John Beilein’s addition spikes the needle on Pistons push for player development

John Beilein
John Beilein, who spent 35 years as a college head coach, has joined the Pistons in a role as senior adviser/player development
David Liam Kyle (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Every NBA team speaks of the importance of player development. Few have backed it up with the resources the Pistons have dedicated to the task of making sure their young players maximize potential.

That was true even before this week’s news that ex-Michigan coach John Beilein would join the Pistons as senior adviser/player development. One of Dwane Casey’s first hires when he signed on three years ago was to hire the godfather of NBA player development, Tim Grgurich. Now they’ve added a coach universally recognized by his college peers as an incredibly insightful talent evaluator who consistently made NBA players out of recruits who lacked a McDonald’s All-American pedigree.

It wasn’t that long ago that most NBA teams tasked their coaching staff – the five or six faces at the side and behind the head coach during games – with player-development duty. Before and after practices, the two hours before tipoff and all off-season long, it would be assistant coaches devising drills, honing techniques and serving as rebounders for young players striving to sharpen their strengths and shore up their weaknesses.

Now the Pistons employ a half-dozen player development coaches in addition to the assistant coaches who aid Casey in day-to-day game planning and strategizing. Among the many areas where Casey and general manager Troy Weaver are in sync is coming from places, Toronto and Oklahoma City, where their belief in the value of player development was shaped and fortified.

Casey was instrumental in the rapid contributions made by young players during Toronto’s ascent in the Eastern Conference. Players taken in the late first round, second round or not drafted at all – Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Norm Powell, O.G. Anunoby – were critical to the rise of the Raptors, eventually putting Toronto close enough to the precipice to make the go-for-broke trade for Kawhi Leonard a worthwhile gamble that paid off with an NBA title.

Now Casey welcomes Beilein, a frequent visitor to Little Caesars Arena during the past season, into the fold.

“John has been one of the best fundamental teachers in the college game for years,” Casey said in a statement issued by the Pistons. “With the age of our core group, I wanted to add to our excellent developmental staff. John is a basketball lifer with a passion to help young players get better, especially in the area of shooting. We have an excellent group of young development coaches who have done a good job with our young core. John will add to and enrich the development staff’s quest to get our youth brigade to the next level.”

Credit to Casey for being secure enough in his own skin to invite the hiring of someone with Beilein’s sterling credentials and credit, as well, to Pistons owner Tom Gores for the continued commitment to funding every aspect of player support. Beilein was reportedly in the running to be Pistons head coach in the 2014 and 2018 searches and no doubt left a deep impression on Gores through that process.

“There is nothing more important to our franchise right now than the growth and development of our players,” Gores said. “Having spent time with John, we all know he is one of the best teachers in the game of basketball at any level. Dwane’s decision and desire to bring him on board underscores our commitment to helping this young Pistons team maximize its potential. John will be a real asset to the organization and we are fortunate to have him join us.”

The Pistons put starting lineups on the floor late in the season as young or younger than some of the teams Beilein coached over his 35 years as a college head coach. Eleven of their 17 players on the season-closing roster were 24 or younger, including 19-year-old rookies Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart and 20-year-olds Sekou Doumbouya and Deividas Sirvydis.

They’ve all been given extensive off-season regimens that demand the participation of not only the players, but the development coaches, the strength and conditioning staffers and others in the sprawling support chain. The Pistons have enough development coaches on staff now that none of them will have to take on more than two of the youth brigade, but as with any growing organization it becomes a challenge to implement a consistency of messaging.

And that’s where Beilein can be of immense value. Listen to the way the announcement of his hiring was worded: “In this role, Beilein will work closely with the team’s coaching staff and development coaches to analyze, implement and execute skill-development programs.”

Beilein’s observational skills are the stuff of legend. Caris LeVert might have weighed 160 pounds when Beilein offered him a Big Ten scholarship. Duncan Robinson had spent one season at Division III Williams when Beilein saw a major-college contributor. Beilein watching the development coaches work with all those young Pistons will yield an endless stream of tips and tweaks that will hasten their progress and make the Pistons a better product.

It’s a grand-slam hire, no way around it. Listen to what Weaver said a few weeks ago: “The assets from the Pistons moving forward are all in house. It’s internal development and growth and that will be our focus this summer.” Hiring John Beilein is about as sure a way to move the needle on player development as anything else the Pistons could have cooked up.

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