For Detroit Pistons, some big rotation decisions won’t be settled until games are played

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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Like any season, the Detroit Pistons are using training camp to figure out rotation decisions. Only four players — Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Svi Mykhailiuk and Sekou Doumbouya — return from last season’s 15-man roster.

Training camp this week has largely been centered around getting to know the new roster. Pistons coach Dwane Casey said this week the staff isn’t even putting much stock into positions at this point, as they’re trying to see how players fit with one another.  

But there are several factors complicating the traditional training camp routine. The biggest could be the Pistons will enter their first preseason game Friday with just six days of full workouts and practices, as last week only consisted of testing and one-on-one workouts with individual coaches. In a normal year, teams have an entire offseason — summer league in July, workouts in August and a month of training camp in September leading into October — to get to know their roster. 

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Like the rest of the league, the Pistons are working within a limited timeframe to make decisions that sometimes take months to resolve. Casey said there has been an “urgency” this week to get everyone on the same page, but acknowledged decisions will likely linger going into the regular season. 

“It’s not only us, it’s happening to other coaches around the league,” Casey said Wednesday. “Everybody’s going through it right now. That’s the hand we’re dealt with, the quick turnaround, the pandemic we’re going through and understandably. Luckily we’re not the only ones going through it.” 

Another factor is the conditioning level of the roster isn’t uniform right now, given the unevenness of the offseason. Newcomers Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee have an edge on their teammates since their previous team, the Denver Nuggets, made the West finals and played deep into September. Contrast that with the rookies, who haven’t played organized basketball since March. 

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Casey noted one scrimmage this week had 15 turnovers, which he said is way too many for a training camp game. 

“Main thing is timing offensively,” he said. “Our turnovers right now is probably our biggest problem. We’re throwing balls all over the gym and it’s not maliciously, it’s just guys are playing so hard and they’re so intense and they’re trying to please everybody, which is a good thing.” 

The rotation is slowly coming together, though. Killian Hayes and Delon Wright are battling for the starting point guard job. Like last season, Casey will have Rose on a minutes restriction and will bring him off of the bench. Power forward is set with Griffin healthy after undergoing knee surgery in January. 

It appears Grant, who signed with the Pistons specifically because he was promised a larger role, will start at small forward. Plumlee is the highest-paid and most-experienced center and seems a solid bet to start. 

That leaves competition at shooting guard, with Wright, Mykhailiuk, Josh Jackson, Rodney McGruder, Wayne Ellington and potentially Dzanan Musa and rookie Saddiq Bey in the mix for playing time. Casey mentioned battles for rotation minutes are happening at both the “2” and “3”. 

Casey will also have to find a hierarchy behind Grant, as Doumbouya could be ready for a larger role entering his second season. 

“Different situations will call for different skill sets and that’s where that flexibility will come in,” Casey said. “The key is guys embracing those roles, staying motivated in those roles, staying excited about having those roles, because different nights are going to call for different things, different combinations. Derrick is going to need different personnel around him, Blake is going to need different personnel around him, if Jerami Grant’s at the four, he may have to have a different personnel around him. There’s a lot of flexibility and that’s the thing we’re trying to work through right now as we go through training camp.”

It’ll be an ongoing challenge for Casey as he finds the balance between giving players a chance to prove themselves, while finding optimal lineups to help his core players excel. And due to the abbreviated offseason, it could be some time before he finds a rotation that accommodates everyone. 

Friday’s preseason game against the Knicks will be a first big hint. 

“We may be doing that on into the season, figuring things out as far as fit, combinations because we have some versatile guys and allowing the rookies to play through their mistakes and grow,” Casey said Tuesday. “So that’s going to be an ongoing thing with them also.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.


Dwane Casey impressed with Detroit Pistons’ togetherness, but sloppiness concerns

Pistons coach Dwane Casey likes the togetherness of his team in training camp, but biggest concern after long layoff is turnovers, Dec. 9, 2020.

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