Beard: It’s one step forward, two steps back for 5-15 Pistons

Detroit News

Rod Beard
| The Detroit News

The Pistons haven’t had a season like this one.

Aside from the pandemic and all that goes with the extra precautions on the road and the protocols that have them mostly confined to their hotel rooms when they’re not doing team activities, this season still is different.

There was a massive roster turnover. There were three first-round draft picks. Along with that, several veteran free agents arrived, with varying roles to help the team in the rebuild. General manager Troy Weaver is new to the job and Blake Griffin is coming off knee surgery.

With so much change, anybody expecting the Pistons to contend this year is overly optimistic, but there are some specific goals for the season. Those include getting valuable experience for the young players, assessing some of the free agents and setting a course for the long-term future.

Through one-quarter of the season, the Pistons (5-15) are well on their way to one of the worst records in the league, which could yield a top-five draft pick. That would help in the long-term rebuild, but there’s been some up and down in the season already.

Take, for example, Saturday’s 28-point loss against Golden State, coming on the heels of their best win of the season, toppling the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.

Best win followed by worst loss.

“In the first couple plays of the game, I knew that something wasn’t right,” coach Dwane Casey said. “There are no excuses in this league, because once you do, teams will embarrass you. That’s what it was tonight — they just spanked us.”

The lopsided loss was the worst of the season, as the Pistons had managed to stay within 15 points of every opponent. The Bucks, the Celtics, the Sixers, the red-hot Utah Jazz, and the Suns.

It says something that the Pistons’ five wins have come against some of the top teams in the league: the Heat, Celtics, Sixers, Suns and Lakers. On any given night, they can give a team some problems, and in general, they’re not going to get run off the floor.

Several players have alluded to the idea that the Pistons aren’t as bad as their record suggests. That’s not to say that they’ll be a playoff team this year, but they won’t go through long losing streaks, either.

The Drive takes a look at some of the top storylines from this week:

►  Isaiah Stewart, agitator: If there’s a one-word description for Stewart, it could be energetic or determined, but the alternate synonym is for the way he gets under the skin of opponents. There have been some dust-ups this season, but none was like the Sixers game when Stewart tore Dwight Howard’s shorts and drove him to get a technical foul. Against the Lakers, it was Montrezl Harrell who got tangled with Stewart, which led to another verbal disagreement. Stewart isn’t doing anything dirty or against the rules, but his energy in going for every offensive rebound and looking to gain an advantage have made him a fan favorite.

►   Wayne Ellington, human: For eight straight games, Ellington had hit at least three 3-pointers, and at least four in seven consecutive games, setting a new franchise record. He had risen to second in the league, at 52% this season. It was a meteoric rise for the veteran, and it had gotten to a point that when he missed, it was a surprise. Off-balance, off a screen, tightly guarded — it didn’t matter. Ellington fell back to normality, with a 0-for-6 outing, missing all five of his 3-pointers, against the Warriors. He’s had just one other game this season where he didn’t make at least one, when he played just four seconds against the Suns.

►  Delon Wright, scorer: After trying to find his way in the starting lineup for most of the season, Wright found a good niche as a scorer, notching a career-high 28 points in the win over the Sixers. That was in a stretch of Wright scoring in double figures for four straight games, which ended Saturday against the Warriors. Wright also has increased his rebounding and assists in the past couple of weeks, which has added to his value in the starting lineup.

►  Saben Lee, emerging: For much of the season, it looked as if Lee, a second-round pick, would be an afterthought this season and wouldn’t be able to get a lot of playing time. So far, it seems as if the Pistons are more committed to getting Lee as much time as they can — within reason. With his two-way contract, Lee can play in a maximum of 50 games. Through the first 20 games, Lee has played in five, and he missed both the Lakers and Warriors games. He seemingly has moved into the third position at point guard behind Derrick Rose and ahead of Frank Jackson, another two-way contract. Lee has gotten more comfortable and is making more plays as he’s eased into playing time.

Pistons at Nuggets

Tipoff: 9 Monday, Ball Arena, Denver

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Pistons (5-15) had an inauspicious start to their five-game western road trip with a 28-point loss to the Warriors on Saturday night. The Nuggets (11-8) will be on the second game of a back-to-back after playing the West-leading Utah Jazz.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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