Detroit Pistons enter All-Star break with ‘so many good things’ happening — except winning

Detroit Free Press

Dana Gauruder
 |  Special to Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Pistons enter the All-Star break feeling a lot better about themselves than anyone should expect from a team with the Eastern Conference’s worst record.

They finished up the first half of their schedule with a 114-104 road loss to the New York Knicks on Thursday.

No one’s fretting about the team’s 10-26 record in the early stages of their rebuild. Rather, there’s been enough promise shown by the team’s rookies and free agent acquisitions to consider the first half a moderate success.

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“It’s just so many good things that are going on,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Unfortunately, they’re not coming out as Ws. But get us now before these guys grow up and really become a team and experienced NBA players.”

Playing the second game of a back-to-back, the Pistons got bullied inside by the much-improved Knicks. They were outscored, 66-38, in the paint and out-rebounded, 52-34.

They were missing several key players, including Jerami Grant, Josh Jackson and Delon Wright, and couldn’t sustain the offense the previous night when they overwhelmed Toronto, 129-105. That game was postponed one night due to COVID-19 issues in the Raptors’ organization.

The Pistons don’t play again until Thursday when they head to Charlotte.

“I don’t think it’s a complete week (off) but we all need to get away from each other and recharge,” Casey said. “Some of the guys have some nicks and bumps and bruises; have to get those taken care of and bounce back. We have quite a bit of basketball left and we want to continue to grow. I would challenge anyone who says these young players haven’t grown.”

At some point, perhaps later this month, lottery pick Killian Hayes will be ready to return from his hip injury. The lost time that could have been spent on learning the nuances of being a starting point guard in the league has been the season’s biggest disappointment.

That has been offset by the continued development of the team’s other rookies. Saddiq Bey, now a full-time starter, had 14 points and four assists on Thursday. His 3-point shooting has fallen off since that 30-point eruption in Boston on Feb. 12, but he’s showing a greater willingness to attack the basket.

“I’ve seen a lot so far in the first half,” Bey said. “I’m ready and motivated to be better.”

Isaiah Stewart, fully entrenched as the backup center, had a 10-point first half, hitting a mid-range shot and two baseline jumpers along the way.

“That’s just me playing basketball, me knowing I have that shot in my game,” Stewart said. “I’ve worked on it and the opportunity is there and I’m confident about that shot.”

Second-round pick Saben Lee had a quiet night with five points but has shown a fearless streak with his aggressive drives. He had 20 points and seven assists against the Raptors.

“All these things are firsts for these guys,” Casey said. “That’s what rebuilding and playing young guys and getting these minutes is all about. I can see them growing, making the right play, the right passes.”

They’re also showing a feistiness that’s been sorely lacking over the past decade. That was on display when they entered the fourth quarter down 19. Rather than being in a hurry to get their mini-vacation started, the Pistons outscored the Knicks, 30-21, in the quarter and forced the Knicks to keep their regulars on the floor.

It’s that attitude that impresses Casey even as the losses pile up.

“Teams right now are going to have to really, really fight to beat us,” he said. 

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