James Wiseman has a chance to help Detroit Pistons improve defensively

Detroit Free Press

ORLANDO — With All-Star weekend in the rearview and roughly six weeks remaining on the schedule, the Detroit Pistons are getting back to basics.

Specifically, they’re working on their defense. The Pistons are 15-44 — the Eastern Conference’s worst record — primarily because of their defensive struggles: Their 118.1 defensive rating — an estimate of their points allowed per 100 possessions — ranks next-to-last in the league, ahead of only the San Antonio Spurs (119.8).

All season, coach Dwane Casey has preached playing with more competitiveness on on defense. There have been strides — during their past 10 games, the Pistons’ defensive rating (117) ranks 20th. Detroit’s defensive woes are the result of poor communication and technique, plus some personnel shortcomings. The first two can be improved with time and effort.

“Did a lot of stuff today, did some drills,” Casey said Wednesday following the Pistons’ practice at Amway Center. “It’s back to the basics, trying to get their bodies, their minds back and locked in. It’s about the next 23 games, what we want to accomplish — our transition defense, our one-on-one defense, our shell. These last 23 games we want to continue to teach defensively and understand we’ve gotten better. Our last 10 games, our transition defense has improved tremendously. We gotta continue to build on that as far as trending that way on the defensive end.”

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As for the third issue — personnel? Help could be arriving there, too.

James Wiseman only has one game with the Pistons after arriving at the trade deadline. He was a poor defender during his 2½ seasons with the Golden State Warriors. But he also didn’t play enough to establish what he can and can’t do. Pistons rookie Jalen Duren, in just 51 games, has already logged more career minutes than Wiseman.

Wiseman’s tools give him elite upside on both ends of the floor, but particularly on defense. He’s a 7-footer with a 7-6 wingspan. There isn’t a player taller or longer on Detroit’s roster. Against the Boston Celtics on Feb. 15, he showed flashes of that upside.

Because of the trade delay due to Gary Payton II’s failed physical, Wiseman had just one practice with the Pistons before the All-Star break. That gave him time to acclimate with Detrot’s playbook. Coupled with Wednesday’s practice, he’ll be better positioned for Thursday’s game against the Magic.

“We sent him our video book, our playbook, trying to keep it simple for him,” Casey said. “He’s an intelligent young man and sometimes you overthink things. I think he’s doing a good job of picking things up and trying to spoon-feed him offensively. But a lot of the defensive concepts don’t change. Our terminology is different than Golden State, but concepts are similar — switching, pick-and-roll defense, all those things are simple. It’s just different terminology.”

Wiseman looked lost at times against the Celtics, but he was impactful. Despite not recording a block, he redirected several of Boston’s drives to the rim just with his presence. He makes ball-handlers think twice before driving in. On the perimeter, he has the mobility to stick with smaller defenders, as he did on several possessions.

He has a ways to go before he can be considered a plus defender. But the tape from Wednesday suggests there may be more to his defensive bag than he was able to show with the Warriors.

“His length is a deterrent, his size at the rim is a deterrent,” Casey said. “The offense is going to come in time and everything. Defensively, he gives us a deterrent at the rim. He goes and gets the ball to block shots and protect the rim. That’s what I saw on the defensive end. Offensively, he’s still figuring out things. He’s got an excellent feel for the game. He just has to get into a rhythm because the young man hasn’t played in a lot of — someone said that Duren’s played more minutes than he has. The offensive end will come.”

Wiseman’s unique combination of size, leaping ability and nimbleness could separate him from the pack. The Pistons have willing defenders. Killian Hayes is their best at harassing opposing ball-handlers. Duren has shown promise as a rim protector and has even handled himself on some switches. Isaiah Livers’ communication and IQ will keep him on the floor even when his shot isn’t falling. And Isaiah Stewart is a willing rim protector, despite being undersized, and can match up with wings and forwards as well.

The Pistons need additional defensive help. Wiseman has a chance to show his elite tools can translate on the floor.

“The key thing with him is just getting the opportunity and the minutes,” Casey said. “Once he gets that, the improvement will come because he’s a talented young man. He just needs the repetition.”

Catch our podcast “The Pistons Pulse” every Tuesday morning at 5 and on demand on freep.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. See all of our podcasts and daily voice briefings at freep.com/podcasts.

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

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