A promising start for Pistons wing corps as Casey sorts out their roles

Stanley Johnson had a strong first preseason game as the Pistons posted a win at Oklahoma City
Zach Beeker (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

OKLAHOMA CITY – Keeping Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson off the injury report remains the most critical predictor of Pistons success or failure for the season ahead. But a close second might be the collective impact made by the four players who’ll carve up minutes at the two wing positions.

And based off of early returns, so far so good where Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock, Luke Kennard and Glenn Robinson III are concerned.

Johnson got the most minutes of anyone in Wednesday’s preseason-opening win at Oklahoma City and left his imprint on the game. In 37 minutes, Johnson scored 14 points, grabbed five rebounds and assisted on three baskets. He ran the floor hard, defended aggressively but not recklessly and made a handful of pinpoint set-up passes, including a big one late that produced a layup for Andre Drummond.

“Wow,” Ish Smith said about Johnson’s performance.

When Johnson passed up a corner 3-pointer in the first half near the Pistons bench, Dwane Casey made the shooting motion as their eyes met. That’s in keeping with everything players have heard about and from Casey since his hiring in June. He’s not going to judge them on the result of the shot but on the decision to take it or not based on its desirability – and on his faith in the work shooters have logged in the practice hours out of public view.

“One thing I love about Stanley, his confidence never wavers and as his teammates, we’re supposed to constantly build him up,” Smith said. “Now he has Coach in his corner, telling him, ‘keep playing, keep pushing.’ That does wonders. So I’m proud of him and he’s going to make our team that much better.”

The only blemish on Johnson’s night was the six turnovers, three coming in the fourth quarter.

“You’ve got to keep it simple, especially late in the game when the officials lay off some calls and the other team is in desperate mode,” Casey said. “You’ve got to make sure you’re fundamentally sound – two hands on (dribble handoffs), you cannot split a pick-and-roll situation because if you get tripped, lose the ball, officials are not going to give you that. Those are the mental things we can clean up and make sure we make good decisions down the stretch.”

But Casey was smiling with Johnson’s effort and overall performance level and liked what he got from Robinson, Bullock and Kennard, too.

Robinson played 15 minutes, about half of them at power forward. He scored 11 points, hit a triple, rebounded well, showed his athleticism in transition and, like Johnson, blocked a shot. Bullock played with typical efficiency, scoring 10 points with five rebounds and no turnovers while hitting 2 of 5 from the arc. Kennard hit a triple and made a strong move to finish with his right hand in traffic, an area of focus for him over the off-season.

“We’ve got some really good wings,” Smith said. “They all can shoot the ball, they all can put it on the floor, they all can create for other people. When you have those four guys, you can rotate them – it makes our starting group that much better, it makes our bench that much better.”

Casey is still uncertain – or, at least, he’s publicly non-committal – about which two will start and in what combinations he’ll use them. But he’s got enough options, versatility and contrasts in style among them to give the Pistons an answer for just about anything they’ll confront over the course of 82 games.

“I think we all compete hard with each other and I think we all have a lot of things that we can bring to the table,” Johnson said. “A lot of teams don’t have that deep of a wing corps. I’m interested to see how much we can excel in our individual parallels. It’s going to be big for us to grow along with Blake and Andre (Drummond) and give something every night. If it’s not me, it’s Glenn; if it’s not Glenn, somebody has to give something every night. I think it’ll be fun just figuring that out and growing together. We’re all young players, we’re all trying to help each other and we’re growing.”