The Detroit Pistons are in the NBA's basement, but they’re not
as deep as one might think.
Yes, Dwane Casey and Co. sit at a paltry 18-42, and they own it
-- but with each individual flash of brilliance the team’s youth
puts forth, they’re inching back up the stairs, step-by-step.
“We’ve been concentrated on development,” Casey said prior to a
recent road victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. “As much as we
want to win, getting guys experience, minutes and developing [is
important]. We’re in full-blown mode with that now because again,
in rebuilding we don’t have a G-League season, we didn’t have
summer league, so these minutes -- not to demean our season this
year -- but we have to get guys like Killian [Hayes], Isaiah
[Stewart] Saddiq [Bey] and Saben [Lee] as many NBA minutes as
possible as we go forward.”
Knowing what they have in Jerami Grant and the current veterans
in place, the focus has turned toward finding out what the “kids”
have in their respective tool bags.
The first that stands out is Bey, who at any moment is ready to
fire from deep, put the ball on the floor or use his size in
mismatches on the block. Who can forget the stretch in mid-February
when he won Eastern Conference Player of the Week? (By the way: the
only other Pistons rookie to do so was Kelly Tripucka in 1982). In
one of those games, Bey ended up recording two career-highs by
scoring 30 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in a win at Boston.
In that same contest, he set a new Detroit rookie record for threes
made with seven triples.
We’ve learned that such a strong week was not just a blip on the
radar, though admittedly, the highs and the lows have been pretty
glaring. One day, he can go 10-for-12, and the next, he’ll have an
0-for-8 showing. While streaky is probably the best word to
describe his offensive game, you don’t want to see him get hot, as
Cleveland quickly found out with his 18-point first quarter in
which he went 6-6 from three within the first 10 minutes of the
"He's one of the best shooters in our league right now, which to
me, is a surprise -- the three-point shooting; he was a prolific
scorer [in the] mid-range and what he wanted to do at Villanova,
but I didn't foresee the efficiency of his three-point shooting and
and his ability to get his three off with the low release as he's
doing now,” Casey said.
“It's great to see. I'm happy for him. He's worked with the
coaches. The coaches have done a good job working with him. Wayne
Ellington, his shooting buddy, [has helped too]. It's contagious.
He's getting it off quicker now like Wayne, and that was one of the
issues early: was he gonna be able to get that shot off quick
enough? But working with Wayne and D.J. Bakker, the developmental
coach, has worked on that and it's working well for him. It's only
gonna get better once he is able to read the screen and close-out,
the length of the close-outs during the games."
Bey has already blown away Brandon Knight’s franchise rookie
record for threes made with 136, and he’s currently second among
all rookies in triples (behind only Anthony Edwards).
When asked by Detroit Free Press beat writer Omari Sankofa for
Bey’s closest player comparison, Casey had to think a bit.
“He's got a body type that's big and strong. There's not a lot
of guys like him in the league. You have a guy like Jimmy Butler,
size-wise -- I'm not saying he's gonna be Jimmy Butler or he is
Jimmy Butler -- but that type of shooter at the same stage of
Butler's career,” Casey said. “Now, Butler can put the ball on the
floor much, much better now at this stage of his career, but that
body type, that size and shooting ability. Not saying he's Jimmy
Butler or better than Jimmy Butler, but that's kinda the body-type
that he has."
When asked to assess his offensive game, Bey talked about
finding comfort in the role he’s currently in.
"I think it's just trying to find ways that integrate my entire
game," Bey said. "In college, that's what I did -- I used every
aspect, and that's what you wanted to do at school anyway, have
everybody use their complete games. So, I'm just trying to figure
out my role and try to figure out which ways I can attack and use
different parts of my game to help the team win. It's something to
get used to and just find and look at situations where I can help
my team in every way."
Then, there’s the bruising, burly definition of physicality
personified in Bey’s fellow rookie teammate, Isaiah Stewart. The
one Pistons Twitter refers to as “Beef Stew” is actually all about
cooking the kitchen, and he certainly brings his own flavor on the
floor. Following his third straight double-double, he revealed
after Tuesday’s practice that he studies film of Miami Heat
All-Star big man Bam Adebayo and Los Angeles Lakers human motor
Montrezl Harrell. Stewart and Harrell are cut from the same cloth,
and their fight and hunger is on display every night.
Stewart is not letting this opportunity go by the wayside. He is
soaking all of it in, deterring his opponents and essentially
bullying them with gritty box-outs and downright wanting the ball
more on every possession. A perfect example of this was when he
out-hustled multiple Cavs for a backtap in a one-possession game
that led to Detroit sealing the win in Cleveland.
“A lot of teams passed over him in the draft, but I love his
[competitiveness].” Casey said. “He has his PHD: poor, hungry and
driven. I love it. That kid, he gives you everything, every ounce
he has... Isaiah is a hit-first guy. He fights for space, he fights
for position on both sides of the ball. And if you’re not ready for
that, it’s not just gonna be one out of five times, it’s gonna be
every time you’re down the floor.
“He’s gonna fight for every inch of the court and use his body
legally to get it. A lot of times, the official may see the second
of him trying to release because [the opponents] are grabbing him.
