Casey says Pistons are ‘further ahead than anticipated’ in training camp

Detroit News

Detroit — Dwane Casey walked around the Pistons practice facility with his hands behind his back and observed each set of players as they worked on improving their game.

He glanced at third-year guard Killian Hayes as he completed a series of 3-point shots, which included catch-and-shoot and off-the-dribble simulations. He watched Isaiah Stewart and rookie center Jalen Duren while they practiced their perimeter shooting, in hopes of helping the Pistons with spacing the floor.

Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey took turns at the free-throw line, a place they’ll find themselves often due to their aggressiveness in attacking the basket. Veteran guards Cory Joseph and Rodney McGruder were getting shots up to stay warm after practice.

The Pistons are nearing the end of their first week of training camp, a period of foundation that will set the tone for the rest of the season. Casey said the team is progressing from a learning perspective, but lacking in game shape.

“Solid week. A lot of teaching. A lot of learning,” Casey said. “We may be a little bit behind on the conditioning because there is so much teaching, as far as game conditioning. Guys have worked their butts off, not that they’re out of shape. But we picked up a lot of stuff this week. Further ahead than what we anticipated, but still a lot of things we want to get in.”

The team has a few more practices before they fly to New York for their first preseason game against the Knicks at 7 p.m. Tuesday, a nationally televised opener on TNT. Before that, the Pistons will host an open practice on Sunday morning in front of their fans at Little Caesars Arena. The event is free for fans and will begin at 11 a.m.

Two-a-day practices are common throughout training camp, twice a week. The extra time gives Pistons coaches more time to teach certain areas of the game. The Pistons’ youngest players on the team, 20-year-old Ivey and Duren, who’s only 18, are handling the bonus practice time well, according to veteran Cory Joseph.

“They’re ready to go. They can do three-a-days if they wanted to,” Joseph said. “Those guys are in shape, man. They’re very athletic. We haven’t started games, so that’s when you get beat up a little bit. Those 82 games as a rookie, as I remember it, it can take a toll on your body because your body is only used to playing 30 or 35 games in college. When you get to that 82-game season, we’ll see then.”

And just because the Pistons have youthful players beaming with energy, doesn’t mean they’re particularly thrilled for the extra practice session.

“I don’t care how young you are, you don’t enjoy two-a-days,” Casey said, “but it gives us teaching, classroom(-like) situations. We can slow it down in that second practice because there’s so much to learn. Sometimes, it’s good that you don’t know what you don’t know, but there’s so many things that we’re trying to teach, as far as the NBA game. That’s the benefit of it.”

For “older” players like Isaiah Stewart, who’s entering his third season in the league, he’s noticed a change in the atmosphere around training camp. He’s spent time during practices at the center and power-forward positions as he transitions towards the perimeter.

“It’s a different vibe, especially from my first two years,” Stewart said. “Everybody that’s here is competing. They want to be here. They want to learn. They definitely want to be coached. Obviously, (a reporter) mentioned shooting, I’m just letting them thangs go.”

During the end of most practices, Stewart gets his shots up alongside Duren as they’re coached and monitored by Pistons assistant coach Rashard Lewis and player-development coach Andrew Jones. Once the 3-point shooting is over, both big men step to the free-throw line to finish the practice session. After a couple of makes, Stewart asks for the ball to throw down a one-handed dunk.

When most of the active players leave the court, the small group of Pistons dealing with injuries — Kevin Knox (right gastroc strain), Nerlens Noel (reconditioning, plantar fasciitis) and Alec Burks (navicular fracture) — emerge to get their individual work in.

Once fully healthy, the Pistons appear to have a balanced roster at each position, with a vet at nearly every spot on the floor. However, it remains to be seen what that product will look like on the court.

But there are plenty more practices to figure that out.

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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