Casey’s evolution leads to shorter, intense Pistons practices

Andre Drummond says he’s having more fun on the practice court than ever and looking forward to 'a very enjoyable season.'
Brian Sevald/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Dwane Casey’s evolution as a coach goes much deeper than his embrace of analytics and its impact on how he designs his offensive and defensive blueprints. It’s also in the way he interacts with players.

So in mid-October with the season opener still two days away and the last game three days in the rear-view mirror, a younger Dwane Casey would have had a marathon practice. On Monday, the Pistons went for an hour and 20 minutes before breaking into individual skill drills for most players and a three-on-three, half-court scrimmage for some of the younger guys.

“When I first started out, I was a 2½-hour man,” Casey said. “Afraid that I wasn’t going to get everything in. But through experience, you learn that those extra 45 minutes in practice, you take away from the game situation. There’s a lot of things you understand you can get in a conversation as much as trying to use their legs up in practice.”

The bonus is that with a shorter practice, players are more apt to go at peak intensity and more closely approximate game conditions to maximize the value of every practice minute.

“I think we get our work in in the time he gives us,” Andre Drummond said. “We get enough time to rest and get our legs up under us and the next day we look great. Everybody’s coming out with full energy, each and every day. Shorter practices have been helping. He’s done a great job of getting everything he needs to in the time he sets for us.”

Casey solicits input from his veterans – he ticked off the names of Drummond, Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, Zaza Pachulia and Jose Calderon – to gauge the physical and mental state of the Pistons and goes from there.

“Players appreciate it,” Casey said. “Especially guys like Griffin and Andre and Reggie, who are going to have a lot of minutes on their legs.”

There’s a flow to Pistons practices. Drills are brisk and then it’s on to the next item on the agenda.

“Our practices are always intense,” Drummond said. “We work hard. All the drills aren’t dragged out for too long. We get from one thing to the next and keep moving on.”

Casey also expects that players put in their share of work before and after practices with a heavy emphasis on 3-point shooting for all players. Younger players get their work in before practice, veterans after. Drummond spent a good deal of time after Monday’s session, as has become his norm, with player development guru Tim Grgurich.

“It’s like he’s my fairy godfather,” Drummond grinned. “He’s always in my ear. He’s been really good for me and really excited to have him here.”

At 61, Casey came of age in a generation where players responded to coaches with a “yes, sir; no, sir” demeanor, so it was no small thing for him to cede the control that comes with lengthy practices heavy on painstaking detail.

“The NBA now, you feel like, OK, you’ve given up a little control,” he said. “The way the game is played now, the emphasis on the 3-point shot, there’s more lack of control offensively today than there ever was before. It’s changed over the last five or six years.”

With the caveat that the Pistons remain undefeated and Casey has yet to disappoint anyone on the roster with his playing-time decisions, there’s a palpable positivity to the Pistons aura going into the season.

“Probably the first year maybe in a while I’m usually the last one off the floor and I’m enjoying what I’m doing after practice in my workouts,” Drummond said. “I was running suicides because coach Gerg and I have a bet: If I don’t make two threes in a row before I leave, I have to run a suicide. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy my time. I enjoy the coaching staff. I enjoy the work that we put in. The guys are great. I’m having a good time; they’re having a good time. So I’m looking forward to a very enjoyable season.”