Rod Beard | The Detroit News
Detroit — The Pistons have a roster that New Orleans Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy would have trouble recognizing. Only one player, Blake Griffin, remains from the squad that Van Gundy four-year tenure leading the Pistons, which ended in 2018.
That was a different time, when the Pistons were holding on to slim playoff hopes each year with a mostly veteran roster.
Things change quickly.
In just a couple of years, senior adviser Ed Stefanski and new general manager Troy Weaver have morphed the roster from hoping for the playoffs to hoping for the future. Weaver’s new direction is a rebuild that includes four draft picks from last season and 11 players who are 25 or younger.
It’s a new direction, but it’s already starting to bear some fruit — and that’s without No. 7 overall pick Killian Hayes, who played just seven games before suffering a torn hip labrum.
In the Pistons’ past two games, the future has been on display, with No. 16 pick Isaiah Stewart posting a career-high 17 points on Thursday versus the Indiana Pacers and No. 19 pick Saddiq Bey notching a career-best 30 points on Friday against the Boston Celtics.
Through the first 26 games of the season, it hasn’t amounted to much in the win column, as the Pistons have just seven wins. There’s been a subtle transition to playing the young pieces more and to let the chips fall where they may. The Pistons look to be destined for a top-five pick, holding one of the worst records in the league.
There’s some optimism with some of Weaver’s other offseason additions, headlined by Jerami Grant, who could very well be an All-Star, along with Josh Jackson, who’s been a pleasant surprise as a super-sub. Mason Plumlee and Delon Wright have been solid in the starting lineup.
The Monday Drive takes a look at some takeaways from the past week:
► 1. Bey’s 30-point outburst will be remembered for him going 7-of-7 on 3-pointers, but the other big takeaways were his post moves inside against the Celtics’ Grant Williams and his play in transition. He’s become a legitimate weapon offensively, and not just spotting up at the arc. Defensively, he’s gotten the trust of coach Dwane Casey to finish games because of his defense. Bey is very clearly a key piece of the rebuild moving forward.
► 2. In his last seven games, Jackson is averaging 17.6 points, six rebounds and shooting 39% on 3-pointers, in about 29 minutes off the bench. He’s provided a huge boost off the bench on both ends of the court, guarding the opponent’s best wing, and bringing good production himself. In the past week or so, Jackson has been more aggressive in going to the rim and showed fearlessness in driving at Pacers center Myles Turner.
► 3. Some fans have called for the Pistons to put Stewart in the starting lineup over Plumlee, but it’s not quite time yet. Stewart has some work to do on managing his fouls, as he showed against the Pacers, when he got two quick ones in the first three minutes. That put the Pistons in a tough spot with a shorthanded frontcourt because of the injuries. It’s more a hat-tip to what Plumlee has been able to do in being solid as a starter. Plumlee isn’t Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic or Rudy Gobert, but he’s been solid this season.
► 4. Grant has been a viable All-Star candidate this season, ranking 10th in the fan voting. His numbers don’t tell the full story of how good he’s been with the Pistons, despite three 32-point games this season, which is his career high. He’s been efficient in getting to the free-throw line and picking his spots. Grant has downplayed his chances: “If it happens, it happens,” — but Casey has said he’ll lobby for Grant to make the All-Star team. The fact the Pistons have a losing record shouldn’t detract from the fact that Grant has played beyond expectation. The bigger issue might be the other frontcourt candidates in the East.
► 5. Wright has been better than expected this season. The projection was that he’d be a piece for the backcourt off the bench and maybe start in a pinch. That pinch came early, after Hayes’ injury just seven games in. Wright is posting 10.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists — and most impressively, has a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. His familiarity with Casey’s offensive system has helped and he could simply slide over to play the other guard spot when Hayes returns.