Deep and talented, it might take a minute for Casey, Pistons to put together optimal second unit

Derrick Rose appears destined to be one of the anchors of a more diverse and talented Pistons second unit for the 2019-20 season
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Deeper with more firepower and added experience, the Pistons fully expect their bench will win them games this season – not just protect leads or prevent deficits from swelling, but pad margins and dig out of holes.

The unseen asterisk denotes that a little patience might be required.

The bench unit’s full membership isn’t yet known and Dwane Casey said Thursday that it’s possible – likely, even – that it eventually will include two or three every-game staples and a few rotating spots to be filled as the situation requires.

But two of its probable prominent members are Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris, new to the team. Not only is it going to take Casey a minute to figure out the best combination – and how to adapt on the fly to fit any particular game’s requirements – but another minute or two for new teammates to jell into a cohesive group.

How much time?

TBD.

“You never know,” said Blake Griffin, a veteran of nine NBA seasons. “It’ll take a little time, but we’ve got some guys on that second unit that really know how to play and have played a lot of meaningful basketball. So my guess would be sooner rather than later. It will take time, but I like what we have there.”

Casey has used the same starting lineup in the first two preseason games, though he cautions not to read much – or anything – into how he’s deployed his roster so far. In any case, the off-season estimation that Luke Kennard would remain a bench player – where Casey says his pick-and-roll acumen can be better utilized than with a starting unit already heavy on ball-dominant players like Griffin and Reggie Jackson – seems likely to hold up.

The scintillating performance Kennard (19 points) and Rose (18 points) put into evidence in Wednesday’s win over Dallas – when they combined to make 14 of 20 shots and sparked a second-half rally – did nothing to argue against their continued partnership.

“It’s fun,” Kennard said of being Rose’s wing man. “You’ve always got to be ready with him. He’s fast, he’s smart, he can see the floor like crazy. He’s a leader, somebody that’ll get on you. He’s new to this team, but he’s one of our leaders. He’s a leader to me, especially. We feed off of him when he’s in the game. But you’ve always got to be ready. He does some crazy no-look passes and he’s really good at it. I’ve had a lot of fun so far and we’re just going to continue to get better together.”

Rose says he’s followed Kennard since his days at Duke and relishes the chance to play with a young shooter he says reminds him of Kyle Korver, a teammate of his in Chicago.

“I’ve played with shooters before, but never that young. To have a guy like that, it helps me tremendously because I can drive – the lane is open. Normally when I’m in the game, the (opposing) coach just tells guys not to let me get all the way to the rim. So you’ve got Thon (Maker) rolling, you’ve got a number of shooters on the outside – all we’ve got to do is play defense and rebound the ball.”

Whether Maker – or Christian Wood, or perhaps one of Griffin or Andre Drummond, or maybe Joe Johnson or Svi Mykhailiuk or Langston Galloway or Reggie Jackson – completes the Kennard-Rose-Morris bench unit is still to be determined.

“It’s fluid,” Casey said. “It depends on the night, the situation, how guys are playing. I want to keep a couple of those spots fluid. Maybe we bring one guy back from the starting unit, whether it’s Blake, Andre; last night we had Reggie stay in there with that group with three guards in there. Depends on what we need.”

The fluidity angle increases Casey’s flexibility but also complicates the chemistry timeline.

Galloway thinks playing against the starters daily in practice will hasten the process and push both units to be better. He loves the potential but acknowledges the inevitability of the process needing to play itself out.

“Getting the chance to play together and feel each other out, learning as we go,” he said. “Hey, by the middle of the season, we should be cruising. We should be rolling at that point. We should be a well-oiled machine. I’m excited to see it.”

“It’s going to take time,” Rose agreed. “It’s all about building every day, building a foundation.”

Casey thinks Rose and Morris’ basketball IQ will help shrink the learning curve, but he knows there are wires that need reprogramming even at that.

“It’s hard. Both of them are intelligent guys and smart players,” Casey said. “The hardest thing is terminology. We call one thing ‘thumb,’ another team may call it ‘fist,’ one team may call it ‘twirl.’ A lot of times in the heat of the moment, guys will revert back to what they used to call the same action. Getting the habits is the hardest thing to do. That takes a little while. Maybe, I would say, by December they should be able to click easily into what’s happening.”

The machine might not look like it’s all that well lubricated every night until then, but it only took until the second preseason game to show what the possibilities might be.

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