Through 51 games, the Pistons still are entertaining to watch on most nights. They’re not going to win on most nights, but it’s still worth the time to see how the young players are developing.
It might be Saddiq Bey hitting six 3-pointers, as he did in Tuesday night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets. There might be a pair of triple-doubles, like Dennis Smith Jr. and Mason Plumlee pulled off earlier this season.
It could be center Isaiah Stewart draining 3-pointers or Killian Hayes putting together an awe-inspiring blend of passing and defense.
For subscribers: ‘He’ll be special’: Thunder’s Sam Presti holds Pistons’ Troy Weaver in high regard
On any given night, it could be a 10-point win over a contender or a 20-point loss to a team with a losing record. It’s part of the rebuild that general manager Troy Weaver and coach Dwane Casey are putting together, and it’s going to have its pock parks — but it’s also going to have its surprises, from time to time.
It’s one thing to say that the Pistons are heading for the draft lottery; it’s quite another to get through the muck of a substantial losing season and watch the reconstruction as it happens, even to see some of the bright spots in the midst of the struggles.
News & Views takes a look at some recent developments in the Pistons’ season and how they’ll impact the path forward.
►News: Killian Hayes returned on Friday after a three-month absence because of a hip injury.
►Views: Hayes was solid in the two games he played, against the Knicks and Thunder. He had nine points and seven assists against Oklahoma City, which amounts to one of the better games of his rookie season, which is a total of nine games.
Fans need to pump the brakes on their kneejerk assessments that Hayes is a bust and that the Pistons should have drafted Tyrese Haliburton instead. It’s been — nine — games. Nine. It might take Hayes another year or two before he develops into what Weaver envisioned when he picked him seventh in the first round last year. Things don’t happen overnight, especially at point guard.
Saben Lee has made good progress in his development, and it’s reasonable to believe that Hayes will do the same, with a full summer to work and improve his game. Give it time. It’s not a Darko Milicic situation here.
►News: The Pistons signed forward Tyler Cook to a standard contract for the remainder of the season, with a team option for next season.
►Views: It’s a well-deserved contract for the work that he’s put in. Since signing a 10-day contract in mid-March, Cook has played in 11 games and has increased his production steadily. Most fans would claim that Cook is taking the minutes that Sekou Doumbouya should be getting, but they’re two different players. Doumbouya is more of a finesse perimeter player, whereas Cook is a power player who plays inside and gets to the rim and finishes with strength.
If only there were some way to fuse the two players into one, that would be what the Pistons need at forward.
Cook, in his second season, is a hard worker and fits in with the Pistons’ timeline of young players. At age 23, he’s going to get better, and with an offseason to work with the development staff, he could be a more polished player by next season. His non-guaranteed deal for next season will allow the Pistons to gauge his progress and move on if they’re not satisfied.
►News: Hamidou Diallo is getting regular time as the backup small forward.
►Views: In six games, Diallo has been a solid performer, posting 128 points, 5.2 rebounds and shooting 58% from the field and 58% on 3-pointers. It’s still a small sample size, but Diallo has been one of the bright spots in the past two weeks since arriving from Oklahoma City in the trade for Svi Mykhailiuk.
Diallo was a favorite of Weaver during his time with the Thunder and he fits well with the Pistons. He brings much of the same skill set that Josh Jackson does, but his execution is a bit smoother, with the patience that Jackson sometimes lacks. Like the Doumbouya-Cook comparison, it would be good to fuse the two players, but there’s room for them both on the roster.
If there were a way to play them together, they could be a stifling wing combination, but that would require either of them to hit shots at a higher rate than they’ve shown in their careers. That could be an experiment in the last part of the season.
PISTONS AT KINGS
Tipoff: 10 Thursday, Golden 1 Center, Sacramento
Outlook: The Kings (22-29) have lost four straight games and have fallen to 12th in the Western Conference. The Pistons (15-36) have split the first two games of their five-game western trip.