A successful Detroit Pistons off-season starts with making the most of prolonged down time
Rocky Widner (NBAE/Getty)
When Dwane Casey was asked late last month what he would consider a successful off-season, you suspect the answer he really wanted to give was, “One that comes to an end.”
The time between the last Pistons game – March 11 at Philadelphia – and today is already of longer duration than the time between their last 2019 regular-season game on April 10 and the start of 2019-20 training camp last Oct. 1 at Michigan State. And in a best-case scenario we’re still more than two months away from training camp for the 2020-21 season – and, quite possibly, three or more months away from it.
“Unprecedented” doesn’t begin to describe the disruption to the circadian rhythms of a basketball player’s existence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the safety precautions put in place in response to it by the NBA and various state and local governments. It’s not just that the Pistons are likely to go more than nine months between games – 10 or more if the start of the 2020-21 season is pushed into January or later; it’s that they also can’t have anything approaching a normal off-season even as its duration has been stretched beyond recognition.
It’s especially vexing for teams that skew younger, which – it stands to reason – coincides with the identity of most of the eight non-playoff teams excluded from the Orlando bubble. So all the Pistons and their young players can do is make the best of it.
What Casey shared about the off-seasons of Pistons players in recent comments was encouraging on several fronts. In a few weeks the Pistons get to ramp it up a bit with the NBA allowing team camps for the eight non-bubble teams that run from Sept. 14-Oct. 6, with the final two weeks of that period set aside for something more than one-on-zero drills with coaches. Yes, they’ll be able to play actual basketball for a few weeks, if only against their teammates.
At the end of that period, here’s what a successful off-season for their key players would look like:
Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose – No, they won’t participate in team camp to a meaningful degree, simply because as 30-something veterans who’ve shown up on MVP ballots the most important thing – by an order of magnitude – is for their bodies to be right whenever next season starts. That’s all that matters. There are no fears about their competitive edges or skills dulling; it’s strictly about preserving their health and in that, perhaps, is the silver lining to the extended down time. Griffin and Rose are exceedingly diligent caretakers of their bodies; they’ll use this time to their best advantage.
Sekou Doumbouya – At the other end of the spectrum is the youngest Piston. Casey, who’s been cautious about setting unrealistic timelines and expectations for the French teen, praised his off-season commitment in his recent comments. Casey mentioned his conditioning level and his improved ballhandling and if you had to cite a top three to-do items for Doumbouya’s summer, they’d be on it along with more consistent shooting. Since shooting is the one thing that’s been easiest to work on over the summer, hearing that his body is being reshaped and his handle tightened is about the best Doumbouya news possible.
Luke Kennard and Svi Mykhailiuk – Casey mentioned both in the same paragraph as players who’ve used the summer to increase their strength and conditioning levels. Kennard’s knees, Casey said, have rebounded well from the double bout of tendinitis that ended his third season in late December. Kennard proclaimed himself fully healthy in early March and was, in fact, due to play in the next scheduled Pistons game, March 14 at Toronto. Kennard and Mykhailiuk give the Pistons a pair of 40 percent 3-point shooters on high volume, the thing that makes Casey’s offense go. Mykhailiuk’s strides in other areas of his game over the last several weeks before the shutdown flew under the radar but bodes well for his future.
Christian Wood – Wood is a free agent and thus his participation in a summer camp – voluntary for all players – remains in doubt. But Casey said Wood had indicated to him he was eager to take part. Wood’s free agency is one of the top handful of issues facing new general manager Troy Weaver in his first off-season. Getting a camp setting to evaluate him – not so much his game, which Weaver surely has pegged, but his makeup and fit – will only aid his decision-making process, not to mention be a positive sign for Wood’s intentions.
Bruce Brown – Brown showed concrete improvement in his second season and can solidify his status as a core piece of a rebuilding future even more by taking a similar leap in year three. To get there, a successful off-season for Brown would start with showing the same improvement in 3-point shooting above the break as he did from the corners in his second season over his first.
Justin Patton – Patton, the No. 16 pick in the 2017 draft, was the first player brought to the Pistons by Weaver after Patton was signed by Oklahoma City last year when he was hunting for a roster spot and Weaver was with Thunder management. So Weaver sees something in Patton, whose career was derailed by surgeries on both feet, three operations in total, in the 15 months from his drafting to training camp of 2018. Healthy last season, Patton flashed enough in his G League stints with OKC’s affiliate to remind folks why he was almost a lottery pick three years ago. In one game, he registered 45 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and six blocked shots, which is ridiculously intriguing. And he just turned 23 this summer. He’s an ideal reclamation project for a franchise in transition. No one will have a greater opportunity to open eyes at team camp than Patton.
Khyri Thomas – Two rocky seasons for Thomas since Ed Stefanski traded two future second-rounders to Philadelphia to make Thomas his first Pistons draft pick, 38th overall, in 2018. The Pistons have a decision on their hands with regard to the third year of Thomas’ deal. It comes down to Thomas’ potential vs. the roster spot and cap savings realized by not retaining him. Team camp could be Thomas’ last best chance to prove he belongs.
Jordan Bone and Louis King – They’re in the same boat as Patton but perhaps on the opposite end of it. Bone and King are young players with things to prove, like Patton, but they were brought to the Pistons before Weaver’s arrival. Dwane Casey seems especially intrigued by King, whose length and shooting potential give him a highly coveted assets package. Bone’s speed and scoring instincts could turn him into a guard built for the day. A good camp could solidify their chances of becoming part of the Pistons future. And that would help make the most unusual Pistons off-season a successful one.