Chicago — It’s way too early to make any sweeping generalizations about the Pistons’ season just from a two-game sample size. Stats are skewed, both high and low, and the Pistons played the same opponent, the much improved Chicago Bulls, in both games.
In a couple of weeks, everything could be different, especially if Cade Cunningham makes his debut, as the Pistons’ plan seems to be.
For what it’s worth, the Pistons might not get a clear sense of what kind of team they are until December or January, because of their unforgiving schedule. Of their 20 games, 14 are against teams that made the playoffs last season, including two each against the Bucks, Nets, Lakers and Sixers.
There are some encouraging observations, as well as a few disturbing trends, in the first two games:
► 1. Saddiq Bey has improved — a lot. It’s not easy to build on a first-team All-Rookie selection, but Bey has been very good in the early going. In Saturday’s game, he had 20 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, and in the first two games, he’s gone just 1-of-9 on 3-pointers, but he’s shooting 59% (13-of-22) inside the arc. That’s a surprising shift in his game, especially after he shot 38% from 3 as a rookie.
“I just try to play with a complete game every game and try to help my team win as much as possible,” Bey said Saturday. “I just want to make sure I try to hit the boards and to help our bigs rebound as well.”
Bey is smarter in how he goes about challenging mismatches, and he has improved his footwork on his drives to the basket, taking advantage of position more. It’s an encouraging sign that he’s varying his attack on offense, that he can be more than just a spot-up 3-point shooter.
► 2. Killian Hayes is struggling. That might be an understatement, but the second-year guard hasn’t been able to find a good rhythm because of injuries in the preseason. Through the first two games in the regular season, like Maverick in “Top Gun,” he seems hesitant to engage in the offense and he isn’t showing the confidence to find his shot. Hayes is 1-of-11 from the field and missed both of his 3-pointers. Some fans have suggested Hayes should play a few games in the G League when the season starts to gain confidence, but that seems very unlikely. Casey has said he wants Hayes to try to use his 6-foot-5 frame and strength to create contact on his drives and to make the defense adjust or commit a foul. Hayes got his first basket of the season on a floater in the second half Saturday, but it’s been mostly a struggle to get into a good groove offensively.
► 3. The defense is ahead of the offense. The Pistons held the Bulls under 100 points in each of the first two games, which is a distinct positive. Zach LaVine’s 34 points in the opener aside, they’ve done a good job of limiting easy shots. The problem is that they’re not hitting shots themselves. The Pistons haven’t shot above 40% from the field in either game, and they’re hitting just under 20% on 3-pointers. Those aren’t winning numbers, but the Pistons were in the game until the final minute in the opener.
The Pistons rank last in the NBA in scoring, 3-pointers and assists. Yes, small sample size, but the point remains.
Casey is confident things can turn around when the shots start falling, but the defense is keeping them in games until that point. Jerami Grant has been especially good on the defensive end, with some highlight-reel blocks from the weak side, helping to get in transition. The problem is that the Pistons haven’t been able to take advantage of those opportunities to run.
► 4. Turnovers are a huge problem. The biggest headache for the Pistons and Casey has been turnovers: 17 in the opener and 23 on Saturday night. The Bulls capitalized on the turnovers for 24 of their 97 points in the second game. Casey is confident that when those mistakes are reduced, they’ll be in better position to stay in games. The Pistons aren’t generating miscues (Chicago had 13 on Saturday)
“Even though we know (turnovers) don’t look good on the stat sheet, we know it’s helping us learn this early in the season now, what we can do and what we can’t, what plays we can make and force or not force,” Bey said.
► 5. Luka Garza is in the books. The rookie scored his first NBA point on a free throw after a flagrant foul and then got his first field goal on a putback. That’s very on-brand for Garza, who is known for his hustle and rugged play. Garza took a hard foul with two elbows to the face from the Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic and after a review, it was deemed a flagrant-1 foul, and Garza split the pair of free throws.
“Luka came in and gave us great energy,” Casey said. “He made mistakes, but they were hard mistakes, which you’re going to have from a rookie.”
Garza also had two rebounds and two steals in six minutes, and though his debut came in a lopsided loss, he’s happy just to be playing and contributing.
► 6. The ship is steady. After a tough 20-52 record last season, there could be some frustration with the losing, but everything seems to be pointing up, with the veterans keeping the rookies optimistic. Players have said the mood in the locker room is upbeat and there are no hanging heads about the opening rut that they’re in. The players agree the issues are mostly self-inflicted and that the issues are correctable.
“Everybody in that locker room is really mad and upset because we know we’re better than that,” Garza said. “That’s good and that’s something we’ve got to continue and use it and turn it into a positive, because when you go through that, it’s going to make the good moments so much better.
Pistons at Hawks
► Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. Monday, State Farm Arena, Atlanta
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1
► Outlook: The Hawks (1-1) opened with a nice win over the Mavericks, but they followed with a surprising loss at Cleveland. Trae Young is averaging 21.5 points and 10.5 assists.