Incentive for more Pistons basketball starts with avoiding unprecedented, prolonged absence

Sekou Doumbouya
Sekou Doumbouya is one of the many young Pistons players who would benefit by getting back to work as the NBA considers options for resumption
Jesse D. Garrabrant (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The slow drips of NBA news on planning for a possible return has become a steady trickle on its way to a gusher. We’re nearing the point of having a blueprint and, perhaps, not that far away from having honest-to-goodness NBA competition again.

Where the Pistons are concerned, among the dozens of details that need to be solidified is one of special interest: Is there still a season to be had for the teams that were all but officially eliminated from the playoffs?

There’s a school of thought that it makes no sense to gather the Pistons – and the eight other teams with 24 wins or fewer – for two to three weeks of practices only to play a handful of games. The Pistons were 20-46 at the time the NBA season was suspended. Among the plans reportedly discussed is one that would see all teams get to 72 games, meaning the Pistons would probably be required to spend several weeks to play six games that would have an impact only on their lottery odds.

Dwane Casey would tell you that one of the reasons it would be important to regroup and go through with that process is the time the many young players on the Pistons roster would get to improve. Time spent with the player development staff in practices to hone individual skills, time spent in group settings to hone their instincts, time spent going against other NBA players to sharpen competitive edges.

But I’d argue that it’s not exclusively about getting ahead as much as avoiding slipping behind. If the NBA says the Pistons season is done – as the NHL said the Detroit Red Wings season has ended – then that means they’ll go from mid-March to perhaps late December without an NBA game if the 2020-21 season is pushed back to accommodate a much later conclusion to the 2019-20 season.

More than nine months between tipoffs. That is a severe disruption to the cicadian rhythms of professional athletes. They’ve already been thrown out of orbit by the pandemic and the severe limitations on their ability to conduct anything approaching normal basketball workouts or sophisticated strength and conditioning regimens.

In a normal off-season, younger players – the bulk of the Pistons roster – already would be into their conditioning programs for a training camp that would start in late September/early October. If their season is over and their next season is pushed back, the logical extension of the plan to re-start the current season in late July/early August, then that presents severe challenges to a player development program already dealing with unprecedented circumstances.

The Pistons will go into their off-season – whenever that starts – with major decisions on their plate. They’ll have a top-10 lottery pick with a decent shot – 42 percent if they stay in their current slot, fifth – of a top-four pick. They’ll have more cap space than all but two teams under the current projected levels. They’ll have Christian Wood hitting unrestricted free agency and Luke Kennard eligible for an extension before the start of the next season.

All of those decisions will be better informed by getting another month-plus of basketball – practices, individual skill sessions, real NBA games – under their belts.

Kennard was due back the very next game the Pistons were scheduled to play and nothing would have been more important for the final 16 games than seeing him overcome the nagging knee tendinitis that shut him down in late December. The Pistons got a glimpse of how Wood responded to playing 30-plus minutes a night – after playing 20 for the first half of the season – but seeing that over more than just a few handfuls of games would have been useful ahead of making a major commitment.

Svi Mykhailiuk had put together an eye-opening two weeks, showing playmaking and defensive chops on top of his elite 3-point shooting, and getting him another stretch of games to build off of that ahead of a critical third season – the last of his contract – would benefit all. Sekou Doumbouya needs every minute of coaching and competition he can get to bend his learning curve.

Jordan Bone and Louis King – no long encumbered by the 45-day cap for two-way players to spend with the parent team since the G League season is over – would have the opportunity to make their case for a roster spot going forward. Donta Hall, whose second 10-day contract was about to expire when the season was suspended, might get a shot to prove he belongs on next season’s Pistons, too.

The chance for them to improve individually – and for the team to improve collectively, by extension – is reason enough for the Pistons as an organization to want more basketball out of 2019-20. The real benefit would be avoiding an unprecedented, prolonged break and getting the players central to their future back to something resembling a normal rhythm to their calendar.

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