How will Detroit Pistons fill void left by Kelly Olynyk? Dwane Casey must be creative

Detroit Free Press

CLEVELAND — It appeared Kelly Olynyk was hitting his stride.

The Detroit Pistons center had knocked down seven of his previous 16 3-point attempts, and scored in double-digits in three straight games.

But it’ll be a while before he plays his next game. Olynyk, who signed a three-year, $37 million contract this offseason, will miss at least six weeks with a Grade 2 left MCL sprain. The injury leaves the Pistons even thinner at a position they already struggled with depth wise.

Dwane Casey was coy about how he intends to replace Olynyk’s minutes at center during shootaround on Friday, but the Pistons announced that morning that they recalled rookie Luka Garza from the Motor City Cruise. Trey Lyles, a power forward who can played small-ball five, is also an option.

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“We have Trey Lyles who can play the five, Luka can play the five,” Casey said. “We have three guys that we’re going to rotate in that position, and we’ll go from there.”

Olynyk, who is averaging 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 10 games this season, had emerged as one of Detroit’s most reliable veterans. He has closed several games for the Pistons, and his outside shooting has helped to open the floor for Detroit’s guards. Despite coming off of the bench, he’s third on the roster in total minutes played.

Isaiah Stewart is just a tick under Olynyk in total minutes played with 229, but Detroit’s lack of depth at the position could force him into a larger role. Stewart and Olynyk are very different players. Stewart isn’t a willing shooter, but he’s the best rebounder on the roster and a significantly more versatile defender.

His ability to stay out of foul trouble will dictate the extent he’s able to fill the void left by Olynyk. His physical style of play occasionally gets him in trouble with the refs, and he can be prone to bite pump fakes. He battled foul trouble during Wednesday’s 112-104 win against the Houston Rockets.

“I thought he did an excellent job of switching,” Casey said of Stewart after Wednesday’s game. “We ask him to do a lot out on the floor. That probably created some fouls, but I thought it took Houston out of a little bit of what they wanted to do. So we took him out of his nest, his safe area, down in the paint. You’re going to get some touchy fouls, reachy fouls out on the floor. He got caught into that.”

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Lyles is a stretch-four, but Casey has used him as a small-ball five on occasion this season. He spent time at center on Wednesday, as Olynyk was also in foul trouble. Garza, the 52nd pick of this year’s draft, will also have an opportunity to show what he can do. Garza can score, but he’ll have to adequately defend and rebound in order to get consistent minutes.

Beyond the center rotation, Olynyk’s absence might force Casey to play his forwards up a position. Saddiq Bey, who is Detroit’s second-leading rebounder with seven a game, may have to operate as a small-ball four.

This roster wasn’t built to handle an extended absence from a center without some risk-taking. Casey and the rest of his staff will have to figure things out on the fly.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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