Detroit Pistons have 3 players fighting for 2 spots at wing. Sizing up the candidates

Detroit Free Press

Preseason games start Wednesday for the Detroit Pistons vs. San Antonio, and we’re starting to see the outlines of what coach Dwane Casey’s rotation will look like.

He has hinted how he expects things will play out. We probably won’t see more than 10 players on the floor most nights, and the starting lineup will have less experience than the second unit.

“One is a younger unit that’s going to bring energy, and the second unit will probably have more experience,” Casey said Saturday. “And then the end of game unit will be a different unit. That’s the best group of guys that we’re gonna have. You may see three different looks. We’ll fill that out in exhibition and just see where that is.”

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The training camp battle to keep an eye on is the crowded wing rotation as  Frank Jackson, Josh Jackson and Hamidou Diallo are battling for minutes. With 10 rotation spots available, Casey will face tough decisions. Josh Jackson and Diallo bring similar strengths to the roster, while Frank Jackson is a spot-up shooter. Different players may be flexed in and out depending on matchups.

Casey likes having multiple ball-handlers on the floor at the same time, which positions Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham and Cory Joseph to take a significant percentage of minutes in the back court. With Saddiq Bey starting at small forward, both Jacksons and Diallo will compete for the remaining two backup slots.

Casey characterizes Hayes, Cunningham and Joseph as “pushers” who can move the ball in transition and initiate offense. Diallo and Josh Jackson will be utilized for their wing defense and ability to finish at the rim. They’re two of the best athletes on the roster, and both take a significant portion of their shots at the rim.

Neither are strong shooters. Josh Jackson is a career 29.8% 3-point shooter. Diallo knocked down 39% of his attempts with the Pistons last season, but he’s a career 29.4% 3-point shooter who’ll have to prove he can knock down shots over an entire season.

Both worked on their shooting this offseason, but Casey isn’t pressuring them to become elite shooters overnight. Despite the overlap in their games, Casey said they can play together and wants them to continue using their strengths.

“We need their elite defensive acumen and ability,” Casey said. “That’s what we need as much as anything else from them. Three-point shooting would be great, but they’re great attackers, they’re great finishers at the rim. It shouldn’t be a higher emphasis as much because the 3-point line is going to be spaced pretty well with Kelly (Olynyk) and Trey (Lyles) and Jerami (Grant), you have a lot of guys. Now we have to have some attackers, getting to the paint, kick it out or finishing at the rim. But again, if they’re open I encourage the 3-point shot, a shot that they work on. But that’s last on the laundry list of contributions they can bring to the table.”

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Frank Jackson, on the other hand, is a 3-point specialist. He was one of their most consistent shooters last season, knocking down 40.7% of his attempts. Earlier in the season, the Pistons tried to utilize him as a ball-handler. But he was at his best when floating along the perimeter, unburdened from having to create for teammates, and that’s what the Pistons want from him this season.

By going small, Casey opens some flexibility by allowing Josh Jackson to spend some time at the “four.” But that, too, could be tough. Grant started at power forward last season following Blake Griffin’s buyout, and will start there this season. Trey Lyles is a natural power forward, and one of Isaiah Stewart and Olynyk will spend time there when paired together.

Casey will use Detroit’s four preseason games to tinker. Based on his comments, Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes will start. One of Stewart or Olynyk will start at center, and the other will still play significant minutes. Grant, Bey and Joseph will all be rotation fixtures.

That leaves three spots for both Jacksons, Lyles and Diallo. The team will accept whatever happens, Josh Jackson said, but the battles during practice this week will certainly be spirited.

“I feel like it’s been showing itself not with us, but with everybody,” he said. “Even with Luka (Garza) and Isaiah, every day they’re battling each other. But we all know that we’re on the same team, and at the end of the day we’ve got the same goal, which is to win. It’s fun going at each other in practice, but like I said, we still remember that we’re on the same team and have got the same goal.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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