Why Dwane Casey must be creative with Detroit Pistons’ point guard rotation

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II  | Detroit Free Press


The Detroit Pistons had an unexpected point guard problem Tuesday.

Derrick Rose didn’t appear on the pregame injury report against the Utah Jazz, but was a last-minute scratch to the rotation due to an upset stomach. Two-way guard Saben Lee, who has filled in as the backup point guard when Rose has missed games previously, had already been ruled inactive.

So head coach Dwane Casey turned to Rodney McGruder — a 6-foot-4 wing who had played point guard sparingly at his past stops. In 16 minutes, McGruder tallied five points and three assists in a 117-105 loss. Rose’s surprise absence caught the Pistons off-guard, Casey said, and he praised McGruder’s energy after the game.

“Rodney McGruder came in and played his heart out, at a position that he hasn’t played a lot,” Casey said.

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The Pistons were a victim of timing Tuesday, but it underscored how much thinner they are at the position following rookie point guard Killian Hayes’ hip injury, which will keep him out of the rotation until late March at the earliest.

Delon Wright has settled into the starting point guard spot since the injury, and hasn’t missed a game this season. But Rose, the lead backup, has missed five games this season due to knee soreness, and one was during the second half of a back-to-back. Rose is also on a minutes restriction, and is averaging 22.8 per game.

Both two-way players, Lee and Frank Jackson, have filled in at point guard when Hayes and Rose have both been absent this season. But Casey has said Jackson is better as a shooting guard, and he didn’t appear in Tuesday’s game

Two-way players can spend up to 50 games with their parent teams this season, so Lee has already been made inactive eight times this season, including during the past four games, to save his eligible games.

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When he’s active, Lee is the likely option to fill in when Rose is out. Lee has appeared in five games this season and played close to 12 minutes or more in four. Lee has made strides as a playmaker, and Casey has praised his defense.

“Saben brings a defensive intensity,” Casey said. “He’s an attack point guard that does a good job of getting to where he wants to go into the paint, which I like. He’s a smart player. He’s improved his shooting. He’s everything about what we’re trying to build here in the future. But his defensive approach is second-to-none as far as sticking his nose in there, and a tough kid.”

Blake Griffin, Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant also initiate a fair bit of Detroit’s offense, taking much of the load off of the point guard. Grant is averaging 3.9 assists per game since Jan. 18, and Griffin and Plumlee are two of the best passing bigs in the league.

Tuesday didn’t represent the norm for the Pistons’ point guard rotation this season. But it illustrated that until Hayes returns, Casey may have to be creative to fill the position.

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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