There have been a few times already this season where I am sitting there watching the Detroit Pistons thinking to myself, “how in the hell are these guys still in this game?” Perhaps no time was as inexplicable as when the Pistons played the Magic on Sunday. In a game that saw Nikola Vucevic drop an easy 37, Evan Fournier net 29 and Terrance Ross 17 off the bench, it seemed like the Magic would make quick work of the Pistons. But every time the Magic would go up a dozen, the Pistons would claw their way back within three.
An amazing feat for a bad team, and even moreso for a team that is down the top three point guards on its season-opening depth chart and a two-way player and a failed lottery pick who couldn’t get off the bench for the New York Knicks as the only point guards on the roster. I suppose you could explain it by acknowledging just how banged up the Magic are as well. No Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Issac, Markelle Fultz or Cole Anthony. That group of injured players only scored 22 points fewer than the rest of the Magic’s roster against the Pistons.
When: 7 p.m. EST
Where: Amway Center, Orlando, Florida
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons +3.5
This team is a bit of a mess, and will be all season, and will be an especially big mess while relying on Dennis Smith Jr and Saben Lee to run point. And I’ll use this bit of precious real estate to argue for one thing tonight against the Magic — start Saben Lee. I know it might not be the most gracious thing in the eyes of Smith, who is relatively new to the team and battling some significant confidence issues. But tonight is the perfect night to make it happen. Detroit is playing the same team as it did its previous game, and in that game there was a huge dichotomy between how the team performed with Smith on the floor and how it performed with Lee on the floor. Second, Lee is familiar with the team and running the offense in ways Smith is not, so it is not exactly a direct indictment on the skill level of the two players. Third, Smith’s natural role for the rest of the season will be as the point guard off the bench (unless he falls out of the rotation completely), so he might as well continue learning that role and building chemistry with those guys. Fourth, those aforementioned Smith confidence issues aren’t getting any better with him laying an absolute egg when asked to run the team.
Look, I don’t particularly care about wins and losses this season, but it seems like while Delon Wright is out this current setup isn’t doing the starters or the bench players any favors. Smith is not especially prone to defer to the other starters on the floor who should 100% be commanding more of the offensive load. And that aggressiveness might play better off the bench and allow for simpler drive and kick or dump off opportunities to young guys like Isaiah Stewart who is rolling to the rim or Svi Mykhailuk or Sekou Doumbouya who are comfortable shooting from the perimeter. Lee, meanwhile, can defer to Jerami Grant and, to a less extent, Mason Plumlee in the starting lineup, while pushing the pace when bringing the ball up the floor and running around like crazy trying to play a complementary role and look for a way to slice through the defense while playing off the ball.
In either scenario, the Pistons are largely going to be playing at a disadvantage and a deficit, but one of these ways seems a lot more appetizing to my eyes and to the development of the roster as a whole.
Detroit Pistons (8-22)
Dennis Smith Jr, Wayne Ellington, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee
Orlando Magic (13-18)
Michael Carter-Williams, Evan Fournier, Al-Farouq Aminu, James Ennis, Nikola Vucevic
Question of the Game
Will Saben dunk?