Pistons open practice impressions: Frank Jackson shines, Jamorko Pickett intrigues
We’re more than halfway through training camp with the season opener just 11 days away and the Pistons still have things to sort out – starting with getting Cade Cunningham back off of his sprained ankle to take his place in the starting lineup.
The Pistons held their annual open practice on Saturday at Little Caesars Arena before several thousand fans and held a spirited scrimmage that loosely split the team between starters and reserves with the bench running away with an 80-51 win over four 10-point periods.
A few random observations based on two days of getting the rare opportunity to see Pistons practices/scrimmages coming off of last week’s preseason opener:
- Frank Jackson was the star of the day. He missed about four or five days of practice with a sprained ankle and that included the only preseason game, putting him a half-step behind Josh Jackson and Hamidou Diallo in the competition for wing minutes off the bench. But Frank Jackson is going to be hard to keep out of the lineup if he’s anything like the Frank Jackson we saw Saturday. He looked like an even more complete, more confident version of the guy from the last six weeks of last season when he shot 40 percent from the 3-point arc on high volume while also giving something as a paint attacker. Jackson flashed the ability to be the rare consistent bench scorer last season and in Saturday’s scrimmage it didn’t take long for him to drain back-to-back 3-point shots and keep rolling from there. Not sure where his minutes come from, but against second units that play a little smaller could Casey get away with playing all three of Diallo and both Jacksons at the 2 through 4?
- If you ask me which Pistons are due for career years, I’ll give you two names: Josh Jackson and Kelly Olynyk. For Jackson, it’s about the ability to limit his turnovers, most of which come from trying to make the impossible play. Dwane Casey says it’s about dribbling or passing into traffic and that’s the root of it. He hasn’t been doing as much of that based on one preseason game and a few open practices and he’s been shooting his 3-pointers with a good foundation and consistent form to good results. Olynyk is in perhaps the sweet spot of his career for what he’ll be asked to do and the amount of opportunity he’ll get to do it. He’s among the most versatile scoring big men in the NBA and he’ll complement Isaiah Stewart’s skill set well.
- The intrigue meter on Jamorko Pickett is ticking up pretty consistently. He made everybody sit up and take notice with an impressive Summer League run, which earned him an Exhibit 10 deal with the Pistons, essentially an invitation to training camp, which got turned into a two-way deal once the Sekou Doumbouya trade to Brooklyn opened a roster spot. Casey’s mentioned him positively more than once already in camp and he hasn’t looked at all out of place or overwhelmed in his preseason debut or the open practice. To the contrary, he looks like he knows he belongs. He hit a pair of threes in rapid order in the open practice, the first in transition and the second off a nice step-back move. Even against NBA athletes, Pickett stands out for his length. Another rookie who had a good day: Luka Garza. He did some damage inside, then stepped outside to knock down consecutive triples.
- It might not show up in NBA games immediately, but there is a different air about Killian Hayes in watching him go through practices the last few days. There’s a lot to like about Hayes, from the size – he’s a legitimate 6-foot-5 with an impressive frame for a guy who just turned 20 – to the vision to the touch. That last part is what might not show up right away because there’s still a lot to process for a young point guard who has less than 30 NBA games under his belt, but I’ll die on the hill of Hayes eventually being an above-average 3-point shooter in the NBA. Hayes hit a catch-and-shoot three in a half-court setting in Saturday’s scrimmage off a feed from Saddiq Bey. It was nothing special except he took it in rhythm and with confidence and those are situations he’ll find himself in more often – the rhythm and the confidence part – more and more as he gets more NBA repetitions under his belt.
- The Motor City Cruise are going to be a legit fun watch this season. New arena on Wayne State’s campus, plenty of local star power and a relatively high level of crossover with the Pistons roster for a G League affiliate. The Pistons are going the extra mile to connect with a grass-roots fan base for the Cruise among schoolkids and other Detroit residents. There could be nights where rookies Isaiah Livers and Luka Garza from the Pistons roster – two players with four years of Big Ten experience and high name recognition throughout the Midwest – plus two-way prospects Jamorko Pickett and Chris Smith, plus Saben Lee comprise the starting lineup. A home-court advantage isn’t really a thing in the G League, but the Cruise might prove the exception. That Feb. 15 date with the G League Ignite – the team the NBA created as an incubator for top prospects who opt against college – is going to create a lot of buzz.
- If you thought the John Beilein hire was just a soft landing spot for the highly accomplished and deeply respected Beilein, guess again. He’s involved on a daily basis, working directly with players – focused on the fundamentals of shooting and things like footwork and passing – but also with the deep cast of development coaches the Pistons have deployed to work with the 12 players under 25 on their roster. With players arriving to the NBA after a year of college or its equivalent in increasing numbers, the need to drill basics has never been greater and Beilein is as proficient at their instruction as anyone in the industry.