Detroit — In the aftermath of one of the Pistons’ most thrilling wins of the season, Saddiq Bey sat on the dais in the postgame press conference. That’s normally a place that might be reserved for a veteran like Jerami Grant or Cade Cunningham, the new face of the franchise.
Bey had just hit a tough go-ahead 3-pointer that turned out to be the game-winner in overtime for the Pistons, who turned the tables on the Spurs. The Spurs were coming off a 35-point shellacking of the Pistons in San Antonio not even a week prior.
And there was Bey, the second-year forward, who usually lets his play on the court do the talking, showing some swagger after hitting the first buzzer beater that he can remember in a long time.
“I’m not going to lie: I caught it and I knew it was good,” Bey said with a smile. “(Derrick) Walton had a great pass and I didn’t think it was going to get through, when he threw it between (Jakob Poeltl’s) legs. I knew if I caught it, I was going to have a chance.”
Of course, Bey balanced it out with some humility, highlighting a bad defensive play that he made that helped the Spurs stay in the game down the stretch.
“It feels good (to get the win) because, to be honest, my teammates made the right plays down the stretch,” Bey said. “I made a couple of mistakes down the stretch, and my team did a good job of helping me and carrying me down the stretch on defense. It just feels good to get a team win like that.”
That’s what this stretch of games without most of the regular roster, with almost a roster full of players going into COVID protocols in the past two weeks. Bey has been elevated to the No. 1 scoring option and Hamidou Diallo has moved into an elevated role as a scorer and defensive maven.
Coach Dwane Casey has been preaching the merits of such a stretch, that brought painful losses in the short term, but the potential for valuable lessons in the long term. Along with Bey and Diallo, Luka Garza got some encouraging playing time and others such as Derrick Walton Jr., Cassius Stanley and Micah Potter got an opportunity to show 29 other teams what they can do on an NBA roster.
The time and opportunity have been especially revealing for Diallo, who has scored at least 28 points in each of the last three games, and is showing that even when everyone returns to the roster, he is deserving of a longer look and some more playing time, either with the likes of Grant, Cunningham and Bey, or with an expanded role on the second unit.
“Any time you’re in that (shorthanded) situation, somebody is going to shine; somebody has got to score,” Casey said. “(Diallo) moved up a notch and you don’t have Jerami, don’t have Cade, don’t have whoever else, so now he’s at the top of the food chain and we’re running plays for him, and when those guys come back, this will give him confidence.
“We don’t run a lot of plays for Hami, and he’s gifted enough where he can get to the rim and make some plays off of broken plays. I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, they’re not running plays for Hami.’ Well, we didn’t (either, on Saturday).”
The Pistons are struggling this season, and the main objective should be to gauge their young players and figure out who will stay around for the next stage of the rebuild and who could be potential trade pieces.
Diallo, 23, presents an interesting case. He’s in his fourth season and the Pistons’ have a team option on his contract for next season for $5.2 million, which should be an easy decision to retain him, given his recent uptick in production.
General manager Troy Weaver traded for Diallo, who made a positive impression during their time together in Oklahoma City. The rest of the season should be dedicated to seeing how much of Diallo’s recent surge could be just that — short term — and how much is worth a longer-term investment.
For many of the others, it will be the same type of opportunity, to see whether they have another level in their game, where they can elevate and become more valuable for the longer term.
Pistons at Bucks
► Tipoff: 8 p.m. Monday, Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Pistons (6-28) ended their four-game losing streak with a thrilling win over the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday. The defending-champion Bucks (25-13) have won six straight games and have moved back near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.