Detroit Pistons mailbag: Their ceiling, Sekou Doumbouya’s minutes and Killian Hayes’ injury

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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This is not only the first Detroit Pistons mailbag of 2021, but our first mailbag since training camp. Much has happened since then.

Jerami Grant has risen from role player to emerging star. The seventh pick of the 2020 draft, Killian Hayes, made his NBA debut and suffered a hip injury a few weeks after. The Pistons have won some games, and lost many more.

Outside of some unfortunate surprises, the Pistons have followed their plan. They’ve been competitive in nearly every game, and they’ve gotten good contributions from their young players. It’s Year 1 of a rebuild — or retool, using the organization’s preferred word — and there’s been some positives looking at the season through that lens. 

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Big thanks to everyone who sent a question. Let’s get to it. 

Definitely a combination of all of the above. 

Hayes entered the season at a disadvantage, as he only had five days of training camp and four preseason games to prepare for his rookie season. It didn’t do him any favors that the Pistons have the least roster continuity of any team in the NBA. He had to learn a new offense on the fly, with a mostly-new roster, while facing bigger, more athletic defenders. 

As a rookie point guard, Hayes was bound to experience some difficulty this season. But the Pistons were confident he’d be able to hit the ground running because of his professional experience in Europe, and a lot of smart basketball people are high on his upside. 

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The hip injury complicates an already-tough start to the season, but I think he’ll figure it out. He’s already defending well, and we’ve seen him make smart reads with the ball in his hands. His footwork is good. Dwane Casey said his biggest issue was that he was overthinking and needed to relax. There’s something to that, considering how little time he had to prepare for the season. 

Hayes’ injury, a torn labrum in his right hip, is one that takes time to fully diagnose. It’s possible he can rehab it and return to the floor this season, but the Pistons won’t know if it requires surgery until he’s well into the physical therapy process. It’s unclear when a decision on surgery will be made. 

The biggest priority is making sure Hayes is 100% healthy and can resume his career, whether it’s through physical therapy or surgery. Even if he had surgery today, it could be seven months before he’s able to return to the floor. That would keep him out until August. A surgeon told me it’s generally preferable to go the rehab route and avoid surgery. I wouldn’t expect the Pistons and Hayes to rush their decision. 

It’s a “Sekou Doumbouya is a forward on a roster with a lot of forwards, and the Pistons aren’t always going to play him over better players when they’re trying to win” issue. By all accounts, Doumbouya has matured and is impressing the coaching staff with his daily approach. I asked Casey about Doumbouya on Thursday, after Doumbouya didn’t play during the Pistons’ loss to the Bucks on Wednesday. He had this to say: 

“Sekou is growing,” Casey said. “I’m so happy for him and proud of him, his seriousness of work. I know he didn’t get in last night. It’s one of those things with Blake (Griffin) and also Jerami matched against Antetokounmpo as much as possible. There’s only so many minutes, and again, that was more on us than anything else. There’s nothing he’s done wrong. He’s worked, the kid is the first one in the gym.” 

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Casey added that he and the coaching staff can do a better job of finding minutes for him. His natural position is power forward, just like Griffin and Grant. He could shift down to small forward, but he’d still be competing with Grant, Josh Jackson and Saddiq Bey. It’s a rebuilding year and developing the young players is a priority. I just don’t think the path to the floor is as easy for Doumbouya, compared to some of the other young players on the roster who either play less-crowded positions, or have just played better. 

Bey, easily. He’s already shooting 43% from 3, and he provides size and length on defense. He is fifth overall on the roster in total minutes played and is outplaying several veterans. 

He probably had the highest floor of any of Detroit’s rookies, given that he played two years of college at Villanova and has a translatable skill set as a 3-and-D guy. But to see him emerge as the best 3-point shooter on the roster and positively impact winning this early in his career is impressive. 

I do think this offense has some room to improve. The Pistons have had some impressive quarters of basketball. It’s a new roster with only four players returning from last season, and we’re still only six weeks removed from the first day of training camp. 

Mykhailiuk has been uncharacteristically bad from outside (30.8% from 3), and there’s a good chance Griffin and Derrick Rose will get better as the season progresses. Rose didn’t play basketball for nine months during the layoff last year, and Griffin went a full year between games while rehabbing his left knee. 

I don’t think the ceiling on offense is particularly high, but Grant has surpassed expectations as a lead option, and Griffin and Rose have room to get better. That this isn’t the league’s worst offense despite the offseason turnover and playing some of the NBA’s best defensive teams multiple times already could be encouraging. 

As for Casey’s job as head coach so far, I think there’s been a lot of good. He’s coaching to win games, as he and general manager Troy Weaver said the plan would be this season. The losing record doesn’t undermine the process. They talk a lot about wanting to foster a competitive culture and have their young players earn their minutes. Hayes, Bey and Isaiah Stewart have all had significant roles in the rotation, and Mykhailiuk has been playing through a slump. We’ve seen both two-way players, Saben Lee and Frank Jackson, play significant minutes with Rose out. 

No, Doumbouya has not had as big a role as many of the other young players. It shouldn’t overshadow that as a whole, Casey’s been finding the balance between giving young players an opportunity to grow on the court, and relying on his vets to compete to win. We’ve seen Doumbouya play significant minutes in fourth quarters this season. And there’s still a lot of season left.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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