On young Pistons roster, Rodney McGruder is a ‘stone-cold leader’ in the locker room

Detroit News

Detroit — After most practices, Rodney McGruder can be found on the court shooting with Pistons development coach Jordan Brink.

The 31-year-old guard goes through a series of 3-point attempts from the five principal spots beyond the arc, holding his follow-through until the ball makes its way to the rim. Most of his shots splash through the hoop, barely touching the rim.

But when he misses, McGruder will hype himself up — ‘Ahhh, come on!’

After McGruder’s post-practice shooting routine, he’ll sometimes walk over and politely ask if he can speak with either Pistons coach Dwane Casey or another member of the coaching staff about something he noticed either during practice or in a game that would be beneficial to the team.

It’s a subtle piece of McGruder’s well-respected veteran leadership that’s vital for a Pistons roster full of key rotational players with less than three years of NBA experience.

It’s why the Pistons re-signed McGruder to a one-year contract during the offseason, looking to cultivate their young talent while providing veterans to help in that grooming.

“Rodney’s a stone-cold leader,” Casey told The Detroit News. “He’s always looking out for the young guys. He’s always talking to the young guys and you gotta have a vet on the team like that.

“He’s a communicator. He brings stuff to the coaches: ‘Coach, have you thought about this? Have you thought about that?’ (Having) recommendations from a player standpoint is invaluable, and that’s why he’s here.”

McGruder, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, played in 51 games for the Pistons last season and averaged 5.4 points and shot 44% from the field and 40% from the 3-point line. He was traded to the Denver Nuggets in the middle of the season, but the deal was rescinded after Bol Bol failed his physical.

The Pistons played their first preseason game, at Madison Square Garden, last week, and for the team’s duo of lottery picks, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, their NBA debuts were inside the arena known as basketball’s mecca. It can be daunting for a rookie to start in the bright lights and the crucible of the NBA.

To offer some perspective, McGruder said his advice to the Pistons’ rookies was to treat it as if it were any other game.

“Just have fun with it, man,” McGruder told The News. “It’s the same game that we’ve been playing our entire lives, since we were kids. Just have that same fun and that same joy that you always had playing the game. That’s the main emphasis that I stress to the younger dudes, is to have fun, because everything else will take care of itself. They prepared. They did all the dirty work and the hard work, so now it’s time to just go out there and just thrive.”

That they did. Ivey led the team with 16 points — and most importantly, appeared more poised with his pacing. He went the entire game without committing a turnover.

“That speed, man. That’s something that … you can’t teach that,” McGruder said of Ivey. “You can teach somebody to shoot the ball, finish and stuff like that, but just his speed and how unselfish he is at getting in the paint and making the right plays. You can’t teach that, so I would say his athleticism is what we need to create for others.”

Duren provided a significant boost in the rebounding department with the second unit against the Knicks, grabbing 14 boards in his first NBA game.

Despite the solid performances from the Pistons’ rookies, the team committed 22 turnovers and was dominated in a 117-96 loss.

McGruder’s feedback to the team afterward? “Don’t overreact,” especially since it’s the first preseason game. McGruder had a solid outing despite playing only seven minutes in the fourth quarter. He was able to enter the game and quickly warm up, knocking down three of his five shot attempts. He finished with 8 points, 2 rebounds and an assist.

“That is the hardest thing to do in this league: To sit there for most of the game and stay mentally ready,” Casey said, “because most guys are sitting there, ‘Ugh, I’m not getting in,’ so now you go in the game and you’re in a bad frame of mind.

“(McGruder) stays positive. He stays ready. He doesn’t have a negative spirit when he goes into the game. When you have a negative spirit when you go into the game, something bad is going to happen. You’re not going to make a shot, you’re going to miss layups. Your guy is going to blow by you, so you’ve got to stay ready when you’re sitting on the bench.”

Denver would’ve been McGruder’s fourth team, after spending three seasons with the Miami Heat, two in Detroit and one season with the LA Clippers. The six-year veteran says his former teams were full of more experienced players, but this year’s Pistons squad is beaming with youth and athleticism.

The Pistons’ young core — with Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Livers, Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes, along with Ivey and Duren — all have three seasons or less of pro experience. But youth brings potential. And that potential is something that McGruder will enjoy watching unfold as the Pistons’ young nucleus improves throughout the season.

“I just wanna enjoy the ebbs and flows of the season,” McGruder said. “Just enjoy watching the young guys get better and enjoy us coming together as a unit.”

Detroit’s core is expected to shoulder most of the load this season. However, McGruder and 12-year vets Cory Joseph and Alec Burks, will also have moments when the Pistons need their veteran leadership — on and off the floor.

And when McGruder’s name is called, he should be well-equipped to contribute.

“You just gotta be ready, man,” McGruder said. “You never know in the NBA. It’s a long season, a long game. You just never know. You just gotta stay ready.”

mcurtis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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