He took advantage of Kennard’s absence, now Mykhailiuk looks to form a potent 1-2 Pistons punch with him

Svi Mykhailiuk
Svi Mykhailiuk emerged in his second season as an elite shooter who showed he can be more of an all-around player for the Pistons
Barry Gossage (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

By the time Pistons team camp wound down, Dwane Casey saw the same Svi Mykhailiuk who blossomed in the last few weeks before the Pistons had the plug pulled on their season March 11.

“He had his best days the last couple of days,” Casey said as their team camp came to an end last week. “He and Luke (Kennard) are our two best shooters and they’re coming down with a lot of confidence. Really impressed with Svi today, his toughness.”

Mykhailiuk emerged as an elite 3-point shooter in his second season, capitalizing on an injury to Kennard that opened the door to more playing time. He became one of the few players in NBA history to shoot better than 40 percent from the 3-point arc on more than five attempts per game within the first two seasons of his career. Mykhailiuk started 27 games and averaged 22.6 minutes and 9.0 points per game while taking 70 percent of his shots from the 3-point line, connecting on 40.4 percent of them.

He really started to take off in late January, about a month after Kennard’s knee tendinitis forced him from the lineup and offered Mykhailiuk an expanded role. Over a 10-game stretch that began then, Mykhailiuk averaged 14.4 points and hit 43 percent from the arc.

Then a hip injury knocked him out for five games and derailed his progress for a bit, but another growth spurt was on display in the two weeks leading to the March 11 suspension of the season. Over Mykhailiuk’s last six games – even as his 3-point shooting dipped slightly to 35.5 percent – he began showing he was more than just a shooter. In five of those games, Mykhailiuk registered four or more assists; in three of them, he had five or more rebounds; and in three of them, he had two or more steals.

His confidence, Mykhailiuk said last week, had grown “pretty high” at that time. “My coaches trusted me. My teammates and my coaches started trusting me more and I felt like I was ready to perform every time I stepped on the court. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed (the season was halted) because of my roll; I was disappointed we couldn’t finish the season. I felt like we were getting close as teammates and everybody was trying to find that rhythm.”

Even though Mykhailiuk spent four years at Kansas and is entering his third NBA season, he’s still be 23 for all of next season – unless it runs past June 10 due to the calendar being reset by the COVID-19 pandemic fallout. Getting a full season of Kennard and Mykhailiuk with their combination of elite 3-point shooting and potential as secondary wing playmakers would help bring Casey’s offensive vision to life.

What Casey saw of Mykhailiuk’s physical development at team camp further encourages him.

“He’s gotten his body in shape,” Casey said. “When he first got here, he broke his finger and gained like 15 pounds. He’s gotten that all off now and is in the best shape since he’s been here. We’re putting a premium on conditioning and weight training. Last year we took a step back in physical toughness and that’s one thing we’ve got to get back to. We’ve got to get back to the old Bad Boys days and tough days here in Detroit if we’re serious about contending and getting back to where we want to be.”

Mykhailiuk has enthusiastically bought in on that front, using the uncertainty of the off-season’s duration to concentrate on boosting his conditioning levels.

“When the season was over, obviously I knew we were not going to start for a very long time. I was trying to get my body right and get my diet right and prepare my body for next season because I feel it’s going to be the most important aspect of my game,” he said. “To perform, you have to prepare your body to play as many minutes as Coach is going to put you in. I feel get your body right, basketball, other things are going to come easier because you’ve prepared your body to perform at a high level.”

Mykhailiuk was able to briefly visit his native Ukraine over the summer, he said, but other than that he’s been in Detroit vigilantly working on being prepared for whatever comes next – to prove he’s not just a shooter and, in fact, not just a rounded offensive weapon but someone who Casey can trust at both ends of the court.

“The main part is probably defense,” he said. “To stay on the court, if you want to play – no matter what team you play on – you’ve got to play defense. You feel more free and more confident on offense if you play really good defense.”

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