I think his reputation will grow once he’s through the league
another year after this year and going into next year. I just love
him. He’s scratching the surface of what he’s gonna be in this
Stewart is the first Piston to register three consecutive
double-doubles since Greg Monroe had four in a row in 2011. The
rookie brute has seven total on the season. And even though he’s a
little shorter, Stewart’s battling in the trenches and doing the
dirty work has reminded the city and team of former defensive
stalwart Ben Wallace.
“It's definitely great because the history of those teams, the
history of those players, just speaks for itself. The fact that
they see that in my game and the way I play is definitely a great
thing to hear,” Stewart said of the comparison.
“I put in the work. I do all the extra things, take the time out
to watch film, watch every game and make notes on every game and
see where I can always grow from [it]. I put in the work after
practice, or on the off day, I'm working on my game."
Bey and Stewart were both first-round picks, but they weren’t
Detrot's highest selection. Killian Hayes was drafted No. 7 overall
to be the franchise’s point guard of the future. Unfortunately,
he’s spent the majority of his debut campaign on the sidelines due
to a hip injury. However, the 19-year-old French-American has shown
plenty of promise since returning to action on April 3. He is
putting his craftiness (and shiftiness) on display, getting to his
spots and being aggressive when he needs to be. It’s the passing
acumen, lob location and ability to pester his matchups that have
really stood out, though, especially because his 6-foot-5,
195-pound frame can give opposing guards headaches on both
"He is [reaching the level we thought]. He's growing. He sees
things that other people don't see,” Casey said. “Now, sometimes,
it may go in the 14th row right now, but we've gotta live with some
of that and not take away his creativity. But the young man's big
and strong. I think the more he gets in NBA condition where he can
play huge minutes, I think that's gonna help him even more as far
as he grows.
“His shooting will come the better condition he gets in. I'm not
saying he's out of shape, but there's a different level of NBA
conditioning, especially for a usage guy like himself who's gonna
have the ball a lot and who's gonna be guarding a lot of
pick-and-rolls every game. So that takes a lot of energy, lot of
conditioning and strength to do that, and he's learning that right
there and he's growing. He's not where he would've been if he had
that time that he missed with the hip injury, but he's coming. And
I'm gonna say this: he'll be a different young man this time next
year -- probably won't recognize [him with] how much he's
There will be more chances for Hayes to sharpen his play through
the rest of the season, as there will be for the other young
Saben Lee seemingly came out of nowhere and started a stretch of
games from late March to early April. He's unafraid to step in and
shoot the ball, mostly at the cup and in the short mid-range area.
Josh Jackson has proven to be a solid pickup with upside, and is
just 24 years old despite being in his fourth NBA season. Frank
Jackson joined the team on a two-way contract in late December and
he's become one of the best defenders on the team who can also
drain shots from deep. Sekou Doumbouya is still one of the youngest
players in the league who can benefit from more minutes.
Pistons general manager Troy Weaver scooped up Dennis Smith Jr.
and Hamidou Diallo in separate trades, with the latter specifically
providing hard-nosed defense with attention to detail, as well as
aggressiveness while leading the bench unit.
All of that young talent, plus the breakout star season Grant is
having? The Pistons have something cooking, and it starts with the
three first-rounders they drafted last fall.
"We've gotta build,” Hayes said. “Win, lose, draw, we've gotta
still build, get better. We've got a long career ahead of us. Just
“When we first came into camp, we didn't really know much about
each other at all. We were all strangers to each other,” Stewart
said. “As time went on and all the way up 'til now, I'd say we've
definitely grown together. We've definitely built chemistry since
then, and we're continuing to learn about each other every
“I pray and hope that all of us keep getting better and better
each year, and try to be the best we can be by the end of each and
every year,” Bey said. “I think, obviously, we'll have more
experience and it'll just be exciting to see what the future
Monday night marked just the fourth time in franchise history
that Detroit has started three rookies in the same lineup. It was
the trio of Hayes, Bey and Stewart, and the team punched the Cavs
in the mouth with a 32-9 onslaught to start the game. You can tell
how much they all value this opportunity.
Casey credits Weaver for the job he’s done with assembling this
group that's full of players with a similar mindset and proverbial
chip on their shoulder. It’s reminiscent of that old-school Pistons
feel, and the organization can sense the progress toward bigger,
“To me, they're meeting the benchmarks for their development,
moreso than the record. Our record is who we are; whatever it is,
[it] is who you are right now... but their benchmarks are great,”
Casey said. “...And so, our rookie class has been that and then
some... I think our coaches do a great job. I try to set the tone
with it, but our coaches do a great job at selling players on how
important it is to get on the court, watch video and watch
themselves grow. I think that’s very, very important. Once you sell
a young man on that’s his future, you want to be in this league for
a long time. It’s pretty simple, but some guys don’t buy into it.
Fortunately, Troy’s done a great job of bringing guys in here that
are gym rats, they love the gym, and they love working. It’s been
pretty easy this year and I think you can see it in their
“...We're not where we're gonna be, but we're definitely headed
in the right direction. I'm excited about the direction we're
going. I know Troy is and [Pistons owner] Tom [Gores] is and [vice
chairman] Arn [Tellem] is. So it's a good start with our foundation
and our restoring program."