Detroit — In the past two seasons, the Pistons notably have flipped their entire roster, with a whole new group of players since general manager Troy Weaver arrived.
This season, there was another transformation, with head coach Dwane Casey reforming his coaching staff, switching out his assistants and bringing in a new group to help mold the new roster, comprised mostly of young players.
The new coaching staff includes Rex Kalamian, Jerome Allen, Jim Moran and Bill Bayno, who each will have specific roles in working with the offense and defense. The key was that they can be more hands-on with the direction the team is going with such a young core, having a different set of needs than the previous group of players on the roster.
“We needed to bring in more teachers — and I love the guys that left: Micah (Nori), Sidney (Lowe) and Sean (Sweeney) — but as far as teaching and guys that also have been with me before, and being able to get on the court and teach and sweat with the guys, that’s huge right now with this young group,” Casey said. “Billy Bayno hitting and playing defense. Jerome playing one-on-one with the guys, it’s a different vibe.
“When (the previous coaching staff) came here, it was more X-and-O and scheme and game preparation. Now, it’s a totally different mission, where it’s teaching and a classroom and working with guys one-on-one at night.
“It’s so much more than that group brought to the table. They brought some tremendous X-and-O and schemes to the table and we were competing for a playoff position, but the mission has changed.”
Casey has been renowned for his player development, dating back to his time with he Toronto Raptors, and that ability to get the best out of his players was rooted in having a coaching staff that reached them directly and built those relationships and trust with the young players.
It’s helping the Pistons now, with a focus on fundamentals and working on the very basic things. John Beilein, regarded for his ability to drive home those skills, has a major role in helping the Pistons break down some of those skills into drills.
“We have a time allotted before practice with a lot of fundamental individual work and it’s inputted into that time before practice,” Casey said. “There’s nothing new or extra or whatever but we do have it carved out. So, probably an hour before practice, we have two different groups going at their time and there’s a minute level as far as the number to give to fundamentals at the beginning of practice.”
Even for the veterans, there’s value in going back to basics and working on the skills that many NBA players take for granted.
“That’s the basic steps of the game, and sometimes it gets overlooked because you think you just play basketball, but it’s nice to break the scenario and break the schemes down and relearn everything,” guard Rodney McGruder said. “It’s like teaching an old dog new tricks.”
McGruder, 30, entering his sixth season, sees the benefit and how it helps everyone get on the same page about what they’re going to do and where they’re going to be.
“It’s very pivotal to our success as a team and guys being on the same page and knowing if I go here, he’s going to go there, just knowing the rotations of those breakdowns and teaching points,” McGruder said. “Those add up to those little details that we’re really going to need on the floor.”
With the Pistons’ preseason opener approaching on Wednesday against the Spurs, they aren’t any closer to having No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham back in practice. Cunningham suffered an ankle injury last week and hasn’t been able to practice fully.
“There’s not a timeline right now, so they’re just being cautious with it, is what the medical people are saying,” Casey said. Monday. “So, I’m going with their (word). My concern from a coaching standpoint is the expectation of him coming back and picking it up like that. That doesn’t happen, so I’m leaving it to the medical people to get him back and get him ready to go as quickly as possible.”
One of the big improvements in training camp has been the 3-point shooting that the Pistons have added at the center position. They signed Kelly Olynyk in free agency, but they’ve also gotten a boost from Isaiah Stewart, who started to add the 3-point shot to his repertoire last season.
He didn’t play in Summer League because of an ankle injury, but he’s showing in practice that he has put in some work to improve his perimeter shooting.
“It’s a lot of repetition. I think it’s just repetition, the smoothness and the confidence level that he has,” Casey said. “He knows he has the green light if he’s out there, because he does it in practice and he works on his game.
“He, Luka and Kelly give us a dimension of 3-point-shooting five, that is very important.”