Preseason left Pistons with not every question answered, but Casey sees a ‘play hard’ identity emerging

Because there’s no vaccine for sprained ankles, Dwane Casey didn’t get all the answers he hoped to mine from training camp and the Pistons preseason.

But he got some.

He liked the competitive spirit he saw daily from a team that took its lumps last season and returns as one of the youngest among the NBA’s 30 teams. He liked the ball movement and the potential shown to be an improved 3-point shooting team over last season. He liked the way the Pistons got up and down the floor at times over their four preseason games.

And, mostly, he liked the way they’re embracing the identity of being the team that others simply don’t enjoy playing.

“Defense, I think, has got to be our calling card until we catch up and get an opportunity to get everyone healthy and get a chance to play together and get our timing,” Casey said Sunday. “We’ve got to hang our hat on playing hard.”

The Pistons will get two more days to practice and hone their chemistry before the 2021-22 season opens on Wednesday with Chicago coming to Little Caesars Arena. On Sunday, their practice included Killian Hayes – out since suffering a concussion in Wednesday’s game at New York – and Saddiq Bey, out since twisting an ankle in the first half of Monday’s loss at Memphis.

“Saddiq was in and out, didn’t do a full practice,” Casey said. “Killian went the full practice, 100 percent.”

The Pistons are still waiting on No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, though, who’s missed nearly three weeks with a sprained ankle. Hayes and Frank Jackson also missed a week of camp each with sprained ankles. <p Casey has said that he’d like Cunningham to get at least a few practices under his belt before throwing the rookie into his first NBA action, but he didn’t rule him out for Wednesday’s opener yet.

“We’re all on the same page with his people and with Cade. He’s on course,” Casey said. “We’re going to hold out hope, but he’s on course. One thing we’re not going to do, if he’s not 100 percent, we’re not going to rush him out there and get injured and miss more time.”

Casey came into training camp with a conviction of keeping his young core – Cunningham, Hayes, Bey and Isaiah Stewart – together on the starting unit with Jerami Grant and rolling with a more veteran second unit anchored by veterans Cory Joseph and Kelly Olynyk.

If Cunningham isn’t able to go on opening night but Hayes and Bey are, then Casey seems likely to slide Frank Jackson into Cunningham’s spot and employ Trey Lyles, Josh Jackson and Hamidou Diallo on the second unit.

Frank Jackson’s 3-point shooting will be a welcome addition to the starting lineup but will be missed by the bench. Josh Jackson, though, shot 3-pointers at right about the NBA average in preseason, making 36.4 percent on 5.5 attempts per game in preseason when he led the Pistons in minutes played. And Casey expects the two big men coming off his bench, Olynyk and Lyles, to give that unit 3-point threats.

Getting Cunningham back, of course, will inject the starting unit with an impact player who is expected to add scoring in a variety of ways. When will that be? That’s one of the things the Pistons didn’t get answered in their preseason.