Plumlee, Okafor bring the qualities Weaver promised he’d deliver to the Pistons
Neither Mason Plumlee nor Jahlil Okafor have ever played for Dwane Casey, but they know what they’re in for. There’s no better way to grasp the things a coach imparts to his team than to play against them. And, so, Plumlee and Okafor – before ever participating in a Casey-led practice – know what to expect when the Pistons hold their first full-squad workout of training camp on Sunday.
“When I think about the Toronto teams, obviously, really well-coached teams,” Okafor said Thursday. “He was Coach of the Year. I’m looking forward to being under his leadership. As far as last year, they didn’t perform as well as they wanted, but I knew going in they were going to play their (backsides) off. That’s always been the case with coach Casey’s teams.”
Plumlee’s insight into Casey’s mindset came early in his NBA career when he was with the Brooklyn Nets.
“My rookie year, we played them in the playoffs and they played so hard,” Plumlee recalled. “They were so disciplined on defense. They really made things hard on you. Those are some of the themes I’ve seen from his teams.”
Plumlee and Okafor came to quick agreements with the Pistons when free agency opened on Nov. 20, sold on the vision for what new general manager Troy Weaver and Casey intend for the Pistons to become. It starts with being a tougher, more defensive-oriented team. That’s in Casey’s DNA – he won a scholarship and playing time at Kentucky almost exclusively for his defensive toughness – and it’s what Weaver thoroughly believes is at the heart of NBA winners.
Weaver heard the skeptics – those who believe NBA teams are ill advised to invest valuable assets in big men in today’s game – when he used the 16th pick to take Washington freshman Isaiah Stewart and then struck quickly in free agency to grab two centers.
“Let the record show – there was a lot of (talk that) we were collecting centers. Absolutely. I love bigs,” Weaver said. “I believe that’s the way you win, by controlling the backboards. It’s held true. I’ve never seen a team win a championship without controlling the backboards. I welcome all the center jokes. Last time I checked, the last two Pistons teams that were good had a bunch of bigs.”
But Weaver wasn’t just casting a net indiscriminately for big men. In the Venn diagram of Weaver’s ideal player, lack of size and athleticism probably aren’t as exclusionary as lack of character or basketball IQ. And Weaver feels he’s getting those qualities in volume with Plumlee and Okafor.
In talking about Plumlee, Weaver began with his quarterbacking skills on defense and his ability to anchor an offense with his passing and screening, citing the impact he expects Plumlee will have on young teammates – Killian Hayes, most notably. But he punctuated all of that with this: “But the person. You go back to the person. First-class person, great human being. Going to be great in the locker room. He’s beloved on every team he’s been a part of. His high character was the main reason we brought him here.”
Weaver then pivoted to Okafor: “Still a young player, very talented. He’s ready to get his feet back under him in Detroit. He’s had a career with some bright spots, some highs and lows, but he’s really transformed his body. Excited about him as a person. Both young men are very intelligent, great guys. Jahlil is beloved in every locker room. Extremely humble young man.”
Just as surely as Plumlee and Okafor know what they’re walking into with Dwane Casey as their coach, Troy Weaver and the Pistons are certain they know what they’re getting in their new center tandem. Weaver came in talking about honoring the two great championship eras of Pistons basketball and there was nothing surprising in that – it’s what new hires generally do to endear themselves to the fan base.
But his actions in making over the roster speak louder. He’s clearly stocking the team with players who’d have been at home lockering between Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn – or Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups. And he’s intent on stocking it to give Casey quality options across the board with a deep, versatile bench.
Guess what? That also mirrors the Pistons championship eras. The Bad Boys often talked about the intensity of their practices making games tame by comparison. Larry Brown’s Goin’ to Work Pistons brought the pit-bull backcourt of Lindsey Hunter and Mike James off the bench with Corliss Williamson and Mehmet Okur up front.
“We’re going to have a deep team that Coach has confidence in whoever he puts in the game,” Weaver said. “We want to have great depth. And this is a broken record: The last two great Pistons teams had depth and we’ll continue to mirror those two teams.”