The Pistons starting lineup is almost like a Broadway show or a high-level theatrical performance, where fans have to wait and see who will be playing the leading role: the star or the understudy.
In this case, it’s the reverse.
Cade Cunningham isn’t the star yet, having played just one NBA game, but he’s turning into the main attraction that fans want to see. After making his debut in Saturday’s win over the Orlando Magic, Cunningham sat for Sunday’s loss at Brooklyn.
Coach Dwane Casey has cycled through his reserve options in the other five games, giving Frank Jackson and Josh Jackson two starts each, with Hamidou Diallo starting Sunday. It’s been mixed results thus far. Josh Jackson had 18 and seven points in his two starts, Frank Jackson five and seven in his two games as a starter and Diallo six points in his one start.
The Pistons will need more production at shooting guard, even from Cunningham, who had just two points in his opportunity. Cunningham rested Sunday on the second night of a back-to-back, which could become the norm, at least in the short term, as he recovers from his ankle injury.
“That was original plan, that he would play the first game and then be out the next game. With a back-to-back (Sunday),” Casey said. “Just coming back after being off for a month, it was kind of the prudent thing to do, just because of the fact that we don’t want to risk re-injuring it.
“We got through (Saturday), so we’re going to see how he bounces back physically and see if he’ll be ready to go on Tuesday.”
The Pistons have three home games this week in four nights, including a back-to-back on Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Nets on Friday. All indications are Cunningham will play in one, but not both, of those games, depending on how his ankle responds.
While he was sidelined, Cunningham got to watch practices and to see how the offense runs, but Casey insists the greater benefit is in going through the physical reps as well. That’s the next step in Cunningham ramping up to playing more like himself.
“It’s impossible to simulate rehab, watching on the sidelines and going last week to the G League team,” Casey said. “It’s hard to simulate against NBA athletes and players, and I knew he was going to be rusty (Saturday), especially his shooting and his timing and the game sped up for him, I thought.
“I’m just thankful he didn’t get frustrated; he kept his head and continued to try to play the right way and to try to fight through it, knowing that the rust was going to be there. He’s not going to look like the Cade he wants to be.”
Lyles sparks second unit
Much of the maneuvering in the starting lineup is to try to keep the second unit together. It’s been one of the strengths the Pistons have had this season, and one of the unsung heroes of that group is Trey Lyles, who has put up some nice numbers early in the season: 8.8 points, 4 rebounds and 40% on 3-pointers.
Casey joked that what he likes most about Lyles is that he’s not one of the young players who’s inexperienced and needs a lot of development.
“He’s been in the league more than three years — that’s one thing I like,” Casey said. “He’s a kid that just hasn’t had the opportunity, or complete opportunity. He always played well when I was in Toronto and he was with Denver and Utah.
“He always played well and shot the ball well, so just watching him over his career and he was a guy we really liked because of his 3-point shooting and his IQ, so that’s what we like about him, especially with that second unit, he really fits in.”
The second five combined for 48 of the 91 points in Saturday’s game, and moving Diallo, who looked to be the odd man out with Cunningham’s return on Saturday, to the starting lineup kept the second five intact.
The experience factor with that group is important, but they’re developing the chemistry to become a bigger strength.
“Every night is different. Different teams and situations happen. For the most part (Casey’s) been keeping us together and it’s been pretty good,” point guard Cory Joseph said. “Our games complement each other pretty well. All that doesn’t matter if we’re not getting the W, so we all have to be better.”
Bucks at Pistons
► Tipoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: BSD/950
► Outlook: The defending-champion Bucks (3-4) have struggled out of the gate, losing their last three games, all at home. Injuries to Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez and an illness to Khris Middleton have depleted their starting lineup.