Detroit — At first glance, it looked to be a fairly innocuous play. In Friday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, Pistons forward Jerami Grant lost his dribble and in going for the loose ball, he landed on his right (shooting) thumb.
Initially, Grant grimaced a bit, then he pulled it closer to his body, clearly injured. He stayed in the game afterward and after getting some medical attention on the bench, he returned with a wrap on his right thumb.
The bad news came Sunday, when the Pistons announced that Grant will miss at least the next six weeks because of UCL ligament damage in the thumb.
It’s another gut punch to a squad that’s taken a few head shots and body blows on the injury front already this season. The Pistons started the season without No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham, and they’ve been without backup center Kelly Olynyk for about a month. Losing their leading scorer for six weeks is a blow to a team that already is struggling on the offensive end.
The important thing to note is that there won’t be a singular replacement for Grant, where Cunningham or Saddiq Bey tries to pick up the slack and become a volume scorer.
“We talked about that, that it’s going to be a collective effort. It’s not going to be one guy; we’re not going to one guy, that we’re going to have to do it collectively,” coach Dwane Casey said before Sunday’s game. “No one player is going to make up 20-something points out of your lineup. It’s got to be done collectively with that mindset as much as anything else.”
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Casey said that they’ll shuffle the rotation, likely with Hamidou Diallo or Josh Jackson moving into the starting lineup in the short term to help add some experience to that otherwise-young first group. That’s in addition to Trey Lyles, who has been the de facto backup center, helping to fill the void for Olynyk’s absence.
“You have to slide some people into those positions and those spots changed a little bit,” Casey said. “You don’t generate some of the things that Jerami brings. You’ll have to do in a different way. We’ll have to play with more pace, and get up the floor a little bit better, but our most important thing is we have to be organized.
“When somebody kind of punches us, we’re going hard and playing hard, but we have to play smart and be organized. I think that’s the most important thing with a young group. You talk about playing fast, playing with pace and all that, but there’s got to be a mindset of organization.”
The next few weeks will be a test for the Pistons’ resolve, as they’re already facing the adversity of a 4-21 start. Losing their leading scorer and veteran voice will mean that some of the young players will have to grow up quickly and figure out how to do some things themselves.
Grant’s contribution not only was on the offensive end, but on the defensive side, where he was a very good help-side defender and an athletic defender and rebounder. Casey said that they’ll make up for some of those issues by trying to take charges and by getting to the right places on the court.
There will be some more growing pains in trying to get through the latest injury, but the season doesn’t stop because the Pistons aren’t at 100%. It hasn’t stopped for any other team, whether it’s because of COVID protocols or other injuries.
Bulls matchup in jeopardy
The Chicago Bulls are going through a bout with health and safety protocols in the past week. On Sunday, they announced that Zach LaVine and Troy Brown entered protocols, which could jeopardize their matchup with the Pistons in Chicago on Tuesday.
The Bulls have nine players in health and safety protocols and have nine players available, which could mean that they’ll need to scour the G League to find emergency players to use as replacements, at least until they get their situation under control and they can clear some of the players from the 10-day quarantine.
If a player who enters the protocol posts two negative COVID tests in a 24-hour period, he can be cleared to play. That’s the case with guard Coby White, who was looking to test Sunday to begin the process to clear protocols.
According to reports, the entire Bulls roster is vaccinated, but the NBA is taking no chances, even with asymptomatic cases.
Joining LaVine and Brown are DeMar DeRozan, Matt Thomas, Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr., Ayo Dosunmu and Stanley Johnson, along with White.