The Pistons were on a hot streak, or something like that.
They had been playing better over the past week before Wednesday’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets brought them back to reality.
Getting several players back from COVID protocols has helped. They had been playing tough down the stretch of several games this season, during their two-game win streak, turning those close ones into victories. Their best win of the season came Monday at Milwaukee, and as they start to get some of their players back from COVID protocols, they’re starting to develop some good habits, which could bode well for the remainder of the season.
This week’s mailbag answers questions about how COVID impacts the trade deadline, Killian Hayes’ outlook, the dynamic duo of Hamidou Diallo and Saddiq Bey, and whether the Pistons should pursue a young center who’s buried on the Phoenix Suns’ bench.
► Question. How do COVID protocols and guys not playing affect this year’s trade deadline? Or does it? — @dylan_goetz
► Answer. Obviously, COVID protocols have wreaked havoc on the NBA this season. Luckily, there haven’t been any players with serious residual health issues after exiting the league’s protocols. In most cases, players have been out for about a week or two and they’ve returned without much concern.
In the Pistons’ case, there may be only one or two players who were in protocols who would be considered tradeable assets. The most logical would be Josh Jackson, who is in the final year of his contract, at $5 million. Jackson returned from COVID protocols with his best game of the year, posting 24 points in 20 minutes, including going 5-of-7 on 3-pointers, Monday against Milwaukee.
Defensively, he showed his versatility, by switching and defending Giannis Antetokounmpo for a couple of stretches. The 3-point shooting was a surprise, as well.
Jackson doesn’t have a huge expiring deal that would tempt teams to give up a big asset for it, so it’s possible that he just stays with the Pistons, unless another team has injuries or more COVID issues down the stretch and need his production.
► Q. Does Killian Hayes’ lack of being an efficient offensive threat, but an above average playmaker and defender make him a long-term second-unit player? Should he, in your opinion, still be a starter on this current Pistons roster? — @davebrunett
► A. I still think there’s too much being made of Killian Hayes’ production to this point. He’s just barely past the 50-game mark in his career, and many people already have made a determination about what his NBA future is. I would give it until at least the end of this season before trying to say what he is or isn’t.
The one thing I would be concerned about is the myriad injuries he’s been through. Obviously, the hip issue from last year erased much of his rookie season, but he’s had so many other issues with his ankle, with concussions and other things — that aren’t his fault — that he hasn’t had a chance to make a true impression. Let’s revisit this after the season for a better answer.
► Q. Is Hamidou Diallo at small forward and Bey at power forward a viable option moving forward? Seems to be improving offensive flow a lot more. — @CalebJ_A
► A. I asked Dwane Casey about that combination the other day and he noted that they really haven’t been calling plays for Diallo, but that he’s been able to create opportunities at the rim because of his athleticism, and that much of it is improvisation. That’s a skill set in itself, especially in the NBA.
Bey can play some at power forward, but his natural NBA position is probably more suited for small forward. I’m assuming that by “moving forward” you don’t mean the long-term future beyond this season. I would think the Pistons would be in line to get one of the big men in the draft, who likely would end up being a power forward as a pro.
The Pistons have a team option on Diallo’s contract for next season, so I think he sticks around, and he’ll find his way into the playing rotation, if not in the starting lineup.
► Q. Should the Pistons look into Phoenix center Jalen Smith and how much is his value once (Deandre) Ayton and (JaVale) McGee return? — @GiggityGantz
► A. I would think the Pistons are looking around at some options at center, and a young player like Smith could be an option. They simply need the size and rim protection in the middle, some of the things that Isaiah Stewart lacks against bigger opposing centers.
Kelly Olynyk could help with some of that, but the long-term plan at center should have another young option there. Smith looks to be lost in the shuffle with Ayton and McGee, and the playing time simply hasn’t been there for him. I would imagine that if a team wanted Smith, the price wouldn’t be too steep, but I don’t know if the Pistons have a strong interest.