As Pistons hit the 50-game mark, Casey aims to keep Brown from smacking ‘rookie wall’

Pistons rookie Bruce Brown worked his way into the starting lineup on the strength of his defense after being drafted in the second round in 2018.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Bruce Brown, usually one of the last two or three stragglers on the practice court, was one of the first off of it Wednesday. He went for a massage. So maybe Dwane Casey is on to something.

“Bruce’s nemesis was his defense,” Casey said of Brown’s most recent performance in which he posted a team worst minus-23 in Tuesday’s loss to Milwaukee. “I don’t know if it’s a rookie wall or whatever, but just the concentration, the attention to detail. Those are mental things that young fellows usually make when they’re mentally fatigued a little bit.”

The Pistons are 49 games into their season, not yet two-thirds of the way through the 82-game marathon. These are the dog days, the few weeks before the All-Star break. Come back from that, it’s a sprint to the finish. Right now, in the depths of winter, it’s a grind.

Casey has seen recent signs of slippage for Brown at the defensive end – the very reason he vaulted himself from a second-round draft pick to the starting lineup. He’s been thrown at a smorgasbord of NBA star scorers from James Harden to Bradley Beal to Kemba Walker and held his own.

But digesting all of those game plans – integrating the basics of sound defense with the tweaks incorporated for every star’s tendencies and strengths – on top of learning NBA personnel for the first time presents an enormous strain, both mental and physical. Casey, who’s been around the NBA for more than two decades, anticipated it would get to his rookie.

“We’ve played 49 games. That’s probably two college seasons,” he said. “You’ve got to get amped up every night as a rookie for some of the best offensive players in the world. That takes a toll. I’ve had it before. We’re not down on Bruce. It’s a normal part of the year for a young player. We understand it, try to help him with it. It’s not about effort. He’s playing as hard as anybody. It’s just the little mental mistakes.”

Casey is open to using his other prized rookie, Khyri Thomas, a little more regularly, especially with nobody from among the wing group other than Reggie Bullock offering the level of consistency Casey is seeking.

“The thing that’s inconsistent with a lot of our guys is shooting,” Casey said. “Until we get those guys at that position to get that consistent production, why not? Khyri, a lot of those guys are close. Some guys have more experience than Khyri and Bruce, but one thing you do know from those two is the toughness, the grit that you need from young guys.”

  • Bullock practiced on Wednesday, Casey said, after missing Tuesday’s game with a sprained left ankle. It’s the third incidence with the same injury, first suffered in an Oct. 30 loss at Boston. Bullock started the next night at Brooklyn, turned the ankle again and missed two games. He returned but injured the ankle again in a Dec. 3 loss to Oklahoma City and missed five more games. Ish Smith and Bullock are both uncertain for Thursday’s game with Dallas, Casey said.
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