3 things we’re watching as Detroit Pistons open preseason play

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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Dwane Casey issued a warning Thursday — don’t read too much into the Detroit Pistons‘ first preseason game. 

The Pistons tip off their four-game preseason slate Friday against the New York Knicks. It will be the first time much of the roster has competed against another NBA team since March, when the coronavirus pandemic shut the NBA, and much of the U.S. down. 

Casey will trot out a roster that has changed significantly since the Pistons last played. Only five players return from last year’s roster; the new group has only had five days of training camp. They’re still getting to know each other, and Casey hasn’t even had time to install his sets yet.  

The biggest priority for Casey is just seeing how his players look after an extended layoff and short camp. 

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“I think that’s the most important thing, is getting actual NBA competition against another-colored jersey,” Casey said. “Trying to create those winning habits that we want to have. We don’t have everything in offensively and defensively, but most important is competition.”

Expect nearly everyone on the roster to get playing time against the Knicks, as Casey said he wants to get a fair look at the entire roster during its first outing. But all four games will give Casey an opportunity to tinker with lineups and develop chemistry between various players ahead of the regular season. It’ll also provide clues to the starting five on opening night and the rest of his rotation. 

Here are three things I’ll be looking for during the Pistons’ preseason.

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Who’s the PG: Delon Wright or Killian Hayes?

The starting frontcourt could be set for the Pistons, with Jerami Grant, Blake Griffin and Mason Plumlee most likely to occupy both forward positions and the center position.

That leaves a lot of competition for both guard spots, with Killian Hayes and Delon Wright in the mix for starting point guard. Hayes received the initial starting nod when training camp began on Sunday, but Casey said that Wright is an option as well. Casey coached Wright in Toronto, and there’s a familiarity there. 

But reading between the lines, it doesn’t seem like it’s much of a competition — it sounds more like the starting job is Hayes’ to lose. 

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On Monday, I asked Casey if Hayes is someone who could play off the ball, and if not, would it push Wright into playing more shooting guard. Casey said this: 

“You can see those three playing together, all three playing together, Delon, Killian, Derrick,” Casey said. “Delon can play with either one, either Killian or Derrick. Delon’s kind of a Swiss army knife. He can play a lot of positions, he can go real small, he can play the 3. He can play a lot of different spots.” 

These three things are true:

• Casey and GM Troy Weaver have praised Hayes’ NBA-readiness as a rookie multiple times

• Casey wants Derrick Rose to stay in last season’s role, coming off of the bench on a minute restriction

• Among the guard trio, Wright has received the most praise for his positional versatility

So, Hayes has to be the starter at point guard, right? There’s 48 minutes available at the position, and the easiest way to accommodate Hayes and Rose is by moving Wright off of the ball. I’m curious to see how much Wright plays next to Rose or Hayes, rather than as the sole ball-handler. I like Hayes’ chances of being a starter when the regular season tips off. 

Who spends time at shooting guard?

Wright seems like a strong option to start at shooting guard, but several others are competing there: Svi Mykhailiuk, Josh Jackson, Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder and others have spent time there during camp. 

Mykhailiuk also seems like a strong choice to start. He’s the best shooter on the roster, has more size than Wright and is one of the few returning from last season. 

Casey and his players have said that the shooting guard and small forward positions are interchangeable, so we could see Jackson, Dzanan Musa and others also back up Jerami Grant. 

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What to do with Sekou?

Sekou Doumbouya remained after an active offseason that saw several other members — including Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown — of their previous young core, traded or cut. He’s still the third-youngest player on the roster and enters preseason with some momentum. His conditioning was a big focus, along with skills development; Casey has praised his activity level during scrimmages. 

He plays both forward positions, and has several players to battle for minutes next season. In addition to Griffin, Grant, Jackson, Mykhailiuk and Musa, rookie Saddiq Bey could also earn minutes at the forward spots. 

Casey has said that Doumbouya will have to earn his minutes like anyone else. Other an a few games, last season showed he has a long way to go before he’s a positive contributor. Playing time could be hard to come by, but Casey has incentive to give the second-year forward a chance to showcase his improvement. 

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

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