Beard: Pistons’ depth becomes source of strength amid rash of injuries

Detroit News

Detroit — The Pistons have had their share of injury issues this season.

Oddly, it seems to have come simultaneously at various positions, making it a little trickier for coach Dwane Casey to manage from a roster perspective.

Early in the season, it was Jahlil Okafor, which left only Mason Plumlee and Isaiah Stewart as options at center. It’s cascaded to point guard, where they had been without Killian Hayes and then Delon Wright, which opened the door for more minutes for Saben Lee and Dennis Smith Jr.

More recently, it’s been the wings, with Josh Jackson, Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder, which has made for more playing time for Frank Jackson as a shooting guard. The bright spot is that the Pistons have been able to utilize their depth to minimize the impact of some of the injuries.

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“The good thing about it is we’ve had guys behind those guys ready to go. From Saben to Rodney McGruder before he got hurt, you can go right down the line of guys ready to step in to perform,” Casey said Sunday. “Isaiah Stewart when Jahlil went down. It just shows that guys were professionals, they worked with their coaches and in practice and stayed practice. That’s something we were preaching early — whenever your number is called, be ready to go, and those guys have been ready.

“That’s one part of an NBA that’s going to happen unfortunately is injuries. When you’re a young team, it’s hard to sell a young guy to keep working and good things are going to happen, so be ready.”

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Frank Jackson has started the last three games and has fit nicely into the spot. He had a season-high 23 points against the Rockets — included 5-of-5 on 3-pointers — and was a steady influence on both ends of the court.

Though he’s on a two-way contract, Jackson could be a potential third point guard in the future and the Pistons are taking the chance to evaluate whether he can be a long-term fit on the roster, as they are with their other options. After his 23-point performance on Friday, Casey had some nice words for Jackson.

“I was so happy for (Jackson) because he came in as a two-way and the league did the right thing with doing away with the (50-game) limitations, so now he’s a part of the group,” Casey said. “He’s worked hard every day and really didn’t get an opportunity early, and now we’re able to evaluate and see what he is, who he is, and we really like what we saw the other night and really happy for him … you saw it pay off.”

It’s a big development for the Pistons, who are getting some significant playing time for their young core and can decide how they want to move forward in gauging the roster and which players they might want to keep.

Here are some key takeaways from the past week:

1. Decisions to make: When Killian Hayes returns, he’ll likely be working with the second group instead of starting, Casey said. That will have a ripple effect on the minutes for Frank Jackson and Lee, though Casey has said that he doesn’t mind playing multiple point guards together, whether in the starting lineup or the second unit. That surplus of point guards is a good problem to have, as seen through the injury situation, but they could want to free up some playing time as well.

2. Trade time: Don’t expect the Pistons to stand pat through Thursday’s trade deadline. There isn’t anything imminent, but they’ll likely find a spot for Wayne Ellington for some draft considerations. There could be other options to deal, as there are reports that the Pistons have some interest in Magic forward Aaron Gordon and the Hawks’ John Collins, but those are bigger deals that would entail moving bigger pieces, and maybe future first-round draft picks, which doesn’t seem likely.

3. Sekou’s minutes: Though the Pistons have been trying to find minutes for Sekou Doumbouya, either the matchups don’t dictate it or he’s still working his way into playing longer stretches. The Pistons signed Tyler Cook to a 10-day contract and even he had more minutes against the Rockets than Doumbouya. It’s still a work in progress, as Doumbouya looked to be a beneficiary of the playing time freed up by parting ways with Blake Griffin.

4. Stewart’s game: Isaiah Stewart is showing more dimensions to his game, with an impressive 3-point display, including going 2-for-2 against the Raptors and 1-of-2 versus the Rockets. Casey has been encouraging Stewart to shoot more and even when it’s not from the 3-point line, Stewart has been confident in his face-up game, hitting jumpers from the elbow area and stretching the defense that way.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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