Pistons limp into All-Star break but look to rest for final stretch

Detroit News

Detroit — The Pistons are entering the All-Star break with mental and physical fatigue weighing on most of the roster.

They’ve lost five of their last six games, which included brutal defeats to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, experienced a wacky trade deadline that resulted in the departure of a long-time teammate, and two of their four big men are nursing injuries.

Detroit’s 15 wins are three more than the 12 victories they compiled by this time last year, but Year 3 of the rebuild took a drastic turn when Cade Cunningham was shut down for the season after surgery to repair a lingering shin injury. Without their best offensive option, the team has relied on Bojan Bogdanovic to shoulder the scoring load, and the team’s top priority has been the development of rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren.

As expected for any young team, the primary theme has been growing pains, mainly consisting of inconsistent play. However, a few flashes of hope were also sprinkled in to the season, particularly with Duren’s 30-point, 17-rebound performance against the San Antonio Spurs and Ivey’s efficient outing against the Charlotte Hornets.

One of coach Dwane Casey’s main messages to the team following their 127-109 loss to the Celtics on Wednesday was to maintain their conditioning, but most importantly, to take some time to prioritize their mental wellness.

“I just told the guys to make sure you get your workouts in, get your sweat, but most of all, clear your minds,” Casey said. “All of our players, clear your mind, get that swagger back. I thought we played in Toronto with a swagger. I thought we lost it a little bit once they tried to make a run (in Boston) tonight, and we gotta keep that swag. We gotta keep that confidence, especially for young players in this league, because you might have a new gunslinger every night.

“When you get that mentality that I’m going to fight and compete no matter what happens — if I miss a shot, I’m still in it; If somebody misses me on a pass, I’m still in it; If somebody didn’t talk to me when I’m supposed to switch, I don’t lose focus; Referee misses a call, I still have to have focus. That’s something that we gotta continue to grow and mature into.”

For most of the Pistons’ roster, recharging both their physical and mental wellbeing shouldn’t be an issue. However, Ivey and Duren, the team’s two lottery picks, were selected to participate in this weekend’s All-Star festivities. Duren will miss Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge because of an ankle injury. Ivey will have double duty as he participates in the Rising Stars, and Skills Challenge on Saturday.

Bogdanovic, who has averaged 31 points over the last three games, echoed his coach’s sentiments about taking advantage of the six days off before the team has to report to Orlando for next Thursday’s game against the Magic.

“I think that the young group that we have in here, I think that it’s gonna be good for us to just kind of all rest first of all our minds and to flush it out a little bit to get a positive mind and energy for the second half,” Bogdanovic said. “I think that it’s gonna be beneficial for all of us.

“It’s a combination but for (younger players), it’s more physical but for the older guys, it’s more mental,” Bogdanovic said. “We get away and rest our minds and be ready and positive for the second half of the season.”

Wiseman-Bagley combo

The Pistons have technically been in the second half of the season since they completed 41 games on Jan. 4, but the trade deadline and post-All-Star break marks a turning point as teams begin to ramp up for the playoffs. That’s not the case with Detroit, but there will be a microscope on the final 23 games to determine how newly-acquired big man James Wiseman is integrated into the team.

Wiseman made his Pistons debut on Wednesday and finished with 11 points and five rebounds off the bench. He was used as the lone big man initially, but Casey also played him alongside Isaiah Stewart. Much of the discussion around the decision to trade Saddiq Bey and Kevin Knox II for Wiseman centered around his fit with Duren, Isaiah Stewart and the eventual return of Marvin Bagley, who is rehabbing a fractured right hand.

Stewart got his shooting groove back against Boston, going 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. He has a pre-existing relationship with Wiseman, whom he played against in high school.

“That’s gonna be great,” Stewart said. “You have four great young bigs, all different in different ways. I’m looking forward to having Marvin back. I know he’s excited to be back as well.”

Bagley was initially ruled out for six weeks after he underwent successful surgery to repair the third and fourth metacarpals in his right hand before he was determined to be re-evaluated. That timeline expired on Thursday, which means a more concrete update on Bagley’s status will likely come after the break.

Wiseman has the ability to play the center position. He has the low-post game and can knock down mid-range jumpers, but the next step in his evolution as a player is extending his range to the 3-point line. His first shot was a 3-pointer before settling into the paint, which he attributed to “wanting to get a shot off” due to his long layoff away from basketball. In order to play next to Duren, he’ll need to show more comfort from that distance, since Duren will man the interior.

When asked if the plan to stagger Wiseman and Duren was intentional, Casey said his decision-making was based on Duren’s health against Boston, but he didn’t rule out a future pairing with the two big men from the University of Memphis.

“(Duren) tweaked his angle but I thought (Wiseman) came in and gave us who he’s going to be, whether it’s staggering with Is,aiah. Not really there with JD yet, but there could be a possibility where he’s there with JD or Marvin once Marvin returns.

Bogdanovic was impressed by Wiseman’s debut with the team, specifically with his communication on the defensive end.

“I think just how long he is and I think he reads the game pretty well,” Bogdanovic said. “He’s pretty vocal for a young guy. He’s been talking a lot on defense and that’s the one part of the game we really miss so I think he’s going to be big for us.”

Effective communication was something Wiseman said he picked up during his three seasons with the Golden State Warriors.

“I (normally) communicate more, but my wind was just messing with me a little bit,” he said, “but once I get that back, I’m going to be more communicative.”

Wiseman’s fit with the team is still a mystery until Bagley returns, and it that scenario will likely change once Cunningham returns next season. As general manager Troy Weaver said in his preseason press conference, having a full complement of players will allow the Pistons the opportunity to be competitive on a nightly basis.

He already has the approval of his teammates, which is a start.

“I think that he can be pretty good,” Bogdanovic said. “I think that he hasn’t had a chance to play heavy minutes in this league with the Warriors because they were fighting for the title, but here I hope that he’s going to get what he deserves because he’s really talented.”


Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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