Svi making the most of opportunity as Pistons injuries opened a door for him

Svi Mykhailiuk
Svi Mykhailiuk 3 times in a 5-game span set new career scoring marks as he’s making the most of opportunity after injuries to Pistons teammates
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – There is no such thing as having too many good players, so the Pistons are eager to get Reggie Jackson back. If no other injury misfortune befalls them between now and his return – fingers crossed – they’ll be whole for the first time this season.

And if he’s the Reggie Jackson of the second half of last season – 16.4 points a game on 38 percent 3-point shooting – then there’s no question he makes them a markedly better team, just as the catastrophic ankle injury Jackson suffered in December 2017 made them a markedly worse team.

But Jackson’s return will trigger a series of decisions for Dwane Casey, whose rotation sits at 10 and is very unlikely to swell to 11.

What are the possibilities?

The likeliest is that Bruce Brown gets bumped out of his role as the starting point guard and moves back to the wing rotation. Who’ll be affected most by that?

The wing corps consists of starters Tony Snell and Luke Kennard and backups Langston Galloway and Svi Mykhailiuk. Snell’s defense – his size, versatility and athleticism – plus his 3-point shooting and Kennard’s dynamic all-around offensive prowess make them locks to stay in the lineup. Galloway is having his best season of the three he’s spent in Detroit by a wide margin, averaging 12.6 points in 28 minutes a game on 44 percent 3-point shooting. He’s nearly as secure in his role as Snell and Kennard are in theirs.

Which leaves Mykhailiuk, who’s taken leaps and bounds in his second season when given an opportunity. In the five games before Wednesday’s loss to Milwaukee, Mykhailiuk three times set career scoring highs with 12, 13 and 15 points. He’s shooting 42 percent from the 3-point arc. In many respects, he’s providing the Pistons second unit the qualities Casey saw as integral to their success when he decided to have Kennard come off the bench to start the season.

“He gives Derrick another ballhandler with the second unit,” Casey said. “Derrick, he’s had Kirk Hinrich as a point guard with him and I think that helps Derrick. I don’t know if he’ll ever admit that, but I think it will help him with another ballhandler, give him rest off the ball some when he’s in the game.”

When Kennard missed Wednesday’s loss with knee soreness – in itself, a useful reminder that these decisions often sort themselves out – it was Mykhailiuk who filled in for him, just as he’d assumed Kennard’s role with the second unit Kennard had filled. Casey explained it afterward, citing two factors: the starters needed the extra ballhandler and it was a way for him to better manage the minutes of Galloway, who wound up playing 38.

Like Kennard, Mykhailiuk has the ability to be a pick-and-roll ballhandler and use his vision and size to be the rare distributor from a wing position.

“Both of ’em run the pick and roll. Svi is as big as Luke as far as his height and size,” Casey said. “Probably just as athletic. Svi has a good feel of the floor. He sees the floor in a pick-and-roll situation. Both of them are very similar from that standpoint.”

Mykhailiuk played all of his freshman season at Kansas as a 17-year-old and after four years in Lawrence and 1½ in the NBA he’s still only 22. At Kansas, he was tasked with defending at power forward, so the defensive adjustment for him has been as daunting as anything else. But the raw offensive skill set – the deep shooting range, the ballhandling and vision in a 6-foot-7 package – is rare and tantalizing.

Casey saw signs last summer of Mykhailiuk breaking out after a rookie season that included both a trade – the Pistons acquired him and a second-round pick ahead of the trade deadline in a deal for pending free agent Reggie Bullock – and a season-ending hand injury shortly after coming over from the Lakers. He surged ahead of Khyri Thomas in preseason for the next-man-up spot in the wing rotation and seized on opportunity when Jackson’s injury and Brown’s shift to point guard created one.

“He’s in the gym every single day working on his game,” Galloway said. “In there early before everybody gets there. It’s been great to see. He’s working on coming off pick and rolls and knocking down shots. That’s what we need from him. Hope to see that the rest of the year.”

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