| The Detroit News
In the final minutes of Friday’s surprising win over the Phoenix Suns, the Pistons went with a different look to the lineup. Instead of one of their regular lineups, they used rookie Saddiq Bey as the shooting guard, to go along with the starting frontcourt.
Bey isn’t quite a typical shooting guard but when it came down to crunch time, coach Dwane Casey went with the players he trusted.
“I was just looking for hard-playing guys who have attention to detail in the zone and Saddiq was one of them,” Casey said. “He’s a very mature player for his age and he was getting the job done.
“The gravy part of it was that was knocking down shots. I have no qualms in keeping him in there at the end of games, as long as he’s producing and doing his job, especially doing his job defensively.”
Those are some of the same descriptions that made Bey a top target in the draft, where he was described as a heady defender who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. That’s translated well for the forward, who is 6-foot-7 with a 6-11 wingspan and just continues to find playing time, even with the closers.
It’s all just another day at the office for Bey, who has brought a blue-collar work ethic after two years at Villanova. He brings a level of humility with a two-way game that speaks for itself on the court.
Although it’s not exactly flashy, it’s effective.
“It was a blessing to have the opportunity to play down the stretch. The team rallied together to come back and it means a lot,” Bey said. “I’m trying to control what I can control and try to play hard and whenever an opportunity comes, just be ready. That’s the mindset.”
The numbers do a bit of the talking. In his last eight games, which includes three starts, Bey is posting 11.9 points, 5 rebounds and is shooting 46% on 3-pointers, with 6.3 attempts per game. More impressively, he’s scratching out significant playing time, with 25.5 minutes, playing primarily with the second group, but then getting a look to finish games.
“I have no qualms because he’s not your typical rookie, maturity-wise or fundamental wise,” Casey said. “Villanova players are ready when they come into the NBA and they’re knowledgeable and play an NBA style of game.”
Casey said they didn’t interview Bey, because they figured that he wouldn’t still be on the board when they picked 19th in the first round. Surprisingly, he was, and the Pistons pounced on the opportunity.
It’s paid off handsomely in a rookie who can contribute on both ends of the court and is learning as he goes. One criticism has been his shooting mechanics on his jumper, but as long as he’s getting shots to fall, it’s not something to mess with during the season.
“He doesn’t have any problem at all getting his feet set and letting it go. It’s a little funky-looking shot but it goes in, and to me, that’s all that’s important, is the end result,” Casey said. “I love the way he plays and his maturity. Does he have room for improvement? Yes, all rookies do. He’s getting the job done and we’re really excited for his future.”
Blake Griffin has had a rough start to the season. He’s missed a game because of concussion protocol and a couple of rest days on back-to-backs to help manage his knee injury. He hadn’t played a game since last December and only played 18 games last season.
It’s going to take some time to see what he has left and how close he can get to the same form and production he displayed in 2018-19 when he was All-NBA. Even if he doesn’t get all the way back to that level, Griffin can be a benefit to the Pistons with his leadership and veteran savvy in helping develop a new culture for a younger roster.
“He’s been off for a year and he’s champing at the bit. He’s a player who needs rhythm and reps,” Casey said. “It’s very unfortunate because he had the protocol issue with the concussion and the (Cavs loss) right before that, so there was a little funky area he had that kept him from playing.
“Blake is one of our smartest players on the team and he gets the ball in the post and he can quarterback from the post or elbow and he’s still a good shooter. He’s very valuable to us and it’s just him getting into a rhythm.”
Early in the season, Griffin has struggled on defense and the lateral movement doesn’t seem to be what it was in trying to stay with smaller, quicker players. Teams are looking to get switches to take advantage of the matchup, but the Pistons are trying to work around it as much as they can.
Offensively, he’s still finding a new niche, alongside Jerami Grant, who has become the No. 1 scoring option because of his versatility. Griffin, who had started on the perimeter mostly, now is working his way to the elbow and in the paint to become more of a matchup problem and to use his passing skills.
Still, he’s having one of his worst statistical seasons, so the Pistons are going to try to get him out of the rut and into a better flow on offense and utilizing where he can be a matchup problem.
“There’s no question of where Blake will get to once he gets into a rhythm and gets consistent minutes,” Casey said.