Detroit — Dwane Casey tried to find the right combinations for his second unit early in the season, but proper offensive production was hard to come by without a fully-healthy roster.
The Pistons ranked 28th in the NBA in bench points during the month of October (eight games) with just 23.5 points per game.
That number gradually improved over the last two months, and Detroit is now ranked first in the league in bench points over the last 15 games, averaging a whopping 49.1 points per game.
A couple of factors have contributed to this.
The Pistons welcomed the return of Alec Burks, who missed the preseason and first 12 games of the season after rehabbing a navicular fracture in his left foot. He scored 17 points in his season debut against the New York Knicks, and he has averaged 13.8 points on 40% shooting from the field in the 19 games he’s been available.
Saddiq Bey and Marvin Bagley III, both of whom began the season in the starting lineup, have been inserted into the second unit to provide balance, as Casey utilizes his two-big starting lineup, which now features rookie center Jalen Duren.
“It’s no disrespect to Saddiq, no disrespect to Marvin at all being in the second unit,” Casey said following Monday’s practice.” We need that. I love the way our second unit is coming in and changing the game and kind of having an identity, defensively, offensively, some go-to actions that they can click with.”
Bey is averaging close to 13 points per game off the bench and has appeared to snap out of his shooting slump, as his 3-point percentage has improved to nearly 30%.
Bagley, who serves as a hybrid power forward/center, is better-equipped in the second unit because it provides a scoring presence in the interior. Duren is a natural center, so his skillset complements Isaiah Stewart more as he transitions to the perimeter. Bagley has totaled double figures in scoring in four of the five games he’s come off the bench.
Another unexpected contributor coming off the Pistons’ bench is Kevin Knox II, who signed with the team during the offseason after a turbulent few years with the New York Knicks and a brief stint with the Atlanta Hawks.
Knox is averaging six points per game on 40% shooting from the 3-point line. He became a regular in the rotation during the back half of the Pistons’ six-game western trip, which included a 21-point performance to help Detroit beat the Utah Jazz on Nov. 23. He totaled 17 points and went 3-of-5 from beyond the arc to help the Pistons defeat the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.
“One thing with Kevin, his athleticism and size gives us an advantage,” Casey said. “It’s close between him and (Hamidou Diallo) as far as what they bring to the table, but with Kevin, his athleticism and shooting, his length defensively, helps because he can guard smaller players and he does a good job with his athleticism of getting to the offensive rebounds, which is huge for us.”
Casey has found consistency within his bench, but that consistency could be disrupted once Isaiah Livers returns from his shoulder injury. The second-year forward is one of the best “3-and-D” players in the rotation, but he has struggled to stay healthy during his two years with the team.
“It’s always a good thing when you add talent,” Casey said. “I thought (Livers) was one of our better individual defenders when he went out. It’s called competition. I tell the guys all the time, ‘Make it hard on the coaching staff to take you out. If you’re upset about coming out of the game, be playing so well that we can’t take you out.’ I don’t discriminate on who’s playing well. That’s what the situation is going to be when he comes back and that’s down the road a little bit, but you always want guys to come back.”
Pistons at 76ers
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
TV/radio: BSD/950 AM or 98.7 FM
Outlook: The Pistons will meet the Philadelphia 76ers for the first time this season on Wednesday. The 76ers are led by All-Star center Joel Embiid, who leads the league in scoring with 33 points per game. Philadelphia has won five consecutive games, including an overtime win over the Raptors on Monday.