Detroit — In the last week before the All-Star break, the Pistons faced the likes of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., Terry Rozier and Kyle Kuzma and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Green.
Among that group are some of the premier young stars in the league, and with those games every night in the regular season, it’s sometimes difficult to get a gauge on where the Pistons’ young core stands. All-Star Weekend gave a different glimpse, as the Pistons’ three young stars, Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, got a chance to measure themselves in The Rising Stars tournament, which featured some of the league’s top first- and second-year players.
Cunningham was the game’s MVP after defeating the team with Bey and Stewart in the final game. If Bey’s team had won, he likely would have been the MVP. Seeing them against competition with similar experience gives a more apt comparison of where the Pistons’ young players measure.
“That’s what gives you hope and optimism going into the future. You see them compared (to their peers) — and that’s where they are,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We as coaches and fans want them to be able to go out and compete against (the Celtics’) Al Horford and guys like that and be able to be successful, but they’ve got what 12 to 15 years on them, and that’s a huge disadvantage for our young guys.
“The good thing about it is they will get there. They are going to get there and they’re growing and some of the success they’ve had against veteran players is encouraging but it’s very glaring once you see them against same-level players where they are — they’re a little bit ahead, which is encouraging.”
Bey was a first-team All-Rookie selection last season and that recognition was good for him, but being part of the Rising Stars was something that he wanted to check off the list of accomplishments.
He said he prepared for it not as an exhibition, but with the same focus that he would any other game, which could explain his high level of play.
“It was a blessing, for sure. I was grateful to be there. I was a little disappointed last year that I didn’t qualify for it,” Bey said. “I came into it feeling like the same way I would a regular game. I was trying to play hard — obviously, you can’t play as hard as possible, but I was trying to play hard and trying to win.
“I wanted to win really badly. To be honest, I look at every opponent the same way, whether it’s a veteran or a rookie or a sophomore. I think for me, what helps me go to sleep at night is that I played hard and had the opportunity to be on the court, and I tried to.”
A chance to settle in for Bagley
Marvin Bagley III was just getting adjusted to his new team ahead of the All-Star break, and he had some good moments in his first couple of games. The break gave Bagley a chance to adjust to his new surroundings, but also to get better acquainted with the Pistons’ system.
“We gave him a video playbook to concentrate on and to look over to understand because that’s the biggest difference, terminology. It’s probably the same actions he had in Sacramento but different terminology and that split second, you’ve got to recognize it,” Casey said. “It’s to add more things to his plate, from that standpoint, and he’s a smart young man, and a sharp kid.
“I really like what he brings to the table with his length, playing above the rim. That was his charge going into the break, and it’s going to be that these last, last 24 games”
Bagley will be one of the focus points for the remainder of the regular season, as he’ll likely be a restricted free agent after this season.
Final stretch key for rookies
In their final remaining games in the regular season, and with the playoffs out of the picture, the Pistons likely will give some young players a look to see how they play in certain lineups or in certain situations.
That could include rookies Isaiah Livers and Chris Smith, who have had their share of injuries and have spent most of their time in the G League.
Cavaliers at Pistons
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Thursday, Little Caesars Arena
Outlook: The Cavs (35-23) are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, in a tie for third place. They’ll be without All-Star Darius Garland (back) and Caris LeVert (right foot). The Pistons (13-45) could have Frank Jackson (back spasms) return to the lineup.