Lofton beats long odds to stick with Pistons on 2-way contract

Zach Lofton won a two-way contract from the Pistons after an impressive showing in four preseason games.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – As the Pistons put together their Summer League roster after the June draft, it figured that the toughest spots to fill – to convince agents to send their guys to play for the Pistons – would be the wing positons.

The pecking order at those spots was pretty clear: 2017 lottery pick Luke Kennard and 2018 draft picks Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown were going to be in line for every available minute.

So it’s fair to extrapolate that the undrafted free agents signed by the Pistons to their Summer League roster at that position didn’t have a ton of attractive options among the NBA’s 29 other teams.

In that light, it’s even more extraordinary that Zach Lofton – a 26-year-old rookie with five college stops listed on his resume – landed a two-way contract with the Pistons on Monday when roster decisions were due in advance of Wednesday’s regular-season opener.

Lofton was called to Dwane Casey’s office about an hour after Monday’s practice and heard the news.

“Coach (Tim Grgurich) was in there – they were having a conversation about something – they sat me down and explained to me what was happening,” Lofton said. “I didn’t show it in there – I didn’t shout it in there – but I shouted on the inside, though. I was just smiling and listening to everything they said.”

Lofton and Keenan Evans, a Texas Tech point guard signed in July, will fill the two slots available to the Pistons and every NBA team for two-way players, who can spend up to 45 days with the parent NBA team during the G League calendar. Because the Grand Rapids Drive have not opened training camp yet, the clock hasn’t started to tick on Lofton’s service time with the Pistons.

It came down to a choice of Lofton or Reggie Hearn, signed by the Pistons last season to a two-way deal and a mainstay on the USA Basketball team – coached by Jeff Van Gundy – that’s competed for a berth in the 2019 World Cup over the past year. It was clear the Pistons were weighing the merits of keeping Lofton over Hearn when Lofton played 36 preseason minutes over four games to five in one appearance for Hearn.

And it was equally clear that Lofton had done pretty much all he could to seize the opportunity afforded him, averaging 5.5 points and shooting 47 percent overall and 40 percent from the 3-point arc.

“When he came in against Brooklyn and knocked down two, three quick shots, the young man is an efficient scorer,” Casey said of the moment he was sold on Lofton. “He’s a professional scorer. And the one thing that impressed us as a coaching staff is his defense. He’s an impressive young man from an offensive standpoint – just needs the experience – and we feel like he’s going to be good for our program.”

Shooters are at a premium in today’s NBA with its ever-growing emphasis on the 3-point arc, but Lofton can not only make shots but create them – an even more coveted trait.

“That’s what’s good about him,” said Ed Stefanski, senior adviser to Pistons owner Tom Gores. “He can shoot the ball, but he’s a scorer. He can go get a bucket or get a shot off the bounce, which is real important.”

Barring injury to the players ahead of him on guaranteed contracts, Lofton figures to spend the bulk of his time in Grand Rapids where the ability to score at a high level against G League defenders and round out his game will be the next hurdle to clear.

“We know he can score the ball,” Stefanski said. “He already did it in exhibition games in the NBA. So now we’ll watch him closely. He’s a good, hard worker. So we’ll see where it goes. He’s very happy, but as I told him, that’s just the first step. This is not the end. He’s got to keep going. I think he’s got the right attitude.”