The COVID-19 pandemic has created an endless number of inconveniences for both the Detroit Pistons and the rest of the NBA.
Here’s one: Despite being hired three months ago, general manager Troy Weaver has yet to watch any of his players participate in five-on-five basketball. The cancellation of Summer League in Las Vegas, in addition to the restrictions the league has placed on practice facilities to prevent virus outbreaks, has made it tougher for the Pistons’ new GM from getting a deeper feel on how players have progressed.
That’ll change next week, when the Pistons take the court for five-on-five scrimmages for the first time since their season ended March 11. The eight teams excluded from the Orlando bubble are currently in Phase One of the league’s voluntary group workout plan, designed to safely allow teams to practice without restriction.
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After a week of daily COVID-19 testing, Phase Two will begin next Monday. The Pistons will create their own bubble by staying in a hotel and bussing to and from their team facilities, with continued daily testing. After several months of being limited to one-on-one workouts with coaches, players will soon return to some normalcy.
For Dwane Casey and the rest of the coaching staff, next week will give them an extensive look at how players have developed. Casey has stated several times this offseason he’s envious of the improvement and experience that young players, such as Denver’s Jamal Murray, have had in the Orlando bubble. Detroit now has a chance to play catch-up.
“Next week is really going to be geared toward playing, competition,” Casey said. “We’ve been off since March 11 going body-to-body and guys going against physicality. They’re tired of beating up the coaches, so to speak. It’s going to be really geared toward playing. We’ll do some fundamental drills before we start playing as far as getting our offensive approach in, our defensive approach.”
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Fifteen players will participate in next week’s group workouts. The list includes five unnamed Grand Rapids Drive players who will be revealed at a later date. The 10 Pistons who will participate:
- Luke Kennard
- Sekou Doumbouya
- Bruce Brown
- Svi Mykhailiuk
- Tony Snell
- Thon Maker
- Khyri Thomas
- Justin Patton
- Jordan Bone (two-way)
- Louis King (two-way)
Casey expected full participation from his young players and isn’t surprised veterans, as well as Detroit’s free agents, are sitting out. Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, the lone players under contract older than 30, will not participate. Nor will any of their unrestricted free agents — including 24-year-old Christian Wood, who’s a candidate to be part of their future.
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“We totally understand that,” Casey said. “We’re not reading anything into that either way. I totally get it because if I’m a free agent I wouldn’t attend anyways to a team that you’re not under contract with.”
With 15 players in the bubble, Casey said it’ll allow them to split the group into three teams. The coaching staff an opportunity to evaluate positional battles, such as Justin Patton and Thon Maker at center.
The Pistons signed Patton, a 2017 first-round pick who spent time with Oklahoma City’s G League affiliate last season, in June. Weaver presumably became acquainted with Patton when he was with the Thunder’s front office, but it’ll be his first time playing five-on-five under Casey’s watch.
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Casey noted that while several participating players have looming team options on their contracts, the group workouts aren’t a “show-and-prove” environment. The goal is to begin installing the Pistons’ offensive and defensive philosophies, and re-acclimating players following an extended layoff.
“I’ll be evaluating the growth and development aspect of it because that’s where we are right now as an organization is really trying to bring these guys along and get them to grow,” Casey said. “That’s my main focus and our coaching staff’s main focus. But I’m sure Troy and the front office, this will be their first time seeing guys in a team setting to see how they’re playing. I’m sure they’ll be looking at it from that standpoint to see where guys are, how they feel about them.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.