close to eight, in that size range, maybe not all the same position. That’s a lot. Then you throw in some of our two-way guys, Lou King. That’s a tough combination, so we’re going to shake it up and see who comes out. But one thing Khyri can do is continue his defensive toughness and his ability to shoot the ball. He’s a competitor. He’s a smart kid. I promise you he knows the point guard position, the two guard position, the three position because he studied the game so much. I will say there’s so many guys at that position, the same size, and going into last year Khyri was ahead of Bruce and Bruce just kept working, kept churning. It made the team better, he got better. It’s going to be a dogfight at that position for all of those guys.

KL: You seemed to very quickly develop a fondness for Thon Maker last year, mentioning often how selflessly and how hard he played. We talked at the end of the season about him needing to come back stronger and a more dependable 3-point shooter. I know some of that is hard to judge over the course of a summer, but how do you feel about Thon going into his first full season with the organization?

DC: One thing he did, he got bigger. He got bigger up in his shoulders. He worked with Arnie Kander in Colorado, working on his hands, catching the ball, developing that part of his game. As I said about Andre, Thon is a young man, also. Thon is young. The key thing is he got bigger, stronger in the core. When somebody bumps him, hits him, it doesn’t knock him off of his mark as easily, offensively or defensively. I think getting bigger and stronger in his shoulders is going to help his 3-point shooting. Getting stronger is going to give him a better base, a solid base, to shoot from. The young man is a worker. He has worked his behind off out there in L.A. and also in Denver all summer long.

KL: I know your development coaches and your entire staff have been in touch with players up and down your roster. Just give a snapshot of what that entailed.

DC: They’ve been all over. We had Markieff down in Miami and Sid (Lowe) spent time down with him working out. Had a couple of coaches staying down in L.A. because we had some many players out in L.A. Thon worked at his own gym, Luke worked at his own gym, Blake had his own program set up so we just had our coaches go join their forces. All of them had hired really qualified guys and good guys that they had been working with and didn’t want to really interrupt that, so it gave our coaches an opportunity to sit back and be with them and still spend time with them. I was in and out of L.A. all summer long, watching guys work out and spending some time with them. The NBA season has gotten a lot longer. The preparation for the season has gotten a lot longer, more sophisticated, more scientific, but I really like how hard our development coaches worked. Coach Gerg and Sean were in LA, Sid spent a lot of time with Markieff, then D.J. (Bakker) and J.D. (DuBois) and (assistant coach) Micah (Nori) all spent time rotating in and out of L.A. We had a very busy summer but for our program, the lifeblood of our program, is our player development. That’s something I truly believe in. Our G League coaches, too. Donnie Tyndall was involved in our player development, so we’ve got to continue to grow players. My thing is there’s no load management for your players in the summertime. There’s not enough hours in the day because that’s where you make yourself. When you come with us, starting now, we’re going to mold you and make you to help the Detroit Pistons. In the summertime is where you develop your craft for your career. We want to help you with it but that’s when you experiment with different things, whether you’re a ballhandler, a 3-point shooter, whatever it is. Once you come here in September, now we’re going to mold you and fit you into what we’re doing offensively and defensively.

KL: When you stand before the team to address them to open training camp this year, what do you plan to emphasize in your opening message?

DC: A sense of urgency. Our thing is, yeah, OK, we had a decent year last year, not great, decent. Made the playoffs but can’t be happy with the way we ended the year, so coming in this year with a sense of urgency, continue to get better, continue to grow and that starts with our coaching staff. We want to get better at decision making and how we utilize players. Players want to get better with their skill set and 3-point shooting, ballhandling, their bodies, whatever it is, but everything starts with a sense of urgency. The East is open and the time for us is now. We want to hit the ground running once the season starts and when training camp starts. That sense of urgency is now and it’s got to continue every day up until we throw it up in October.

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