A weird thing happened in the fourth quarter of Monday’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks. The Pistons had a seven-point lead entering the fourth quarter and instead of going back to the starters to finish out the game, Pistons coach Dwane Casey stayed with the young reserves.
Casey has leaned more to playing the youngsters, especially at the end of games. No Jerami Grant. No Mason Plumlee. Even no Saddiq Bey. It’s resulting in some losses, but it also yielded a confidence-building victory that will help the Pistons down the road.
Of course, there’s the matter of trying to secure a top-five pick in the draft — and the win pushed the Pistons out of the bottom-three spot and the best odds to get the top pick. The three teams with the worst records have equal odds (14%) of picking No. 1, and the Pistons, now in fourth, dropped to 12.5%.
What Casey has said is more important is establishing a winning culture. The Pistons (19-43) weren’t going to lose all of the remaining games in the season. It’s just not the way that things work, even with the No. 1 pick at stake.
The Houston Rockets (15-46) seem to have a hold on the worst record. It’ll be a question of whether the Minnesota Timberwolves (18-44) or the Orlando Magic (18-43) will finish ahead of the Pistons. Of particular importance will be head-to-head games, with the Timberwolves and Magic squaring off on May 9 and the Pistons hosting Minnesota on May 11.
There are still a couple of weeks left to sort out the final order before the draft lottery, but the Pistons seem to be gearing toward getting experience for their young players — and if a win comes from it, so be it.
This week’s mail satchel looks ahead to the draft prospects and the lineups that could play a role in deciding where that draft pick will be:
►Question: If we fall out of top 4, will we miss out on a potential future star? After Jalen Suggs, I don’t really see who could be that guy for us. — @PistonGreen
►Answer: The top four prospects — Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs and Jalen Green — seem to be the prizes of the draft. If there’s any lesson Pistons fans should have learned from this season, it’s that there are other talented players outside the top five. Troy Weaver has shown that he’s more than capable of making the right choices and finding hidden gems.
Jonathan Kuminga seems to be the fifth in that top tier of prospects, but after that, Scottie Barnes (Florida State), Jalen Johnson (Duke), Davion Mitchell (Baylor) and Moses Moody (Arkansas) are the next group of talented players.
If the Pistons fall out of the top five — which history has shown is the case, as the Pistons have never moved up in the lottery with their own pick — then there are options. That also wouldn’t preclude Weaver from looking at other options, such as trading up or down.
►Q. Why are they playing Cory Joseph 30 minutes a game when there’s a 99.99% chance he won’t be here next year? Wayne Ellington starting over Hamidou Diallo, when he won’t be here. I know “the culture” talk. But Stew/Bey/Grant/Hayes are the culture. Troy Weaver needs to step up. — @bigdogpistons
►A. Weaver has been at every game and knows full well what’s going on. If the young guys aren’t playing well, they shouldn’t be getting more minutes. That’s what Casey has preached since he’s been here. It seems that he’s sticking to that. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition, but it doesn’t seem that he’s rewarding any young players with playing time that’s undeserved.
Whether the veterans get more time is immaterial to that conversation, especially if they won’t be on the roster in the long term. It’s not the same kind of reward to them. In another sense, it’s just getting the system to run effectively with players who can execute it.
►Q. The Pistons have seen 2 outlines of starting lineups/rotations on back-to-back nights. With few back-to-backs left, is the rotation we saw (vs ATL) what we should expect for the remainder of the season? — @detroit_wyso
►A. Seeing Casey lean on the young players for the remainder of the fourth quarter was a bit surprising. He put it on their shoulders to win or lose, and they came through. It would be reasonable in the last 10 games to see more of those situations and if they lose, they lose.
There won’t be times where players such as Deividas Sirvydis and Tyler Cook play longer stints, unless there are specific things that Casey wants to see. They’re already 10-12 players deep into the rotation, so there’s not much more they can do in terms of reaching to the end of the bench.