The Detroit Pistons learned a hard lesson during the 117-96 loss at the hands of the feisty New York Knicks. No matter all the new talent you bring in, the ways players have grown their games, and all the new schematic wrinkles you’re excited to introduce — nobody is going to give it to you.
Especially not a team with plenty of talent, and especially especially not a team coached by Tom Thibodeau. The Knicks, led by marquee offseason acquisition Jalen Brunson were in midseason form in game one of the preaseason while the Pistons were disjointed, a step slow and careless with the ball.
I lost track of the number of times the Knicks were able to tip the entry pass, poke away the ball during a drive or outhustle a Piston for a rebound. A heavy dose of early miscues (Detroit had 22 turnovers on the night), allowed the Knicks easy transition buckets and wide open 3s while the Detroit players struggled to get back.
The Knicks led by as many as 32 points and the game was a laugher pretty early on. In the game preview, I said it the TNT broadcast was Detroit’s chance to make a good first impression on national television.
They, uhhhh, didn’t do that.
Cade Cunningham was mostly dreadful, shooting just 3-of-12 with more turnovers (four) than assists (three). He simply wasn’t ready for the relentless defensive pressure of the Knicks and made a handful of poor decisions.
Saddiq Bey was invisible and looked to struggle to find his place and a comfortable role within the new-look offense.
Isaiah Stewart’s lack of verticality was glaringly apparent, and while he did knock down a comfortable looking 3, a shot he worked on tirelessly all offseason, he also only recorded one rebound and looked easily overmatched against New York’s Mitchell Robinson.
The bench didn’t offer much of a respite early on, with the two-big combination of Jalen Duren and Marvin Bagley making a mess of the offensive spacing. Bagley shot two early threes that were not particularly close, and this idea that MBIII can play power forward alongside a traditional center needs to be abandoned quickly. He’s effective around the rim and he needs to play that role to be a contributing member to the lineup.
And guards Cory Joseph and Killian Hayes didn’t help matters much with plenty of forced passes and questionable decision-making of their own.
This game definitely had the feel of coach Dwane Casey trying out several players in new roles to see if they could sink or swim, or to see if they could be effective alongside particular players. Some combos worked, but others showed they have a long way to go.
OK, with all that out of the way, it should be stressed that there were positives to take away from this game if you’re Detroit.
Jaden Ivey struggled to handle the chaos of fast-moving NBA defenses at times, but he looked like he belonged out on the court and eventually found his comfort zone. Ivey got things going early by stepping into a transition 3 and then had several possessions that allowed him to use his athleticism and burst to wiggle his way into the lane and straight to the rim. Ivey scored a team-high 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
Duren also had his fair share of rookie moments with several balls getting poked out of his hands and some rookie fouls he’ll learn to avoid in the future. But despite being the youngest player in the NBA, he looked like he belonged out on the floor. He played quality switching defense (ticky-tack fouls notwithstanding), and he corralled 14 rebounds. He will fight his way into regular playing time, and once he gets it he isn’t going to give it back.
New Pistons forward Bojan Bogdanovic looked comfortable on offense on his new team and his silky smooth jumper was much needed by Detroit. He hit three 3s and collected four rebounds.
Killian Hayes was much more aggressive than he was las season, and he looked more comfortable generating offense and taking shots. He scored 11 points, though he needed 12 shots to get there, dished out five assists, and was closer than anyone at playing competent perimeter defense.
Lastly, Isaiah Livers was out on the floor doing Isaiah Livers things. He struggled early with some errant passes, but excelled in the second half on defense and found his offensive groove reaching 12 points and hitting a trio of threes.
This is definitely not the start the Pistons wanted, and I’m sure fans will draw too many conclusions from a loss to a superior team and it was clear they were not ready for primetime.
In two weeks when the real season starts, this game will quickly be forgotten. But for now, feel free to commence freaking out.