Dwane Casey: Pistons centers have ability, need time, to shoot from deep

Detroit News

Detroit — Pistons coach Dwane Casey discussed the use of his starting 6-foot-9 center, Isaiah Stewart, and much-used 6-foot-11 reserve center, Marvin Bagley III, prior to Sunday afternoon’s game with the Knicks.

The lead topic was the need for their improved 3-point shooting and obtaining the spacing on the court to do that.

“They have the ability, too,” said Casey, “and it doesn’t matter which one. Marvin is coming up and setting the screens and Isaiah has the space in the corner. His next evolution in his pro career is that he has to be able to knock that 3-point shot down, and he will.

“I have no questions at all that either one of them is going to be able to. But we have to have that spacing when they’re in the game together.”

They’re on the court quite a bit together. Bagley, obtained Feb. 10 in a four-team trade, is averaging 23.6 minutes per game to 25.8 for Stewart.

Neither has made an acceptable percentage of shots behind the arc. Bagley is at .226 this season and .288 for his career. Stewart is at .143 this season and .275 over two seasons.

Casey said: “We all want to wave a magic wand over a guy and say ‘You’re going to be this player…’ But it takes time. Luckily, we’re in a rebuilding year and that’s what this year is for. So, guys aren’t now who they’re going to be. It doesn’t happen overnight, but in time…”

He illustrated his point by using the example of New Orleans Pelicans 6-foot-11 center Jonas Valanciunas, who was 1-for-4 on 3-pointers in the first five seasons of his NBA career with the Toronto Raptors. Casey coached him there.

Valanciunas was at .278 from behind the arc in 2018-19, but then blossomed there. He’s shot at least 35% in three consecutive seasons, and has made 56-of-154 3s (.364) this year while averaging 18.1 points and 11.6 points.

“How many years later — he’s one of the best,” Casey said of Valanciunas. “We use the word ‘process,’ but it takes time. It’s teaching, coaching and summer work — before-practice and after-practice work.

“And, voila, usually they’re going to get there.”

However, Casey added, “Some guys are never going to be 3-point shooters. And there’s no shame in that.”

He noted that there are plenty of other roles available for big men to excel.

“Some guys have better ball skills,” Casey said. “I feel like Isaiah Stewart has great hands, great ball skills, great shooting technique — as does Marvin. So, they have the skill sets to get there. All they need is the repetition, the opportunity.

“I told Isaiah at the beginning of the year: ‘Concentrate on doing your day job in the paint — elbows, boxes — those are areas, and then gradually moving out. ‘But if you’re open in the corner and we’re stretched out, we’re asking you — don’t go crazy with it, don’t lose your mind — but if you’re open, take it. Don’t stop your day job, though.’ ”

Casey has had six weeks to work with Bagley, and was asked what’s impressed him about the former No. 2 overall pick from Duke.

“One, it’s his athleticism, quick,” Casey said. “He’s got a knack of scoring in the paint with his left hand, right hand. So, all those things are there. That’s what jumps out at you in the beginning. He’s a lob threat and that’s a great relief for (guards) Cade (Cunningham) and Killian (Hayes) when they get boxed in.

“He’s not as good guarding the switches as Isaiah, but Isaiah’s done it more. Marvin just got with us, and he will get there just because of his athleticism and foot speed. But there’s a reason why he was a No. 2 pick (overall in 2018 by the Sacramento Kings). We have him and there’s a lot of work ahead – getting stronger. But we’re glad we’ve got him. He was a good pickup by our front office.”     

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Positive stats

The Pistons rank sixth in the NBA with 38.1 points per game from their bench, are seventh with 14.6 turnovers forced, and eighth with 11.1 rebounds per game.

Slam dunks

Saddiq Bey enters Sunday’s game with 48 consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer, and that’s the third-longest current streak in the league. His 193 3s are a franchise single-season record.

… Knicks general manager Scott Perry spent 2000-12 as a front office executive with the Pistons, and coached at University of Detroit Mercy after graduating from Wayne State.

… Three Pistons already have their college teams in the Final Four: Bey of Villanova, and Bagley and Frank Jackson of Duke.

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.

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