Thomas, Hall, Walton all get their auditions as Pistons fall to Denver

Khyri Thomas
Khyri Thomas returned for the first time since breaking his foot in early November as the Pistons lost at Denver
Brian Sevald (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DENVER – If you were wondering whether the commitment to stay up with the Pistons for their late-night tipoffs in western time zones would pay off with glimpses off their new players, it didn’t take until halftime for your curiosity to be satisfied.

By the midway point of the second quarter, Dwane Casey had used all 12 players available on a night Bruce Brown’s sore left knee sidelined him. That included Khyri Thomas, back from his two-game rehab stint in the G League and playing in the NBA for the first time since he broke his foot in early November. And it included both of the players signed last week to 10-day contracts, Derrick Walton Jr. and Donta Hall.

Using a dozen players in the first 18 minutes, including three near strangers, against the Western Conference’s current No. 2 seed probably isn’t conducive to winning but it’s indicative both of the way the Pistons season has gone – undermined by injuries, leading to mid-season roster upheaval – and where the franchise is headed, dedicated to rebuilding while developing its young players.

“I know we’ve got a lot of youth,” Casey said after the 115-98 loss, one that got away from the Pistons when a 9-0 Denver run early in the fourth quarter doubled its lead. “I thought we were in Grand Rapids a couple of times, but that’s part of the deal.”

Casey used four centers, four small forwards, four shooting guards, three power forwards and three point guards in the first half alone. Derrick Rose – the only player on the roster remaining who is 30 or older – led the Pistons with 20 points, matching the total of one of the young players who could be central to the rebuilding, Christian Wood, who also grabbed nine rebounds as his February surge continues.

Hall played nearly 15 minutes, finishing with four points, four rebounds and an assist. The suddenness – both laterally and vertically – that made him intriguing to the Pistons as an undrafted free agent out of Alabama last summer was readily apparent.

Hall could factor into the frontcourt picture for 2020-21 as a rim protector and energy booster on defense and a roll man and offensive rebounder at the other end.

“I’m bringing it every day,” Hall said. “Practice, games – I’m coming. I’m not slowing down no time soon.”

Casey used Hall after John Henson and Thon Maker – Henson and Wood started in place of Maker and Sekou Doumbouya after two straight dreadful starts to games coming out of the All-Star break – in the first half but Hall was first off the bench ahead of Maker in the second.

“Really was impressed with Donta,” Casey said. “Came over a couple of times in the first half, great verticality. I thought there was a bad call. One foul, (Will Barton) did a 360, out of control, and (Hall) got called for a foul. But I thought he did a good job.”

Casey also liked what Walton showed him in six minutes of playing time in which he managed a steal and an assist while missing his only shot, a 3-pointer.

“Derrick Walton stuck his nose in there with physicality,” he said. “That’s all you can ask.”

Thomas played 14 minutes, hitting his last shot – a 3-pointer in the final minute – after missing his first three, two of them triples. More than half the Pistons shots, 41 of 81, were 3-point attempts, while Denver did the bulk of its damage in the paint, outscoring the Pistons there 60-32.

“He’s got to get in game shape,” Casey said of Thomas. “He was on a minutes limitation. He and all of our young guys have to get in NBA shape and they’re not there yet. It’s work and some of it is compounded with injuries, so now you’re fighting that. Khyri’s one of our smarter players, but he’s got a lot of things he’s fighting against.”

Thomas has had little chance to find his way in the NBA around injuries over his first two years. Now he’s got the final 20 games of his rookie season to put himself on the radar for next season, but he’s conscious that he can’t try to do too much to make up for time he can’t get back.

“Exactly. That’s what a lot of my teammates and peers keep saying,” he said. “Just stay in the moment. Twenty games – give it your all. You know you’re here for a reason, so I just try to stick with that and stay positive every day.”

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