Marvin Bagley III returns shows potential, and drawbacks, to Detroit Pistons’ 2-big lineups

Detroit Free Press

The injury updates have resembled a carousel for the Detroit Pistons this season.

On Friday, Alec Burks make his long-awaited season debut. That same night, Cade Cunningham missed his first of what could be a five-game absence as he deals with left shin soreness. On Saturday, Burks sat on the second game of a back-to-back. Several weeks into the season, Casey is still waiting for full compliment of players.

The roster did have one more positive change against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, though. Marvin Bagley III made his season debut after spraining his right MCL on Oct. 11. It was the first time this season that Dwane Casey had all three of his core big men available in Bagley, Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren. It allowed Casey to utilize his two-big man lineups, which will be a work-in-progress until the roster gets healthy.

Bagley was quiet night in his debut, scoring four points, grabbing four rebounds and blocking two shots in 17 minutes. But he felt good, he said, and he’s looking forward to getting his rhythm back and developing chemistry with Duren and Stewart.

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“I definitely was visualizing myself in these games, how many games was it? Eleven, 12, whatever,” Bagley said in the locker room after the 117-108 defeat. “I was visualizing myself in these games and putting myself in positions where I could help the team. It felt good to be back and be able to go out there and got some tipouts. Just getting a feel for the game again. It felt good to be out there. Now it’s locking in, staying positive, keep getting into a rhythm. A couple of games in, everything should be fine.”

Bagley played the majority of his minutes alongside Duren, who grabbed 12 rebounds in 17 minutes. The Bagley-Duren lineups had spacing issues; neither are outside shooting threats and they often shared the floor with Hamidou Diallo, who hit 1 of 3 outside attempts and isn’t a volume shooter. Casey acknowledged the spacing issues after the game, noting that the second unit was missing one of the best shooters on the roster in Burks.

“The other positive is getting Marvin Bagley some run, some conditioning to get him back,” Casey said. “We’re not a whole team. We have to get Alec Burks back and Cade back and those guys, get those guys back in the fold. The schedule doesn’t stop. We have a tough game Monday night, tough West Coast trip. What we have to do is stay connected, stay together.”

But there are some clear advantages to playing two big men together. The Pistons had a rare size advantage on the Celtics, who were without Al Horford and Robert Williams III. Detroit’s schedule has been frontloaded with teams who like playing two big men together, like the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks. Detroit has been at a size disadvantage for most of the season, but they outrebounded the Celtics, 50-42.

And while Bagley has some issues on defense, simply having another big body in the paint makes a difference. He deterred two shots toward the end of the third quarter, and his presence took pressure off of Duren and Stewart. He and Stewart didn’t play together much on Saturday, but that will likely change as the season progresses and Casey experiments with different lineups.

“The bottom line is size,” Casey said. “(Bojan Bogdanovic’s) not a power forward, so to speak. It’s not fair to him to being there with guys who are 6-10, guys who are bangers and that type of thing. Once we get Marvin back and we’re not afraid to get a big in foul trouble playing two bigs, we have to figure that spacing out with Marvin and another big, Marvin and Duren, Marvin and Stew. We gotta make sure we have that. Once we get our regular rotation down pat, it’ll come.

“Even though they may not block shots, the other team knows that they’re there at the restricted line,” Casey continued. “But offensively we have to make sure we have spacing because we have Hami, we have Duren and we have Bagley in there at the same time. And tonight’s the first time we’ve done that. The spacing has to get better. But defensively, the defensive rebounding and rim protection is something we need.”

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

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