Five Detroit Pistons questions we have for Las Vegas Summer League

Detroit Free Press

Las Vegas Summer League tips off on Saturday for the Detroit Pistons, who will open their four-game slate against the Orlando Magic at 5:30 p.m. It’s the first chance to see first-round picks Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser suit up for the Pistons, along with a chance to see more of trade deadline addition James Wiseman.

Here are five questions for the roster.

What role will Thompson play?

Thompson and his twin brother, Amen, were men among boys in Overtime Elite last season. Ausar secured his place as a top-five prospect thanks to his all-around game, averaging 16.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks last season. The Pistons aren’t concerned that Thompson was 20 in a league of players largely ranging in age from 16-19. He has NBA size and length, processes the game like a point guard and will be one of the best athletes on any floor he’s on.

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But the summer league action will give us our first glimpse of the role the Pistons want Thompson to play. He won’t have to do everything at the next level, and Troy Weaver specifically wants Thompson to grow into an elite defender who can take on the toughest assignments. At 6 feet 6 with a 7-foot wingspan, he should be able to guard multiple positions.

In Las Vegas, it could mean we’ll see Thompson matched up against draft classmates Anthony Black and Jett Howard when the Pistons face the Magic. Or, Cam Whitmore and Thompson’s own brother when the Pistons play the Houston Rockets on Sunday. They’re the type of versatile, shot-making guards and wings the Pistons will need Thompson to defend nightly during the regular season.

I’m also curious how Thompson fits in offensively, as he thrives as a cutter and secondary playmaker. His one weakness is his shooting, as he knocked down just 29.8% of his 3-pointers and 66.2% of his free throws last season. However, he hit 15 of 39 3-point attempts (38.5%) through five OTE playoff games in the spring. He knows it’s an area he needs to improve in, and he’ll have an opportunity to show if the playoffs were an outlier or a sign of what’s to come.

Will Sasser’s game translate immediately?

In four drafts under Troy Weaver, the Pistons have drafted just one college upperclassman in the first round. That’s Sasser, who was the American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year after averaging 16.8 points, 3.1 assists and 1.6 steals while hitting 38.4% of his 3-pointers on 6.9 attempts per game as a senior at Houston. He has few holes in his game — he’s an elite shooter who can score at all three levels thanks to his floater, a skilled ball-handler and passer and one of college basketball’s best on-ball defenders.

Draft pundits considered him one of the highest-floor players of the class. Like Thompson, the Pistons envision Sasser being a defensive pest. Despite being 6-1, he has a 6-7 wingspan and will be able to check most guards. That, along with his ability to hit 3s off the catch and dribble, could help him be a Day 1 contributor as a rookie. This month will give him the chance to make a strong first impression.

How have Duren and Ivey grown?

It would be surprising to see Jalen Duren and Jaden Ivey — Detroit’s 2022 rookies who both earned second-team All-Rookie Team honors — play more than a single game. While they still have much to prove as NBA players, they have both firmly entrenched themselves as building blocks for the Pistons.

Ivey, at times, looked like a future star thanks to his elite speed and improved shooting and playmaking as the season progressed. Duren, who spent his rookie year as the youngest player in the NBA, cracked the rotation early and ended up starting half of his games thanks to his rebounding and elite athleticism. While they still have much to prove, they should both dominate in Vegas. Their goal should be continuing what they’ve already started.

For Ivey, that means becoming more fluid with his handle, reading the entire floor and locking in defensively. He had great defensive moments last season, and grew more comfortable as the season progressed and the game slowed down. With his size and tools, he should be a plus defender every night. There were times his handle couldn’t quite match his speed last season, and it factored into him being a less-than-stellar finisher at the rim despite his lightning-quick first step. Adding more wiggle to his game would pay dividends for him capitalizing on his quickness.

Duren’s athleticism helped him immediately thrive as a rebounder and lob threat. But he was early in his basketball education (again, he didn’t turn 19 until a month into the season) and it showed. Like Ivey, he had great defensive moments. The moment-to-moment consistency was lacking, however. He missed rotations and often found himself out of position to contest shots. As his understanding of what opponents are trying to accomplish improves, so should his timing and consistency.

Has Wiseman improved defensively?

In 24 games with the Pistons, Wiseman was able to showcase the innate gifts that made him the second overall pick in 2020, and the apple of Weaver’s eye, even three years after. He averaged 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds with the Pistons, operating as a focal point on offense as the team shut down most of their key contributors toward the end of the season.

But there’s still plenty of growth ahead, too. His biggest key to securing a prominent role in Monty Williams’ rotation is being more polished and aware on defense. He frequently looked lost there. Despite being extension-eligible, he has only played 1,703 minutes in his career — narrowly ahead of Duren, who tallied 1,670 minutes last season.

Wiseman has been in Detroit all summer working on “all aspects” of his game, he said after the Pistons’ practice on Monday. A dominant defensive performance in Vegas would go a long way toward Wiseman proving doubters wrong and setting a strong market as he approaches restricted free agency in a year.

What can Evbuomwan bring?

The Pistons technically added three players to their roster on draft night, as they signed Princeton forward Tosan Evbuomwan to an Exhibit-10 contract. He’s coming off of a standout junior season, averaging 15.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists while shooting 51.5% overall. And he was key for the Tigers during their surprise Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tournament, averaging 16 points, 7.3 rebounds and six assists over three games.

The 2021-22 Ivy League Player of the Year is the type of prospect the Pistons should be taking swings on. He was essentially a point guard in college at 6-8, and his 7-1 wingspan gives him the size to be a solid multi-positional defender. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the Pistons will be allotted a third two-way contract spot next season. Evbuomwan is among the players in the mix for it, and he could create separation from the pack with a strong summer league showing.

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