A question each of the 10 Detroit Pistons must answer in bubble workouts

Detroit Free Press

Phase two of group workouts begin Monday for the Detroit Pistons, who will hold full practices and five-on-five scrimmages for the first time since the season was suspended March 11. 

Head coach Dwane Casey is excited to get his players back on the court. While some veterans and all five unrestricted free agents will sit out, the Pistons will see full participation from their young franchise building blocks. 

Here’s a question for all 10 Pistons who will participate this week. 

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Luke Kennard: Will playmaking become bigger part of his game?

Bilateral knee tendinitis limited him to 28 games last season. But in that stretch, he showcased an improved all-around game. Casey empowered Kennard to run more of the offense, and he flourished. 

His assist percentage improved from 12.4% in 2018-19 to 18.4% in 2019-20 — one of the best assist percentages among wings in the NBA, per Cleaning The Glass. Kennard was comfortable initiating the pick-and-roll, where he was efficient as a scorer and distributor. 

He has lived up to his reputation as a 3-point marksman, where he’s a career 40.2% shooter. But in a league that has emphasized the importance of shooting and positional versatility, his playmaking could be his ticket to signing a big contract in restricted free agency next year — assuming his knees hold up. Kennard has been healthy since March. 

Of all of the Pistons who will participate in group workouts this week, only Bruce Brown and Jordan Bone have extensive experience playing point guard. It could open up an opportunity for Kennard to handle playmaking responsibilities. 

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Sekou Doumbouya: What’s his biggest Year 2 priority?

He showed flashes of being an early NBA contributor, but his rookie season demonstrated he has a long way to go to establish himself as a worthy franchise player. 

Based on comments from Casey and teammates, it sounds as though Doumbouya has been aggressive this offseason. Casey recently praised his conditioning level, which was a weakness for him last season. And on Thursday, Brown offered the following:

““He’s got something to prove this summer. He’s coming in with a chip on his shoulder, working on his game hard. He’s working on big man stuff and guard stuff, so he’s definitely putting in the work and it’s going to be a good year for him.” 

Standing 6 feet 9 and weighing 230 pounds, Doumbouya projects best as a forward or big. But considering how raw his game is, it makes sense he’s working on everything. He’s already an above-average athlete for his size, so improving as a shooter and ball-handler would open the floor for him and help him carve out a bigger role next season. 

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Bruce Brown: Has he become a more reliable scorer? 

He made major strides as a playmaker and spent significant time playing point guard. But Casey recently said he views Brown as more of a wing, free of the burden of running the offense. To realize his full potential, Brown will have to improve as a scorer. 

He hit 34.4% of his 3’s last season, a massive improvement over the 25.8% mark he recorded as a rookie. He was particularly good from the corners, knocking down 41%. But he takes most of his shots in the paint, where he isn’t nearly as efficient. He only made 53% of his shots at the rim and shot 36% from the short midrange area, within the free throw line. Improving as a finisher is a must for him. 

Svi Mykhailiuk: Has he improved efficiency inside the arc?

He emerged as one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters in his second season. He showed upside as a passer and defender. Despite his marksmanship, his on/off splits suggest he was actually a bigger difference-maker on defense. 

He struggled scoring inside of the arc, though, making 55% of his shots at the rim and 17% of his shots from midrange. He also drew shooting fouls on just 6.5% of his shot attempts, per Cleaning The Glass — one of the lowest rates in the NBA among wings. 

As an 81% free throw shooter last season, Mykhailiuk would benefit from getting to the line more. Even if his midrange game remains a work in progress, drawing more fouls would make him a more dangerous offensive threat. 

Tony Snell: Will he miss a free throw?

The Pistons knew what they were getting when they traded for him last summer. He had established himself as a low-usage, efficient and reliable wing rotation player. Snell was certainly that for Detroit, scoring the ball effectively from nearly every zone on the court, including making 32-for-32 at the free throw line. 

It wasn’t many attempts considering he played 59 games last season, and gets to the line at one of the lowest rates in the league. He’s a 3-point specialist. But group workouts will give him a chance to work off any rust he may have accumulated during the layoff. If he wants to continue his perfect streak into next season, he’ll have to hit his next 30 free throws to match the franchise record. Joe Dumars made 62 straight free throws during the 1990-91 season. 

Thon Maker: Has he gotten stronger? 

Now entering his fifth season, Maker is working to live up to being the 10th overall pick of the 2016 draft. He was a steady backup last season, posting solid block numbers and hitting 35% of his 3s. 

But a focus for Maker should be adding strength. He’s listed at 221, and was often outmuscled in the paint. His 7-3 wingspan helps him deter shots, but he isn’t yet a plus-defender and is a non-factor on the defensive glass. He could become a restricted free agent if the Pistons pick up his qualifying offer of about $4.9 million, but for that price, they could be better off going a different route. 

Regardless of where he ends up next season, he’ll help his case by adding weight and being more comfortable playing center. 

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Khyri Thomas: Can he play at a pro level?

Largely because of injuries, he has appeared in 34 games during his first two seasons. He hasn’t done much to show he can carve out consistent minutes. 

Thomas left Creighton with a strong reputation as a two-way wing. He was a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year and shot 40.6% from 3. He hasn’t stood out as a defender and has shot 30.6% from 3. But his shortcomings as a ball-handler and playmaker have limited his upside. A strong performance in group workouts would help his odds of sticking in the NBA. 

Justin Patton: Is his passing legit? 

During his lone season at Creighton, he showed flashes of above-average vision in the high post. Feet injuries largely kept him on the sideline during his first two seasons, but he began to realize his potential as a playmaker in the G League last season during his stint with the Oklahoma City Blue. In 30 games, he averaged 12.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.8 blocks, shooting 52.8% from the floor and 33.3% from 3. 

So far, his passing is translating with the Pistons. Casey praised his playmaking last week, and he should have a featured role in group workouts. The door is wide open for him to become a rotation player next season, assuming his injury woes are behind him. 

Jordan Bone (two-way): Is he more comfortable running point?

He played 53 minutes for the Pistons last season. But the 2019 second-round draft pick had strong numbers for the Drive, averaging 17.5 points and 7.1 assists, shooting 42% overall and 38% from 3 in 31 games. 

The Pistons lacked depth at point guard last season, but it didn’t create an opportunity for Bone. When he did play, it was clear he must adjust to the NBA’s pace and physicality. He was one of the best athletes to come out of the draft. Detroit lacks depth at point guard, so there’s an opportunity for him to show he deserves more minutes. 

Louis King (two-way): Will he improve consistency?

Like Bone, King spent most of last season with the Drive. He shot 38.6% from 3 during his lone season at Oregon, but that didn’t translate to the G League, where he shot a pedestrian 34.3% on 4.5 attempts per game last season. 

Standing 6-8 with a 7-foot wingspan, he has great size for a shooter. Finding a healthy middle ground between his home and road splits — he shot 50/40/87 (FG%, 3P%, FT%) in home games with the Drive and 36/30/76 on the road — would help him become a more reliable offensive player.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.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.

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