Detroit Pistons’ NBA Summer League lessons: Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren are as advertised

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons completed their Las Vegas Summer League slate Saturday with a 102-86 win over the Orlando Magic.

First-round draft picks Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren played in spurts while other youngsters such as Buddy Boeheim, Jules Bernard and Braxton Key have taken larger roles.

Here’s what we learned about the team after 10 days in Vegas.

Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren are as athletic as advertised

The Pistons’ pair of 2022 first-round picks were responsible for the bulk of the team’s highlight plays. Ivey might’ve been the fastest player in Vegas, and Duren’s leaping ability and catch radius made it tough for defenses to contest the Pistons’ lob plays for him.

Detroit’s first play of summer league was a preview of what we’ll see often next season — a straightforward alley-oop set that featured Ivey as the lob-thrower. The guards learned quickly that if Duren has a lane to the rim, they can toss it up and he’ll reliably bring it down. Duren had three dunks in the first quarter of the Pistons’ opening night win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Beyond his ability to punish the rim, Duren also had several emphatic blocks and a handful of passes that suggested he’ll one day be able to create for his teammates as well.

He’s still raw, but Vegas highlighted his raw talent.

“This was Jalen’s first time playing with these guys, so we kinda just told him go out there and have fun, honestly,” Jordan Brink, the Pistons player development coach serving as the summer league head coach, said after the win over Portland.  “He’s the youngest kid in the draft. We said show off the athleticism, show off your skill. I thought he did a really good job. Tons of stuff to clean up on. That’s why we have practice tomorrow.

“His athleticism is next level. At the rim, on defense, protecting the rim and offensively just throwing it up to him. First play of the game that was the goal, to throw it up and let him go get it. Because no one’s gonna jump with him.”

We didn’t see enough of Ivey, thanks to an ankle injury he suffered during an electric first quarter against the Wizards. He only played five minutes during that game and was shut down afterward, and he logged 37 total minutes through two games. But Ivey was widely considered to be a top-four talent in the draft. He certainly looked the part.

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Ivey posted 20 points, six assists and six rebounds against the Blazers, and scored 11 points against Washington on perfect shooting. He showed off a lot of different parts of his bag — lightning-quick drives to the rim, thundering dunks, stepback 3’s and smart passing reads.

Detroit’s backcourt will be different next season, as Ivey is unlike any guard the Pistons have had in recent memory. He and Cade Cunningham are looking forward to playing off of each other.”

“He’s fast,” Cunningham said. “I’m not fast. Having somebody like that with me spreads the floor out a lot. It can help us push the pace. I like to kick ahead and push the pace and he can literally sprint ahead. It’s going to be fun. We both have a good feel for getting teammates involved and things like that. It should be fun.”

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Isaiah Stewart is embracing the 3-ball — again

With less than three minutes remaining during the Pistons’ win over the Blazers, Stewart hit two of the biggest shots of the game to help preserve a narrow lead. Both shots were 3-pointers.

Stewart, who has spent the majority of his basketball career scoring in the post, has experimented with spacing the floor since the Pistons drafted him. He took 63 3-pointers as a rookie and 46 last season. He’s only knocked down 36 of his attempts, giving him a career 33% clip from outside.

But Stewart knocked down 11 of 18 tries during Detroit’s final eight games last season.

In two summer league games, Stewart hit five of nine attempts. He did so with confidence, making a point to hunt the shot down. It’s why the Pistons wanted Stewart, a soon-to-be third-year player, to participate in summer league. With Jalen Duren now on the roster, Stewart will likely have to play power forward and stretch the floor to see his usual minutes load. The Pistons are confident he can thrive alongside another big man. So is he.

“That was super impressive,” Pistons player development coach, and summer league head coach, Jordan Brink said after Detroit’s win over Portland. “He was ready for it. We talked to him before the game about getting him some work from 3, and luckily two of them opened up just in the flow in the game at the end and they were huge. He’s got all the confidence in the world in that shot and we have the confidence in him. It was really nice to see him make those big ones.”

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Since they selected him in 2020, the Pistons have been readying Stewart for the possibility of playing with another post-oriented center.

In college, Stewart thrived as a throwback, back-to-the-basket center. After he was drafted, Troy Weaver teased his shooting upside and his ability to move his feet defensively. Last season, Stewart showed that he can hang with forwards and guards defensively when he’s switched onto him. Offensively, knocking down open 3s would make it easier for the coaching staff to play him at the ‘4’ for extended stretches.

“I never played the 4 in my life,” Stewart said. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to play some summer league games, is to get reps at the 4. I know we got more than two, we have two other bigs and I know we’re going to play with two bigs. Somebody’s going to have to space the floor. Want to get reps at it. Definitely different for sure.

“I’m very comfortable shooting that shot, especially having to play the 4 some,” he continued. “I think that shot comes pretty easy when you play the 4, when a guy drives, overhelp, you have a wide open 3. I think that’s going to be a great look for me.”

Detroit has a crowded frontcourt, but Stewart will receive consistent minutes regardless of how frequently he’s able to knock down shots. He’s too valuable defensively to be left on the bench, and the Pistons are committed to his growth. He may finally be ready to embrace being a floor-spacing big full-time.

“He’s confident and we’re confident in it,” Brink said. “Part of the reason he wanted to play and what we wanted to work on with him is getting some game reps at the four and to get some 3’s off. He was hunting a little bit, but that’s what we wanted. That was one of our objectives for him coming into summer league. I thought he showed that he has that, but we’ve already known that.”

Isaiah Livers is ready

Livers was the 42nd pick of the 2021 draft and missed most of his rookie season while rehabbing a stress fracture in his right foot. He made his NBA debut on Dec. 16, but didn’t play his second game until Feb. 27 because of lingering soreness in his foot. He has 19 games under his belt.

But during his two summer league games, Livers looked like a veteran. His outside shot didn’t fall against the Blazers, as he only hit 1 of 8 3-point attempts. He made up for it with his defensive activity, logging two energetic blocks and making smart rotations. Livers re-found his shooting touch against the Wizards, scoring a team-high 20 points and knocking down 4 of 5 3-pointers.

The Pistons’ coaching staff will have a tough time keeping Livers off the floor next season. His shooting, defense and overall IQ makes him a great fit for any lineup. He knocked down 42.2% of his 3-pointers last season, and still has room to grow as a playmaker. Brink was impressed by his defensive activity when his shot wasn’t falling.

“Last game was a great example of how to impact winning when you’re not scoring and you’re not shooting it well,” Brink said. “Some nights your shot’s not going to fall and you still have to bring something to the group. I thought last game was a great example for the rest of the team, all the young guys of how you do that when your shot’s not going.”

The game already appears to be moving slowly for Livers. While he was rehabbing his foot, he took notes during team practices and games and paid attention to the little mistakes players made so that he could avoid making the same errors. It could endear him to the coaching staff next year.

“Every coach expects players to continue to make small mistakes,” Livers said. “I made sure to clean all that up. I knew shots were gonna fall, but to stay on the floor I had to defend and rebound.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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