With Doumbouya out, 3 Pistons sophomore take the spotlight in win over Croatia

Khyri Thomas knocked down 7 of 14 from the 3-point line to score a game-high 26 points as the Pistons won their Summer League opener.
NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

LAS VEGAS – With Sekou Doumbouya sitting out the Summer League opener, the three players who’ve actually appeared in meaningful Pistons games provided a useful reminder of the value of experience.

As eager as Pistons fans surely were to get their first glimpse of Doumbouya, the reality is the fortunes of a playoff team are more likely to be affected by Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk than by the youngest player in the 2019 draft – someone still more than five months from his 19th birthday.

“I felt like it started with us starters,” Thomas said of the dominant second half that produced a 96-80 win over Croatia in the NBA’s first Summer League 2019 game Friday afternoon. “The guys who were here last year – me, Svi and Bruce. I don’t want to say we started off sluggish, but we didn’t really set the tone for the guys. We had to set the tone, quit messing around and that was that, right there. Us three got on each other like, ‘Yo, let’s set the tone. Show them how you can play.’ ”

Thomas finished with a game-high 26 points, hitting 7 of 14 3-point shots and 9 of 20 overall. Aside from one rushed triple to beat the shot clock after a saved loose ball, Thomas took the shots the Pistons under Dwane Casey encourage.

“He did a great job of being down and ready and shooting because he’s open and ready,” said Sean Sweeney, Casey’s assistant and coach of the Summer League roster. “Not just because he’s open. He did a great job of being alert and knocking ’em down.”

Mykhailiuk might be the best pure shooter the Pistons have, but there’s more to his game. He got some point-guard minutes and wound up with 17 points (5 of 10, 2 of 6 from the 3-point line) and five assists, his ballhandling and penetration skills on display.

“He has an ability to make plays off the dribble and make shots,” Sweeney said. “When the ball is in his hands, he can drive it, he can play some pick and roll and when he gets a good look he can knock it down.”

Brown played all of his 29 minutes at the point and adopted a point guard’s mentality of taking responsibility for the functionality of the offense.

“Got to know where everybody is, know their spots, know what they’re supposed to do,” he said. “In case they mess up, you can tell them what to do. … How many turnovers did I have today? Forcing sometimes. Just got to slow down and I’ll be good.”

In fact, Brown had only two turnovers against seven assists to go with 12 points and five rebounds. Brown made 1 of 4 3-point shots and while 3-point shooting is a summer emphasis for him, his Summer League numbers – given the adjustment to point guard and the focus on mechanics over results at this point – aren’t necessarily going to reflect the progress he’s felt has been made on that front.

Mykhailiuk had six turnovers and Thomas four, each at times overdribbling and trying to squeeze something from a play that wasn’t there.

“Just trying to do too much,” Thomas said. “I could’ve slowed down and just made the simple play and not try to split screens. Sometimes I can just keep it simple.”

But Thomas’ defensive tenacity and 3-point range, Mykhailiuk’s size on the wing and playmaking skills and Brown’s proven defensive versatility and mindset are all qualities that could translate into helping the Pistons win games in 2019-20.

Brown and Thomas have embraced their second time around at Summer League and the leadership status it conveys on them. They’ve been first to the training room to get taped and first on the team bus, intent on pulling a team that got together for the first time only on Tuesday into a cohesive bunch.

At one point in Friday’s second half – when the Pistons took control after trailing by four at halftime, outscoring Croatia 24-15 in the third quarter – a Chicago Bulls scout leaned over to tell Casey assistant Tim Grgurich to say, “I love the way your guy Brown competes.”

“I was just trying to get everybody going, distribute and then (provide) some energy,” Brown said. “I know the first game is always the tough one, so really just give energy and get everyone to play hard.”

  • Doumbouya experienced tightness in his right hamstring and was listed as day to day. The Pistons play Portland at 3:30 (EDT) on Saturday.

  • Two players who stood out beyond the three second-year Pistons: ex-Michigan State big man Matt Costello and athletic power forward Todd Withers, who spent last season with the G League’s Grand Rapids Drive. Costello finished with 11 points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes, quarterbacking the defense. He finished with a team-high plus-28. Withers had 16 points and four rebounds in 20 minutes off of the bench, hitting 4 of 7 3-pointers.

  • Second-round pick Deividas Sirvydis, who turned 19 less than a month ago, played three minutes and hit his only shot – a deep triple in the game’s final minute.

  • Louis King, signed to a two-way contract, had two rebounds and didn’t attempt a shot in 10 minutes off of the bench.
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