Casey sees toughness in his rookies that led to Pistons drafting them

Killian Hayes
Killian Hayes is in line to be the starting point guard for the Pistons, Dwane Casey said after the first practice of training camp
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by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Troy Weaver and his scouts had months to dig into the makeup of draft prospects, so when he selected Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee on draft night the new Pistons general manager was confident he’d nailed his objective to find a core of hard-nosed, hard-working players.

But you never know what you’ve got until you put a young player in your uniform and your building.

After the first full-team practice of training camp on Sunday – the Pistons had been limited to staggered individual workouts since Tuesday per NBA COVID-19 protocols – Dwane Casey can affirm Weaver’s success.

“I’m really impressed for the first practice of the rookies,” Casey said. “They’re going to be fun to watch. They’re going to make a lot of mistakes, but – I promise you – being soft isn’t one of them.”

If there was any news to come from the first day of practice, it’s probably this: Casey is leaning toward starting Hayes, the 19-year-old from France who was the No. 7 pick, at point guard.

But he’s not giving him minutes. Casey sounds genuinely enthused about what he’s seeing from Hayes for his maturity, intelligence, size and athleticism. Among other things, he said Hayes’ shot-blocking stood out in the first practice.

“The future’s going to be really bright for that young man if he keeps the same trajectory he has,” Casey said. “He’s not your typical rookie. He sees things defensively. He sees things offensively. He had three or four blocked shots today from the guard position, which is hard to do without fouling.”

Casey’s seen enough of Hayes to know he represents the future for the Pistons at point guard. But he wouldn’t be leaning toward putting him in the starting lineup at the risk of shattering his confidence – or digging early holes for his team. Casey is set on keeping Derrick Rose coming off the bench, where it’s easier to manage his minutes and have him fresh for end-game situations, so it comes down to Hayes or veteran Delon Wright, who spent his first three NBA seasons under Casey in Toronto.

“We’re looking at it. We may start out with Killian there. There’s nothing set in concrete right now. We’ll start him there and see how it goes. He knows how to play. But Delon’s a veteran. He knows how to play. We want to keep Derrick in his position coming off the bench, which is a weapon. We’ll start off with Killian there right now.”

The other rookie 19-year-old, Stewart, also caught Casey’s eye for his competitiveness.

“He was going after every rebound,” Casey said. “He sets the tone in the paint. There are things he has to learn, but his intensity is off the charts. Every rebound is his. He reminds you a little of Kenneth Faried – more skilled than Kenneth, but the hair bouncing around, the activity. Lots to learn about the NBA game, but the intensity won’t be a part of it. Same with Saddiq.”

Casey, in fact, said he sent a text to Villanova coach Jay Wright lauding Bey’s intelligence and readiness.

“I’ve had Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, different Villanova players. That program is one of the best to get players out of. Jay does a great job of coaching, preparing those guys for the NBA game. Saddiq is very prepared. Like any other rookie, he’s got to get used to the speed, but it won’t take him long at all.”

Second-round pick Saben Lee flashed the things in his first practice the Pistons saw from him at Vanderbilt, where Lee’s athleticism and willingness to invite contact resulted in him getting to the foul line 400 times in the past two seasons.

“Attacking the paint,” Casey said of Lee’s first day. “Defensively, he’s there.”

The group of rookies – and Casey throws Sekou Doumbouya, also just 19, in that mix – reminds Casey of the cadre of young players he helped develop into key cogs of Toronto’s 2019 NBA champions.

“All are intelligent and that’s another area that really helps the growth of players,” he said. “They’ll give the veterans everything they can handle every day in practice, which makes everybody better.”

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