A funny thing happened on the way to winding down the Pistons’ season.
The fans got excited about something.
It wasn’t about a buzzer-beating win or a standout individual performance against an elite-level team. Instead, it was just the notion that the Pistons started all three of their first-round picks in the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.
For something seemingly so small, it was a big step in the Pistons’ rebuild, because it was symbolic that they were all-in on the youth movement. Granted, it’s not going to happen very often, because the injury report included veteran starters Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Cory Joseph, but it was something.
Just the notion of seeing Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart’s names in the starting lineup created a buzz on Twitter, because injury or other lineup permutations had prevented it for most of the season.
They didn’t disappoint.
Hayes had a steady game, but made the highlight reels because of a bowling-type pass that showed just some of his pure potential as a point guard. Stewart had a career-high 21 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end. Bey showed that he’s more than just a one-trick pony with his 3-point shooting.
There’s no guarantee that Grant or any of the other veterans will be here when the rebuild is done, but there’s some intrigue about what general manager Troy Weaver’s “Core Four” — the trio, plus second-round pick Saben Lee — can be with extended playing time and a couple of seasons under their belts.
The final month of the season will provide some opportunities for coach Dwane Casey to try some things, but just as the Pistons saw in their last-second loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, it’s not always going to be pretty.
This week’s Monday Drive looks at some key takeaways from the past week:
► 1. Killian Hayes had a week for himself. It wasn’t just about the bowling-ball pass; it was also about him getting a comfort level with regular playing time. He came off the bench for a couple of games and started against the Thunder. The medical staff still is being cautious and holding him out of the second game of back-to-backs, but as he’s getting into a groove, he’s finding the touch on his jump shot and on floaters in the lane. It’s becoming more apparent in game action why the Pistons were so high on him in the draft.
► 2. Frank Jackson is a keeper. When he signed a two-way contract early in the season, I didn’t think that would be the takeaway. He’s likely not a frontline starter, but Jackson has shown in the past couple of weeks that he has value. In the past five games, Jackson has scored 17, 16, 18 and 19 points (along with a scoreless game), but he’s developed into a very good 3-point shooter and is augmenting that with some good drives and finishes at the rim. He won’t be on a two-way contract next season.
► 3. There is no wrong pick in the top five. If the Pistons end up with a top-five pick in the draft, they can use any of the options. They simply need playmakers, like Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley or Jonathan Kuminga. The key is just having some luck and not falling out of the top five after the lottery.
4. Jerami Grant will be fine. There are some who are concerned Grant’s offensive production was waning. After a few games off at the end of the western trip, Grant returned and looked fine, with 28 points against the Clippers at home. He might have a few more games off in the final stretch, but there shouldn’t be any concern.
Pistons at Cavaliers
► Tipoff: 7 p.m. Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: BSD/950 AM
► Outlook: The Cavaliers (20-36) were threatening for a playoff spot earlier in the season, but have collapsed and likely will find themselves back in the draft lottery. The Pistons (17-40) have not won a game against a team in their division.