A look at Casey’s rotation: who’s a lock, who’s likely, who’s waiting in the wings for 2019-20 Pistons
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Fans – casual fans, at least – are obsessed with who starts. And it still matters to a lot of players. Who can forget Allen Iverson’s response to being asked what it said to him that Michael Curry wanted him to lead the second unit’s offense in a critical off-the-bench role: “It says he doesn’t think I’m one of his five best players,” Iverson sniffed.
But the really relevant question, especially in today’s NBA where coaches must be mindful of workload and where analytics staffs churn out reams of data on most effective two-, three, four- and five-man lineup combinations, it’s really the rotation and the parceling of minutes and – most of all – the lineup that finishes hotly contested games that matter most.
With all of that in mind, here’s a mid-July perspective on how Dwane Casey might handle his rotation with a roster that’s been altered by the draft, free agency and one significant trade since the Pistons lost to Milwaukee in the playoffs.
We’ll go from top to bottom, ranking the players certain to be in the rotation to those likely on the outside looking in.
LEAD-PIPE LOCKS (5) – Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard and Derrick Rose.
Griffin and Drummond could be split off in a separate class even. They’ll start and they’ll play 30-plus minutes in every instance but exceptional cases involving injury, foul trouble or games that get out of hand way one or the other. Jackson’s play over the second half of last season – 16.4 points and a 41.4 3-point shooting percentage after the All-Star break – as he got further removed from the effects of his ankle injury elevates him to near that status. Don’t be surprised if Jackson and Rose are often paired to close out games. Rose’s per-36 minutes scoring average of 23.7 ranked in the top 25 last season among regular rotation players. For comparison’s sake, Griffin averaged 25.3 per 36 minutes. Kennard’s play down the stretch and into the playoffs cemented his status. He well might come off the bench again – for fit and compatibility reasons – but he’ll most likely finish among the team’s top five in minutes played barring injury.
EVERY-NIGHT LIKELIES (3) – Markieff Morris, Tony Snell and Bruce Brown.
Morris was an important – and bargain – signing for a few reasons, one being it gives the Pistons the chance to get Griffin more rest, both within games he actually plays and on nights it would be advisable to give him a night off. The Pistons rested Griffin only three times in the season’s first 75 games before he missed four of the final seven with the knee injury that sidelined him for the first two games of the playoffs. I think you can start by saying he’ll be a likely candidate to rest in back to backs next season, which could knock about a dozen games off of his load. Morris should average 20-25 minutes a game as Griffin’s backup and as a small-ball center, perhaps taking minutes at small forward on nights it wouldn’t leave him in unfavorable defensive matchups. Snell’s system fit should be snug for Casey at both ends – a long-armed athletic wing defender with size who’s an excellent stand-still 3-point shooter. Brown’s defense and his improved confidence as a playmaker coming off of his Summer League-leading 8.3 assists make him a frontrunner to grab a rotation spot with starting – in order to get at least the first six to eight minutes of each half with a premier defender guarding the opposition’s first perimeter scoring option – again a distinct possibility.
ON THE CUSP (5) – Langston Galloway, Thon Maker, Khyri Thomas, Svi Mykhailiuk and Tim Frazier.
Casey could get by with that eight-man unit on a lot of nights, but chances are he’ll expand the rotation to nine or 10 for most games. And it could vary from game to game as to who that extra one or two players might be. Maker’s length and lateral mobility give him a chance to win minutes behind either Drummond or Griffin. Galloway’s toughness and 3-point threat – 65 percent of his shots last season were triples – are qualities Casey values. Mykhailiuk’s size, shot and playmaking potential give him a skill set the Pistons otherwise lack on the wing. Thomas was close to breaking through as a rookie and figures to be a more credible candidate this time around. And if Casey is going to pair Rose and Jackson some, then Frazier – who has considerable starting experience and is a capable backup – could be called on to play a handful of minutes in each half to accommodate end-game lineups.
IN THE WINGS (2) – Sekou Doumbouya and TBD.
There is a very clear opening to playing time for Doumbouya at small forward. The Pistons covered themselves with their draft-eve trade for Snell. Mykhailiuk figures to be in much better position to challenge for minutes after going through his first Pistons training camp. But if Doumbouya warps his development timeline as his talent potentially enables, all bets are off. Just don’t count on it. Casey’s track record proves he won’t hold him back, but he’s also not about to put wins at risk for a team coming off of its second playoff berth in nine years. TBD is the backup big man the Pistons are likely to sign to their last open roster spot. It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who’ll take Zaza Pachulia’s place as the second-unit center. Maker and Morris, as stated above, could well split that role. The Pistons have only the veteran’s minimum to offer a free agent, though it’s also possible they could address that need via trade, likely taking from the depth they’ve developed on the wing with the drafting of Brown and Thomas and trades for Snell and Mykhailiuk to go with Kennard and Galloway.