Detroit — It’s the midway point of the Pistons’ season and while the team appears destined for another lottery pick, Pistons coach Dwane Casey and the rest of the coaching staff just want to see some consistency before next week’s trip to Paris.
The short-term doesn’t look too good. Their best scorer, Bojan Bogdanovic, is sidelined due to a right calf injury. Detroit’s explosive center, Jalen Duren, is also missing time due to a right ankle injury. However, Pistons guard Killian Hayes is showing promise as the team’s starting point guard in lieu of Cade Cunningham’s season-ending injury.
This week’s News & Views looks Killian Hayes, the team’s brutal schedule and the forthcoming return of Isaiah Livers:
▶ News: Hayes reached 1,000 career points in Sunday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
▶ Views: Buried in the losses and constant string of injury news lies a silver lining of consistency from Hayes. The Pistons’ No. 7 overall pick from 2020 is playing the best basketball of his career and his confidence is at an all-time high. He reached a small milestone in his last game after tying a career-high of 26 points, leading the Pistons in scoring. He made 4-of-8 from deep, which marked his fourth time making four or more triples this season.
Hayes is taking advantage of his opportunity as the starting point guard this season, averaging 17.7 points, 8.7 assists and three steals over his last three games since returning from a three-game suspension. He has also scored at least 17 points in four of his last six outings.
The Pistons might have lost a season of Cunningham, but they gained a more productive Hayes. Adding that skillset to next year’s team may yield a good return on Detroit’s investment.
▶ News: Tuesday and Wednesday’s games against the 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves marks the 10th back-to-back set of the season.
▶ Views: The Pistons entered the season as the ninth-youngest team in the league with an average age of 25.08, and the schedule-makers treated them as such. It’s only the midway point of the season and Detroit already has played 10 of their 13 sets of back-to-back games. The team has three back-to-backs left, which will be played once per month for the rest of the schedule: Feb. 3 vs. Charlotte and Feb. 4 vs. Phoenix; March 13 vs. Indiana and March 14 vs. Washington; and April 4 vs. Miami and April 15 vs. Brooklyn.
The Pistons have played two of their three home-away back-to-backs, all three of their away-home back-to-backs and all five of their away-away back-to-backs.
The worst of Detroit’s schedule is almost over as the team will get some reprieve in the schedule once they return from Paris. The extra time between games would give the Pistons more time to practice, which is nearly impossible to manage with such a hectic travel schedule.
▶ News: Isaiah Livers is nearing a return from a shoulder injury after being sidelined nearly a month due to a shoulder injury.
▶ Views: The Pistons have been decimated by the injury bug this season, and no one sans Cunningham has missed more games than Livers. The second-year forward worked his way into the starting lineup and began seven games with the first unit until he suffered a shoulder injury that has kept him out of 18 games. He was on pace to return in mid-December until he aggravated the injury during a workout. The Pistons wanted to err on the side of caution so they wouldn’t risk the chance of Livers suffering another setback. Livers was listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game against the 76ers, which indicates that he’s nearing a return to the lineup.
Detroit has missed Livers’ 3-point shooting on offense and length on the defensive end. He was averaging 5.8 points and 35% from beyond the arc before he went down. In his absence, Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox II received the majority of his minutes. Diallo is playing well as of late, bringing energy and effort into the second unit. Knox likely will fall out of the rotation once Livers returns, but Bogdanovic’s right calf injury may allow Knox to remain on the floor.
Despite Detroit’s bevy of injuries, Livers’ impending return will give him a chance to finish his sophomore season on a high note.
Timberwolves at Pistons
▶ Tipoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
▶ TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
▶ Outlook: The Timberwolves (20-21) have won four straight games since the Pistons beat them 116-104 on New Year’s Eve. The Pistons (11-32) have dropped back-to-back games.