Beard: Delon Wright’s injury opens door for Pistons’ young guards

Detroit News

Rod Beard | The Detroit News

Remember when the Pistons went through a couple of games where they only had one center available? That was a shaky time with rookie Isaiah Stewart starting for a couple of games because Mason Plumlee had elbow bursitis.

The Pistons might be going through a similar situation at point guard.

Rookie Killian Hayes has been out since early January because of a torn labrum in his right hip and the plug-in starter behind him, Delon Wright, has a grade-2 right groin strain that will keep him out for at least two weeks.

That leaves Dennis Smith Jr., who was acquired this month in the Derrick Rose trade with the Knicks, as the next option. It hasn’t been a smooth transition for Smith, who has played in just five games this season with the Pistons, but he has more experience than either Frank Jackson or rookie Saben Lee, who are on two-way contracts.

“It’ll be by committee,” coach Dwane Casey said before Sunday’s game at Orlando. “We’ve got three point guards there … Saben has done a good job and Frank’s done a good job; we’ll probably start out with Dennis but then after that, we’ll see how it goes and get a good look at all those guys.”

The Pistons likely will get a long look at Smith, who is in his fourth NBA season and has been showing some signs of getting acclimated to the Pistons’ system. He had nine and 10 points in back-to-back games against the Pelicans and Bulls and two other games in which he was scoreless but had five assists.

Smith, 23, is athletic, and with more time with the starters, he could get a bigger audition to show the Pistons that he could be part of their plans beyond this season, as he’s in the final year of his contract.

The bigger questions are with Lee and Jackson, who have restrictions in their two-way contracts that they can only be active on the Pistons roster for 50 days, including games and practice days. If they surpass that marker, they run out of NBA eligibility, unless the contract is converted to a standard contract, which would mean creating a roster spot, which they currently don’t have.

Navigating through the next couple of weeks could be tricky, but that’ll be on general manager Troy Weaver and Casey to figure out.

“The tedious thing you have with Saben and Frank is their days. There’s a lot of basketball left and a lot of playing time to be had,” Casey said. “We have to be judicious as far as using their games and their days. The NBA’s been talking about it as far as just doing away with the game restrictions with two-way guys with the pandemic going on, but it really hasn’t come to fruition.”

This week’s Monday Drive looks at some other developments from this week:

► 1. The news of the agreement with Blake Griffin to sit out until there’s a trade or buyout has opened a starting spot for Saddiq Bey, and he’s continued to play well, with 12 and 14 points in his last two games. That playing time is going to pay more dividends as the season progresses, though Bey already had started eight games this season and had earned Casey’s trust with being able to finish some games that he didn’t start. Bey still is shooting well, at 42% on 3-pointers and if there were a Rising Stars game at the All-Star Game this year, he likely would have been in consideration.

► 2. Wright’s injury doesn’t only sting because the Pistons don’t have a lot of experienced depth there. Another reason is that he was having a solid season: 10.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists, all career highs. Wright had a way of scoring when the Pistons needed a boost and for getting to the rim when other options broke down. He wasn’t always spectacular, but he was generally solid, which is something a rebuilding team needs.

► 3. Wayne Ellington has cooled off from the ridiculous shooting streak he had, when he went seven straight games scoring in double figures from Jan. 18-28. He was posting 18.9 points and shooting 60% on 3-pointers. That ended with the start of the western trip and he’s only reached double figures once since then, with 10 points against the Grizzlies on Friday.

► 4. Sekou Doumbouya returned from a three-game absence because of concussion protocol and had a couple of nice drives to the basket. He still is looking to find a good rhythm, and with more playing time behind Jerami Grant at power forward, he should get more consistent minutes and be able to get more comfortable on both ends of the court.

► 5. Plumlee has been putting together some solid numbers in the three games since he sat out because of elbow bursitis. He started the week with a triple-double against the Pelicans and he’s averaging 12.7 points, 11 rebounds and 6.3 assists in his last three games.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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