Three things to like about the Pistons’ Summer League opener

Detroit News

Las Vegas — A win is a win, even in the NBA Summer League.

The Detroit Pistons’ 81-78 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers early Friday morning wasn’t a thing of beauty, but there were some nice takeaways to glean from the opener, including the debuts of rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, along with the play of big man Isaiah Stewart.

It was an ugly game, with 63 personal fouls, three player technical fouls and two techs for delays of game. The Pistons, though, were able to hold the lead in the final minute and start Summer League with a strong start.

“Man, we’ve got a lot to clean up. I’ve never been this excited for a practice (Friday),” Summer League coach Jordan Brink said. “It’s different when you’re the head coach. I’m already thinking in my head about what we’ve got to get to. It was fun.”

Here are three things to like about the Pistons’ opening win:

Jalen Duren is going to be fun

Because of the delay in getting the draft-day trade with the New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets completed, Jalen Duren didn’t get much preparation before the opener. He wasn’t able to practice with the team, and when things were completed earlier this week, Duren was able to pick up on some things.

The initial results are good, though. On the first play of the Summer League opener, the Pistons called a play for their two first-round picks, with a lob from Ivey to Duren for a monstrous alley-oop.

“Just from the predraft workout that we had with them and the little that we had with his workouts, his athleticism is his next-level,” Brink said. “At the rim, on defense, protecting the rim then offensively just throwing it up to him. The first play of the game, that was the goal, just to throw it up and let him go get it, because no one’s gonna jump with him.”

As he’s ramping up his activity level, Duren is on a minutes restriction, so he only logged 12 minutes, mostly in the first half. When he was in the game, he was a difference-maker, on both ends of the court.

At 6-foot-11, he makes an impression with his physicality and athleticism.

“S—! That’s what I think when I see Duren. He’s just a massive guy, and on top of that, he’s only 18 years old,” said Isaiah Stewart, who played mostly at power forward with Duren at center. “He reminds me of a bigger version of myself when I was 18, being destructive, blocking everything, and being very physical. He’s good.”

More: Pistons observations: Stewart stretches floor, explosive Ivey shines in summer opener

Brink said that Duren didn’t get much time to develop chemistry with his teammates, but his natural ability too

“This was Jalen’s first time playing with these guys, so we kind of just told him to just go out there and have fun,” Brink said. “Honestly, he’s the youngest kid in the draft and we just said go out and just show off your athleticism and show off your skills. I thought he did a really good job.”

Stewart isn’t just a center

Isaiah Stewart started 71 games at center last season, but at 6-foot-8, there were some matchups that weren’t favorable for him, despite his strength. With the additions of Duren and Nerlens Noel, plus Kelly Olynyk and Marvin Bagley III, the Pistons have some options of how they can play their big men.

Stewart was featured as a power forward in the opener, and went 3-for-4 on 3-pointers, including a pair in the fourth quarter that helped the Pistons stay ahead.

“He was impressive. He was ready for it. We talked before the game and we were going to try to get him some looks from 3, and luckily, two of them kind of opened up just in the flow of the game at the end, and then we’re huge,” Brink said. “He’s got all the confidence in the world in his shot, and we have the confidence in him, so it was really nice to see him make those big ones.”

Shooting 3-pointers is nothing new for Stewart, who is shooting a respectable 33% with low volume in his first two seasons. He worked extensively toward the end of the season and has worked more in the offseason.

“I’m very comfortable shooting that shot, especially having to play (power forward) some,” Stewart said. “That shot comes pretty easily when you play the 4, when a guy drives and overhelps, it allows the 3. It’s going to be a great look.”

Stewart showed his versatility to play multiple positions, but the key takeaway is that he was comfortable in either spot. The two 3-pointers he made down the stretch were in rhythm and he didn’t hesitate to step into the shots.

That confidence is critical for his transition to that spot, if that’s what the Pistons want to do heading into the season.

Don’t worry about Ivey

In the first half, Ivey looked like he was rushing things and he wasn’t quite in a good rhythm with getting to the rim. He slipped a few times on the court, seemingly showing that he was thinking faster than his body could react. It’s a rhythm thing, and he corrected it in the second half, looking smoother in his drives and also getting in transition for some highlight-reel plays.

“I think that’s to be expected with a new group and it’s his first time playing with this much space, and it’s a different game than college,” Brink said. “I think we’re trying to get him acclimated, and he’s done a really good job of it the last week of training camp, but it’s really nice to get him in a game setting, because we know that’s different.”

Ivey finished with 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in 32 minutes, but he also had five turnovers and five fouls. The Pistons will take that for Ivey’s debut, understanding that some of it was just jitters and trying to make a good first impression.

He’ll be better.

“I definitely had a little bit of nerves. Once I got out there, I got in a rhythm a little bit, and it felt good,” Ivey said. “I’ve got work to do here, so I definitely had a little nerves, but I once I got comfortable, I was good.”

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