Predicting Detroit Pistons’ rotation: Here’s how many minutes young building blocks play

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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When the Detroit Pistons’ 2019-20 season ended unceremoniously on March 11, no one could’ve predicted that 287 days — more than nine months — would pass before they would play another regular season game. 

The Pistons will finally tip off a unique 2020-21 regular season Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Detroit will navigate fielding a mostly new roster that has just four players returning from last season, finding opportunities for their young players while weighing the needs of their vets — all during a pandemic. 

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Because the Pistons had only two weeks to evaluate their roster, several rotation battles will play out through the opening weeks of the season. But based on preseason trends and conversations with Casey and players, we have a good idea of what the starting lineup will look like, and which players could soak up most of the backup minutes. 

Casey stuck with the same starting five — Killian Hayes, Delon Wright, Jerami Grant, Blake Griffin and Mason Plumlee — through all four preseason games. It seems likely, at least early on, Casey will maintain that continuity before making any adjustments. 

Here is what we expect the  10-man rotation could look like:

Detroit Pistons depth chart

Point guard: Hayes, Derrick Rose.

Shooting guard: Wright, Svi Mykhailiuk, Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder, Deividas Sirvydis.

Small forward: Grant, Josh Jackson, Saddiq Bey.

Power forward: Griffin, Sekou Doumbouya.

Center: Plumlee, Jahlil Okafor, Isaiah Stewart.

Two-way: Saben Lee.

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Point guard

Hayes: 26 minutes.

Rose: 22 minutes.

There aren’t enough minutes available at point guard for both Hayes and Rose, but this one feels certain. Casey and Troy Weaver have both spoken highly of Hayes’ NBAreadiness as a rookie. It could take time for him to grow more comfortable, as he’s had less than three weeks to learn new schemes and a new playbook. But after starting all four preseason games, it’s clear that he has the coaching staff’s trust. 

Rose came off of the bench last season and was on a minutes restriction, and Casey said he’s keeping Rose in the same role as last year. Twenty-two minutes a night would be a decrease from the 26 minutes he averaged last season, but he could play more depending on how Hayes looks on any given night. 

Shooting guard

Wright: 24 minutes.

Mykhailiuk: 24 minutes.

Even though Wright is a newcomer, he has a built-in advantage over most of the other recent additions to the roster: a relationship with Casey that dates back to the beginning of his career in Toronto. Casey likes the idea of pairing a ball-handler next to Hayes in the backcourt. If he can hit 3-pointers the way he did in the first quarter Thursday against the Washington Wizards, it would give the starting lineup some desperately needed spacing. 

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Mykhailiuk looks ready to pick up where he left off from last season as the best shooter on the roster. Casey has also praised his effort on defense. The battle at shooting guard is one to watch, because of Mykhailiuk’s ability to space the floor and contribute without the ball in his hands. 


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Small forward

Grant: 28 minutes.

Jackson: 20 minutes.

Grant, along with Griffin, are the surest bets on the roster to start every game they play this season. Grant was the Pistons’ marquee signing and should have the biggest offensive role of his career. 

As one of Detroit’s preseason standouts, Jackson could be primed for a significant role from day one. He excelled in all areas, but the biggest surprise was his outside shooting. He shot 50% (9-for-18) from outside, the highest clip of any Piston who attempted more than 15 3-pointers. 

Power forward 

Griffin: 28 minutes.

Doumbouya: 20 minutes.

Griffin doesn’t need much of an introduction. He looks healthy, and the ceiling of this team will increase significantly if he resembles the All-Star caliber player he was in 2018-19. Since he’s coming off of knee surgery, I can see Casey playing him fewer than 30 minutes early and steadily increasing his minute load as the season progresses. 

Put Doumbouya in the “preseason standout” category along with Jackson. He led the team in field goal percentage, making 13 of his 21 attempts (61.9%). He created shot opportunities as a cutter, hit enough outside shots to keep the defense aware of him and stood out as a versatile defender. He could make a big leap forward as a sophomore if his preseason performance was an indicator of what’s to come.  


Plumlee: 26 minutes.

Okafor: 22 minutes.

Both Plumlee and Okafor were in the top six in preseason minutes. The only player who’ll threaten to eat into their minutes is rookie big man Stewart. Unless Stewart has a standout season, it seems unlikely that either Plumlee or Okafor will see major disruptions in their playing time. 

The wildcards

Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Wayne Ellington 

Bey played 19 minutes, attempted 12 shots and was a plus-11 in the Pistons’ preseason opener against the Knicks. He took six shots total over the next three games and played three minutes in Saturday’s preseason finale. Again, we can’t read too far into Casey’s preseason rotations. But the Pistons have a crowded roster; given that Casey has said he wants his rookies to earn their minutes, it’s tough to see a guaranteed role for Bey early. But if he hits his 3-pointers, it will help his chances of cracking the rotation. 

Like Bey, Stewart has veterans in front of him for playing time. Stewart has gotten good reviews from his teammates for his effort in practice and — also like Bey — he made a good first impression in the preseason opener. He’ll play, but minutes won’t come easy. 

Ellington, a career 37.8% shooter from beyond the 3-point line, is respected in the locker room and played 28 games with the Pistons to finish out the 2018-19 season. He’s a candidate for spot minutes.

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

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