Silver lining: Mykhailiuk cementing himself as a piece of Pistons future

Svi Mykhailiuk
Svi Mykhailiuk, coming off a career-high 21 points in a win at Boston, is averaging 12.3 points over his last 12 games for the Pistons.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Jayson Tatum, dressed and heading for the exits after the Pistons knocked off Boston, was engaged in the corridor outside the Celtics locker room on Wednesday night by an acquaintance.

“Who’s that Mick-HEE-uh-luke?” his questioner wondered, mangling Svi Mykhailiuk’s last name. “He looked like an All-Star tonight.”

It figures that on the night Mykhailiuk scored a career-best 21 points, Sekou Doumbouya scored 24 and hung his name on the marquee. Mykhailiuk has mostly flown under the radar since uprooting himself as a 16-year-old in Ukraine to come to America and suit up for the Kansas Jayhawks.

Overshadowed by the endless parade of McDonald’s All-Americans who matriculate to Kansas, Mykhailuik was a second-round pick after four years on college basketball’s loftiest stage. He went unnoticed with the Lakers and earned a shrug from Pistons fans when they traded Reggie Bullock for a second-round pick and Mykhailiuk last winter.

But just as Doumbouya has seized the opportunity created by Blake Griffin’s absence, so is Mykhailiuk transforming from interesting prospect to taking part ownership of a brighter Pistons future.

If he’s not all the way there quite yet, outings like the Boston game are pushing him toward that outcome.

Mykhailiuk has ranked in or very near the NBA’s top 10 3-point shooters all season despite sporadic rotation status until the injury wave crashed hard into the Pistons. He’s currently at 43.4 percent, leading the Pistons ahead of Tony Snell, Luke Kennard, Markieff Morris and Langston Galloway.

“We have a lot of confidence in him to shoot those shots,” Derrick Rose said after Mykhailiuk hit 5 of 8 triples to help pull off arguably the best win of the Pistons season. “He’s learning the game as a shooter. I’ve played with a lot of shooters in the past and you can tell he’s picking and choosing when to shoot, using everything in his arsenal from the pump fakes to the step-backs, steps to the side to create room and space. And he’s getting great looks.”

The rare young player walks into the NBA fully formed and exuding confidence, which translates into assertiveness. The vast majority, fraught with indecision, often look timid and tentative in their movements. The silver lining to the Kennard injury is the playing time it’s created for Mykahailiuk – still just 22 despite the four years at Kansas and two NBA seasons – and the way it’s helping him merge into high-speed lanes that seemed overwhelming to him not that long ago.

“That’s true with all young players,” Dwane Casey said after Friday’s practice. “Every game, every situation, every experience these guys go through, there’s a confidence level that’s building for this year, for next year and the future.”

Mykhailiuk nods in agreement.

“It’s great. I feel like we all are getting our opportunities and we’re using them the right way. We’re playing to win and everybody is proving themselves in the league. I feel like when people play a lot or play in NBA games consistently, they get adjusted to the game, get more confident.”

Over his last 12 games, Mykhailiuk is putting up these numbers: 12.3 points and 2.6 assists against 1.3 turnovers and 46.3 percent 3-point shooting on 6.7 attempts a game. And Casey thinks his real gains have come at the other end.

“He’s doing a much better job,” he said. “We all know he can shoot the ball. But the growth he’s made is busting through screens, getting back in front of pick and rolls, missing screens, not going and dying on screens, moving his feet, using his chest. He got a charge the other night (on Boston’s Gordon Hayward) because the guy was frustrated and pushed off because (Mykhailiuk) was there. Two months ago, Svi, that wouldn’t have happened.”

Casey also felt Mykailiuk was helped by coming off the bench against the Celtics – Derrick Rose started with Bruce Brown moving to shooting guard – after a string of starts.

“That helps you tremendously. So used to going against Rottweilers on that first unit and then he goes to the second unit. He was a little bit more relaxed and that helped him, too.”

Casey would love to keep Mykhailiuik – and Rose, for that matter – with the second unit, just as he wanted to keep Kennard there before the loss of Jackson created a clear need for his shooting and playmaking with the starters. Jackson’s return, which Casey has said “could be any day now,” will make it easier to accomplish that.

In the meantime, for all the disappointment injuries have inflicted on the Pistons this season, Casey takes solace in what having improved versions of young players like Mykhailiuk will mean for the Pistons down the road.

“Huge dividends,” he said. “Winning is the most important thing, but it’s still a great experience for those guys to grow. I’d much rather have Blake and Luke here, Reggie Jackson, but it’s the hand we’re dealt. We have to utilize that as a learning experience – a great learning experience for all those young guys.”

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