Detroit Pistons GM Troy Weaver’s plan has produced champions. Just ask the Lakers

Detroit Free Press

Shawn Windsor
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Pistons might actually be fun this season. Really, they could be. 

Not because of ridiculous shot-making, though in time rookie point guard Killian Hayes might provide some of that. Not even because of winning.  

But because of effort. Like, serious, relentless effort. 

Does that sound trite? Cliched? And don’t all athletes at that give effort?  

Sure, they do.  

But there are different levels of competitive spirit. And whatever else you think of general manager, Troy Weaver’s plan, he found a bunch of guys who play their butts off, who grind, who are here to play defense, as first-round pick, Isaiah Stewart, said he was Wednesday morning during a news conference. 

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Stewart’s college coach, Mike Hopkins, said he was one of the hardest working players he’d ever been around. Weaver knew Hopkins from their time at Syracuse together. Weaver said his relationship gave him a “cheat sheet.” 

Though the Pistons’ new general manager doesn’t need one to know what kind of team he wants to build. He wants length, size, physicality and toughness.  

Stewart brings all of that. So do the other three draft picks: Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Saban Lee. Together, they make up the core of the team’s future, along with Sekou Doumybouya, who also has length and toughness but is still learning to work.  

[ Weaver’s approach in NBA draft, free agency: ‘Attack everything’ ]

The rookies have other skills, of course. Weaver and coach Dwane Casey both think Stewart has a shot he didn’t get to show off in college. Hayes has vision and soft hands and potential to dictate the pace of the game. Bey has a liquid jumper with deep range.  

All of those skills are critical, obviously. And it’s impossible to win without at least some skill. But there is still room for teams to win with a certain kind of grit.  

The Miami Heat come to mind. The Toronto Raptors do, too. 

In fact, the Raptors got to the conference semifinals last season even after losing Kawhi Leonard to free agency because they competed and defended like crazy, and because they had the kind of players that Weaver just identified in the draft and free agency.

[ Isaiah Stewart nearly went to Michigan State last year ]

The kind of players Casey helped develop. 

Weaver mentioned another team when discussing his offseason during the news conference Wednesday: the world champion Los Angeles Lakers

“The way I learned basketball, the game starts when the shot goes up,” he said. “We just saw the Lakers win the championship. They had tremendous size.” 

Defense and rebounding. Sound familiar? It’s how the Pistons used to win. It’s how teams can still win.  

[ What ESPN analysts say about Pistons taking Saddiq Bey ]

And it makes sense that Weaver is trying to establish that kind of identity. He did in Oklahoma City, where he helped build one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. And Casey did in Toronto, where he did similar work.  

This is a copycat league. The problem is that no one can copy the Golden State Warriors. Finding the two best shooters ever takes some luck.  

And while the Lakers have LeBron James, and they don’t win the title without him, they don’t win it without Rajon Rondo either; a long, defensive-minded point guard. The kind of player, said Casey, that Hayes is going to have to learn to deal with as he makes his transition to the NBA.  

For all the talk about shooting and playmaking and skill — and it’s impossible to win big without it — the two best teams in the league last season were arguably its two best defensive teams: the Lakers and the Heat. 

Playing hard is a talent, too.  

[ How Mason Plumlee could make life easier for Killian Hayes ]

As Casey noted about Stewart’s motor when they scouted him: 

“I don’t’ care how many mistakes you make, when you don’t have to say giddy up …” 

Well, what could be better for a coach? 

Every year, there are a few teams that slip into the playoffs that have no business being there on paper. Sometimes that’s the result of a blossoming player, someone who becomes a star overnight. 

More often, it’s because a group of guys become connected and enjoy making life unpleasant for anyone who joins them on the court. This is part of the identity Weaver and Casey want to build. 

It’s why they drafted who they did. It’s why they signed who they did. 

Energy matters. Length matters. Combine them in places all over the floor and you’ve got the beginning of something.  

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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