A night worth bookmarking as young Pistons further embed themselves in franchise’s foundation

If Troy Weaver didn’t take a trip to the fridge somewhere deep into Wednesday night’s second quarter, pop a cold one and offer up a toast to … well, himself, then he’s a candidate for most humble NBA general manager, at minimum. Because he might be having an Executive of the Year type of run.

Whether it was the drafting of rookies Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee, the free-agent finds of Josh Jackson and Mason Plumlee or the trade for Dennis Smith Jr., Weaver had plenty to validate a congratulatory quaff or two.

The only thing that would have made it better: A healthy Killian Hayes – the guy Weaver drafted ahead of the other three rookies who’ve already embedded themselves into the foundation of the franchise’s future – there to share in it all.

“Our future is bright,” Dwane Casey said after New Orleans broke a 96-all tie after three quarters to win 128-118, taking advantage of a weary Pistons team at the end of a five-game road trip and playing a back to back after Tuesday’s win at Orlando.

“It’s ugly right now, but the future is very bright with the guys we have. We have some high-character guys, solid talent. Having a young man like Killian coming in is going to help a lot. I like what we have. Josh is still young. Isaiah. All those young guys contribute in the right way.”

Did we mention the Pistons pushed New Orleans to the wall under adverse conditions without Jerami Grant, who would be the first bullet point on any argument for Weaver as Executive of the Year? Grant, averaging a career-high 36-plus minutes a game and starting each of the season’s first 31, was given the night off on the advice of the Pistons medical staff, Casey said.

With Grant’s 24 points a game to make up, the Pistons – powered by all those rookies and young players Weaver stocked on the roster – rolled to their highest-scoring first quarter (39) and first half (69) of the season.

Plumlee, who recorded his first career triple-double against New Orleans on Valentine’s Day, came close again with 21 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four blocks. Other than Plumlee, the vast majority of contributors were from the Pistons 24-and-under club:

  • Jackson – the old man of the bunch, having turned 24 earlier this month – finished with 25 of the bench’s 63 points to lead the Pistons, adding six rebounds, three assists and only one turnover.
  • Smith, 23, settling in at point guard in his third start since steady veteran Delon Wright went down with a groin injury, had 11 points, seven assists, zero turnovers and three steals in 26 minutes.
  • Lee, who until the Wright injury had played sparingly and not at all since Feb. 9, put in his third dynamic performance in four nights, finishing with 13 points, four assists and two steals in 22 minutes, making 5 of 8 shots, without committing a turnover.

    “Proud of him. I’m very proud of him,” Stewart said of the 21-year-old Lee. “That’s another guy I see who just works hard, keeps his faith in God and just lets the rest take care of itself. I’m proud of him, for sure.”

  • Stewart, 19, recorded his third career double-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot in 18 high-energy, shock-delivering minutes. Included was a memorable sequence in which he stole the ball at one end, dribbled the length of the floor, finished off an eye-opening Euro-step and drew the and-one chance with a foul.

    “He’s our leader back in the paint,” Bey said of Stewart, the 16th pick in November’s draft. “He plays hard on both ends, runs the floor hard and does a lot for us. He’s done that throughout the season.”

  • Bey, 21, carries himself – and plays – well older than that. Going up against Zion Williamson for a chunk of the night, Bey finished with 13 points and hit half of his six 3-point shots. He’s second in the league in 3-pointers by rookies and is one of three rookies in NBA history to shoot 40 percent on five or more 3-point attempts per game.
  • Svi Mykhailiuk, 23, has struggled with his carrying tool all season – his elite 3-point shot, established last season in his second year, but hit 4 of 9 triples and continues to show improvement across the board in all those other areas that have kept him in the rotation even as his shot wavered.
  • Sekou Doumbouya, 20 and now only the third-youngest Piston, drew his second start of the season in Grant’s stead. After a promising start – three early assists and knocking down his first shot, a triple – Doumbouya struggled in an overwhelming matchup with Brandon Ingram (27 points) and, at times, Williamson (32). He got in early foul trouble and it threw him off, but also in the mix were some impressive defensive possessions that underscored Doumbouya’s path to NBA success.

    “That’s who he’s got to be in our league,” Casey said. “That defense with that size. I thought he had a good, physical stance a few times. The extended nminutes he got – not being used to it – caught up with him.”

It caught up to all of them, eventually, but long before it did, the Pistons had authored a night worth bookmarking – and a night worth toasting.

“That’s why it’s exciting to think about the future,” Casey said. “Add some pieces, make some moves, whatever it is. But the foundation is being built in front of us – right now.”