Injuries thwarted ability to cross off to-do list, but Casey gets a better feel as Pistons preseason wraps up

Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose is one of 3 players Dwane Casey says will be in the lineup every night off of the Pistons bench.
NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

CHARLOTTE – Blake Griffin missed the last three preseason games. Derrick Rose, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson and Markieff Morris all missed one of the final two, when Dwane Casey hoped to play one game with something approximating a lineup he anticipated using for the regular-season opener.

That’s the way preseasons often go, plans altered as teams weigh the risk-reward ratio of putting players through their paces while nursing the inevitable muscle aches and tweaked ankles common to training camp practices.

We identified five pressing questions for the Pistons as training camp opened and even if all of the evidence isn’t yet in, Casey has a better handle on things today than he did to start the month.

“We found out who’s who,” he said after the 116-110 win over Charlotte ended preseason on Wednesday night. “Not where we want to be cohesive wise with different units just because of the injury bug. But I have a better feel of who’s who, who can do what, when and what we have. We still have a ways to go.”

With preseason games out of the way, Casey now essentially reconvenes training camp for five days before Wednesday’s opener at Indiana. After a day for treatments on Thursday, it will be back to work.

Here’s a checklist of the five questions to start camp and how the preseason helped address them:

  • Christian Wood or Joe Johnson? – On a roster with 14 guaranteed contracts and two non- or partially guaranteed deals, this seems fairly cut and dried. One or the other will make the roster. Keeping both is possible, though doing so without moving one of the guaranteed deals would thrust the Pistons into luxury tax and that – paying the tax for the back end of the roster instead of the front end, though they’d have until the trade deadline to seek remedies – simply isn’t done unless there are overwhelming reasons to do so.

    On paper, it seems a pretty clear-cut win for Wood. His numbers dwarf Johnson’s: Wood averaged 13.2 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, both second only to Andre Drummond, despite averaging just 17 minutes. In 15 minutes a game over four games, Johnson averaged 3.8 points and made 1 of 6 from the 3-point arc. Wood did pretty much everything he could to win a roster spot.

    But Johnson’s career resume constitutes an even more lopsided response in his favor. How the Pistons weigh that resume against what they believe Johnson can contribute at 38 and coming off of an idle season and a star turn in the half-court Big3 league will determine the outcome.

  • Balancing units – With two certain starters (Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin) and two near locks (Reggie Jackson, Tony Snell) entering training camp, the only real wiggle room came at the fifth starter spot.

    Bruce Brown entered camp as the favorite and nothing has changed. He started all five preseason games. Casey went into training camp clear that he felt it would be more judicious to use Luke Kennard off of the bench, where he wouldn’t be catching leftover pick-and-roll opportunities from Griffin and Jackson but playing as the 1B option off of 1A Derrick Rose.

    “I still feel that way,” Casey said before Wednesday’s win at Charlotte. “You know what you’re getting from Bruce. Luke is a fit with both groups. It’s not that he doesn’t fit with the first unit, but he’s a better fit with the second unit.”

    Of all the questions that hovered over the Pistons when camp convened 17 days ago, none has been more emphatically answered.

  • Establishing a pecking order – Casey went with a five-man bench unit in his first season with the Pistons, typically playing them en masse to start second and fourth quarters. He’s indicated that probably won’t be the case this time around.

    There will be a few guys who are every-night staples off of the bench: Kennard, Rose and Markieff Morris seem like those players.

    “I would say those three are a pretty good fit or a lock, right now, today,” Casey said. “Some guys can always move up and outplay them, outproduce them, but right now those guys in my mind are above everyone else.”

    After that, all bets are off.

    Langston Galloway and Thon Maker seem next in line to get semi-permanent roles. Wood or Johnson – whoever wins the roster spot – would also be in the mix, as would Svi Mykhailiuk. Tim Frazier could carve out a role as the No. 3 point guard, at least on nights Casey plays Rose and Jackson together some and needs to buy minutes or on nights Rose rests.

    About the only two players on the outside looking in right now are Khyri Thomas and 18-year-old rookie Sekou Doumbouya.

  • Backup center – There’s no Aron Baynes or Zaza Pachulia this time around – the rock-solid veteran to set bone-jarring screens and quarterback the defense. Maker seems first in line to play when Drummond sits, but Morris could usurp many of those minutes once he gets in a groove. The trend toward stretch-five backup centers would play into that option.

    Wood, should he make the final roster, is another viable alternative. His ability to score as a lob threat when rolling, off the dribble or from the perimeter – he looked good stroking a corner three at Charlotte and finished preseason 2 of 5 from the arc – is intriguing.

  • Small forward position – Snell is locked in as the starter. He had a quietly effective preseason and has been effusive in his praise for Casey and his ability to make newcomers feel comfortable.

    Kennard probably will wind up playing most of his minutes at small forward, at least if Galloway nails down the other wing position with the second unit. Mykhailiuk played 75 minutes to only 12 for Thomas in preseason but wound up shooting just 22 percent (4 of 18) from the 3-point line. Casey says Mykhailiuk has been a deadly shooter in practice, but Mykhailiuk probably needed to prove it could translate to games more surely than he was able to do in preseason to secure an early-season role.

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