Beard: Battle for shooting guard poised to be Pistons camp’s top storyline

Detroit News

Rod Beard
| The Detroit News

Following a few days of individual work, the Pistons kicked off training camp with their first full-team workouts Sunday. Because of league and state regulations during the pandemic, the players have been limited to one-on-one workouts with a coach, but group sessions are the next phase of getting prepared for the preseason, with the first exhibition game coming Friday.

Coach Dwane Casey said all of the players were healthy and were able to participate in the first 5-on-5 workouts. With only four players returning from last season’s roster, it was the first time that they were able to play together and start to get accustomed to their new teammates.

One of the big takeaways was rookie Killian Hayes, the No. 7 pick in the draft, is penciled in as the starter at point guard, at least for the time being.

“We’re looking at it; we may start out with Killian there. There’s nothing set in concrete right now. We’ll start him there and see how it goes. He’s not your typical rookie; he knows how to play,” Casey said Sunday via teleconference. “We want to keep Derrick (Rose) in his position coming off the bench, which is a weapon. Delon (Wright) is a veteran who knows how to play. We’ll see how it goes with Killian and Delon in that situation.

“We’ll start off with Killian there right now.”

If Hayes, who is 19 but has played professionally in Europe for three years, can step in and be steady in the starting role early, it would be a kick-start to the rebuild that new general manager Troy Weaver initiated with a slew of trades and signings in the offseason to remake the roster.

The Pistons didn’t draft Hayes to let him languish on the bench and Casey last week indicated that they would give him an opportunity to play significant minutes this season, with some mentoring from Rose. That plan seems to be in full swing.

“I wasn’t nervous; I was excited,” Hayes said. “I haven’t had a team practice in eight or nine months.”

More than that, though, it looks as if they want to see how Hayes handles things early on — and the way-too-premature indications from the first day were solid. At 6-foot-5, he brings some intrigue to the position. 

“Killian is a long, athletic point guard,” Casey said. “He’s seeing things defensively and offensively and he had three or four blocked shots today from the guard position, which is hard to do without fouling.”

In addition of the defensive presence, Hayes also brings something on offense, where he made a couple of plays that raised some eyebrows. It’s still early, but that’s a big positive for the Pistons in training camp.

“Killian was making veteran plays. I saw him make two beautiful lob passes to Mason (Plumlee),” guard Wayne Ellington said. “That showed me his poise and advanced skill set for such a young player.”

In the first Monday Drive of the new season, here are some key takeaways from the start of training camp:

►The likely starters will be Hayes at point guard, Jerami Grant and Blake Griffin at forward and Plumlee at center. Shooting guard seems to be the one position that’s up for grabs, with several different options. Casey mentioned Josh Jackson, Wright and Svi Mykhailiuk as potential starters, and that’ll be the position battle to watch in camp.

“There’s a lot of different options and flexibility we have with our roster,” Casey said. “That takes a little time too because you want guys to run things at different positions defensively and offensively. That flexibility is great with those guys.”

►Grant, the prize addition in free agency, could be the go-to player on offense and likely will have a significantly increased role on offense. He’ll likely take a ton of pressure off of Griffin and be a big upgrade on defense.

“Jerami (Grant) is just a freak athletically,” Ellington said. “He just jumps out the gym … his 3-point shot looks like it’s pretty pure.”

The new roster is deep — really deep. Ellington and Rodney McGruder were underrated offseason additions, but they bring shooting and versatility at the wing spots, where the Pistons need sharpshooting and defensive options, depending on the situations. Casey was optimistic about the possibilities but also given the COVID situation, there could be unforeseen roster attrition and having plug-and-play options at all positions will make them better suited to being competitive.

►For the first time in the past couple of training camps, the Pistons are starting with a full slate of healthy players. Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson have missed time at the starts of seasons because of injuries, which has hampered the Pistons’ ability to compete early in the season. From all accounts, Griffin is at 100 percent and ready to start the season.

► Along with Hayes, the other rookies caught Casey’s eye as well in the initial team practice. Casey commented on Isaiah Stewart’s size and athleticism and compared him to Kenneth Faried as an aggressive rebounder. Second-round pick Saben Lee also showed his skill set in attacking the rim. The Pistons seem to be building around the rookies, with Saadiq Bey also at the core, but Weaver helped build the roster in a way that they won’t be totally dependent on the young players.

“These are my boys; we all came here together,” Hayes said. “We’re hungry and the first day at practice, we all went hard.”

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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