Pistons’ Casey encouraged by signs of growth from team’s young players

Detroit News
Steve Kornacki |  Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey is a teacher at heart, and that love of helping young players learn the game is valuable on a team that has 10 players who are either rookies or second-year players.

There was a point in Sunday’s 104-102 loss to the Knicks, when 6-foot-9 center Isaiah Stewart bolted for the bench during a timeout and couldn’t wait to connect with Casey. He put his arm around his coach while absorbing another lesson.

“It was (about) something we were doing,” Casey said. “One (thing) is he’s in a different position, and rotations are totally different now that he and Marvin (Bagley III are playing significant minutes together), and especially with Isaiah being switched off with some of the guards. So, he’s the next guy to rotate. So, I was reminding him of that.

“All of our guys are good learners and quick learners, and we’re still in teaching mode. That just shows you how much there is to learn. It’s fortunate that our guys are going through it now and learning. We’re not getting rewarded with wins (with a 20-55 record) but we’re learning the game. That’s what rebuilding is about.”

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

Stewart had his 10th double-double of the season with 10 points and rebounds, added three-assists during the team’s third quarter turn-around, and made a season-high two 3-pointers on three attempts after shooting .143 behind the arc in previous games.

“Let’s add a little bit, add a little bit,” said Casey. “Don’t try to get good at everything (all at once). Right now, Isaiah’s doing a great job of screening, getting guys open, rebounding. Now, let’s move out to the 3-point line. Let’s don’t go crazy all at once. Let’s continue to get better with his passing – all those things. But he’s going to be a really good 3-point shooter.”

Stewart, an NBA All-Rookie second team pick last season, is a work in progress, just like the majority of his teammates.

Casey said players are assessed prior to the draft and trades to see if they have the right mentality to learn and adjust.

“We do a lot of psychological evaluations,” he said. “You look at the guys and how well they can absorb from a coaching standpoint, see how they fight through frustration. And some guys do it better than others.”

Livers close to returning

Rookie forward Isaiah Livers took part in Monday afternoon’s brief practice, and was the last Piston taking extra shooting practice. He appears close to returning from a concussion after missing the last three games, but Casey wasn’t ready to clear him for Tuesday night’s game in Brooklyn.

“We’ll evaluate him (later) this afternoon,” said Casey.

Livers missed extensive time with a foot injury, but worked his way into the rotation once healthy. He had career-highs of 16 points, four 3-pointers, and six rebounds March 15 at Miami.

Key making good impression

The Pistons signed rookie forward Braxton Key to a 10-day contract March 24. He had four points, five rebounds, two blocked shots and two turnovers Friday against the Wizards. Key supplied energy off the bench Sunday versus the Knicks with an NBA-high nine points, two rebounds, two steals, one blocked shot and zero turnovers.

“He was more relaxed,” Casey said. “The first game, he was so tight. He’s trying to pick up everything on the fly. He moved with speed, played with strength and poise. Offensively, he was confident with the basketball. He did a lot of good things last night.”

Key is 6-foot-8 and can play either forward position. Philadelphia signed and waived him in October and then signed him to a 10-day contract in January, when he scored two points with two rebounds in two games. He was assigned to the G League’s Delaware Blue Coats, and averaged 18.9 points (.390 on 3-pointers) with 7.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.5 blocks.

More: Pistons mailbag: Lackluster showing in NCAA tourney gives pause on top draft prospects

Key made the SEC All-Freshman team at Alabama in 2016-17 and transferred after two seasons to Virginia, where he was part of a national championship team in 2019.

Terrible Tuesdays

Detroit is 0-11 this season on Tuesdays, and this Tuesday’s game at Brooklyn will be the last opportunity to win on that day. The Pistons are 4-4 on Saturdays for their only .500-or-better day.

Pistons at Nets

Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Barclays Center, Brooklyn

TV/radio: BSD/950

Outlook: The Pistons (20-55) are 0-3 against the Nets (39-36), who got 51 points from Kevin Durant in the last meeting Dec. 12. Brooklyn’s Seth Curry is tied for third in NBA 3-point shooting percentage (.424) and that’s better than brother Steph (.380). Nets big men Blake Griffin (6.5 pts., 4.1 reb.) and Andre Drummond (7.7 pts., 9.1 reb.) both have numbers that are considerably down from their days as Pistons.

Steve Kornacki is a freelanc

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