Detroit Pistons’ season hasn’t started yet and injuries are already exacerbating issues

Detroit Free Press

The word out of Detroit Pistons media day two weeks ago was that, in their third year of rebuilding, they are finally ready to compete.

It’s too early to write them off, but that’s yet to be proven true through three preseason games.

The Pistons have struggled to shoot, making just 39.4% of their overall shots and 30.7% of their 3-pointers. They’ve struggled to defend, as their opponents have shot a combined 49.4 % overall and 37.6% from outside. They’ve turned the ball over 57 times against 67 assists.

There have been bright spots, but not much has gone right.

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Preseason gives teams a chance to experiment and find their legs. Detroit has one more game, and another week of practice, to do so before the regular season opener on Oct. 19. While they have much to correct before then, the biggest lift to their fortunes could happen off of the floor.

Troy Weaver previously said the Pistons have a full complement of players, but they’ve since been struck by the injury bug. Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks, two veterans who could become key rotation players, have yet to fully participate in training camp due to reconditioning and a left navicular fracture, respectively. Noel was previously diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. Hamidou Diallo has yet to make his preseason debut because of left quadriceps soreness, and Kevin Knox has been limited with a right calf strain.

Three other players who have already played significant preseason minutes — Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Livers and Bojan Bogdanovic — were added to the injury list on Tuesday. The Pistons are now 0-3 in preseason after falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder at home, 115-99. Most of their preseason struggles are correctable, but they’ll struggle to compete during the regular season with their depth significantly depleted.

“You can look down that whole list,” Casey said after Tuesday’s loss. “Hami, we have to get him in there. Kevin Knox. Livers. A lot of those guys you talk about being in the rotation, and here is it. It’s the last game, so we gotta get some rhythm and get them to play before next week.”

Bagley suffered a right knee injury early in the first quarter against the Thunder. He slipped after his right foot made contact with Thunder forward Jalen Williams, and immediately crumpled to the floor in pain while grabbing his knee. He couldn’t put any weight on it as his teammates helped him walk to the locker room.

The Pistons won’t have an idea of how serious the injury is until Wednesday. They also await the return of Livers (right hip soreness) and Bogdanovic (right calf tightness) — two of their best shooters and likely rotation fixtures this season.

The injuries don’t excuse the fact that Detroit has a lot of areas to improve in during the upcoming week. The Pistons committed 22 turnovers during their first two games. That was cut to 15 against the Thunder, but they committed 10 in the second half, and five in the opening three minutes of the third quarter. It killed their offensive rhythm. They entered the half with a three-point lead and led by as many as eight. But they shot 36.8% in the second half while allowing Oklahoma City to shoot 60%. The Pistons collapsed on both ends of the floor.

“We just played a little sloppy,” Saddiq Bey said. “We got into a track meet back and forth. We need to play with a little bit more poise, limit our mistakes and get the shot that we want, the possession that we want. It’s hard to defend when we turn it over. We did a better job starting off the game, not turning the ball over as much these past two games. We have to clean that up coming out of the locker room.”

Bey and Cade Cunningham could lead the Pistons in scoring this season, but they haven’t been able to find a rhythm in preseason. Bey is averaging 16 points while shooting 34.3% overall, and Cunningham is averaging nine points on 30.3% shooting. Couple that with the injuries, and it’s more clear why they struggled to score against a rebuilding Thunder team that was without second-overall pick Chet Holmgren and rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

It hasn’t been all bad. Killian Hayes had his best offensive performance since April on Tuesday. Jalen Duren and Jaden Ivey have shown flashes of why they were both top-five on Detroit’s draft board. Isaiah Stewart is knocking down 3-pointers.

They’ll need to clean up a myriad of youthful mistakes, and get a little healthier, to turn things around before the regular season.

“They’re growing,” Casey said. “Their future is still going to be bright. This one exhibition game doesn’t say who they’re going to be or what they’re going to be. That’s why they have to go through this to get where they want to go. First, second, third-year guys, it’s a lot. There’s no excuse. It’s on all of us as far as our defensive approach.”

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

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