Six things to watch during Pistons’ Summer League schedule

Detroit News

Detroit — The Pistons will open the Las Vegas Summer League this weekend with back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday, so the preparation for the annual showcase has ramped up.

The most pressing topics will be the workload of Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, but there will be a lot more eyes on the Pistons’ latest rookies, Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser.

In the 10 years since the Las Vegas Summer League began to crown champions, the Pistons have never won the summer title. However, with a roster full of young talent and experienced rotation players, a chance at the crown could be in play.

The team will be coached by new Pistons assistant Jarrett Jack, along with several members from Monty Williams’ new staff. Detroit will also debut a new set of summer league jerseys, first revealed by team equipment manager, John Coumoundouros.

The Pistons’ four-game schedule is full of intriguing storylines, but here are some of the most important things to watch in the 2023 Las Vegas Summer League:

Who’s on the team? There are a number of notable names on the Pistons’ summer league roster. The team is highlighted by Ivey and Duren, who are entering their sophomore seasons after first years which resulted in All-Rookie nods, and first-round picks Thompson and Sasser. Third-year forward Isaiah Livers is also on the roster, but it’s unclear how much he, Ivey or Duren will participate in Las Vegas. One rotation player, James Wiseman, should be a regular in the Pistons’ summer league lineup as he looks to regain his footing after joining the Pistons in February. Former Michigan guard Zavier Simpson will also get a chance to impress scouts and other teams after spending last season with the Lakeland Magic. The Motor City Cruise, the Pistons’ G League affiliate, is well-represented as well. Stanley Umude, Keifer Sykes and Nate Roberts will receive an opportunity to showcase their skills over the next week. Buddy Boeheim, who was a two-way player for the Pistons last season, also returns to the year’s summer squad.

A battle between brothers: The NBA is good for scheduling games based on competition, but the league also knows how to market a good story. If the matchup between Spurs center Victor Wembanyama and No. 2 overall pick Brandon Miller doesn’t meet expectations, all eyes will certainly turn to Sunday’s evening game between the Pistons and Rockets. Not many players in the draft possess more upside than Ausar and Amen Thompson, who were selected back-to-back at No. 4 and 5 and became the first brothers in NBA history drafted within the first five picks. Ausar has insisted that he and the Pistons are going to overwhelmingly win the matchup against the Rockets and his twin brother, Amen. Both players possess a unique skill set, featuring athleticism, playmaking and finishing at the rim. The Pistons will watch closely how Ausar uses his defensive abilities during the four-game Las Vegas slate. It’s one of the reasons the Pistons used the fifth pick to select the 20-year-old guard/forward. Once Ivey and Duren inevitably finish their Summer League early, Ausar will likely be the focal point of the Pistons’ offense, along with Sasser.

Sasser’s two-way abilities: The Pistons don’t have many guards who can shoot as well as Sasser, who enters the league after spending four years at Houston. But the combo guard can stretch the floor with his perimeter shooting after making 38% of his 3-pointers as a senior and 43% as a junior. As a product of Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson, Sasser brings intensity on the defensive end and it’ll be worth paying attention to how he defends some of the other guards in Las Vegas.

What about Procida? The Pistons drafted Italian wing Gabriele Procida with the 36th pick in the 2022 draft and the 21-year-old has used the past year to hone his skills overseas. The 6-foot-7 guard isn’t listed on the latest summer league roster released by the Pistons, but it’s likely that he could make an appearance before Saturday’s opener against the Orlando Magic. Procida was in Detroit this week and he flew with the team to Las Vegas, so there may be some technicalities to work out before he’s able to officially suit up and play. Even if Procida doesn’t play in the first game, he could have three more opportunities in the final three games. Procida possesses sneaky athleticism and can finish at the rim, which often makes for nice highlights. The Pistons should be able to evaluate his progress over the last year, especially if he’s able to compete in Las Vegas.

Wiseman is healthy and ready to go: After an injury-riddled start to Wiseman’s NBA career, the 7-footer is finally feeling healthy and he’s ready to prove himself in a crucial year with the Pistons. Wiseman is entering his fourth season, but he needs as many reps as he can get so he’ll use this summer league experience to test his talents against the NBA’s newest crop of emerging young talent. Wiseman’s 3-point shooting will likely be under a microscope since there are four bigs on the Pistons’ main roster. If he’s able to show that he can stretch the floor consistently, he could be used at the power forward position. If not, it could make Detroit’s logjam of bigs a more pressing issue that would need to be sorted out sooner rather than later. Wiseman will likely split Summer League minutes with Duren and Cruise center Roberts, but he’s likely to play the most among the Pistons’ second- and third-year players. Progress could bode well for the former No. 2 pick, who’s heading into the final year of his rookie deal.

Cazalon gets an opportunity: The Pistons missed out on the opportunity to draft French phenom Wembanyama, but they came away with another Frenchman in Malcolm Cazalon, who recently signed as a two-way player. The 6-6 undrafted guard played the last three seasons with Mega MIS in Serbia’s ABA League First Division. Last season, Cazalon averaged 11.3 points and 3.4 rebounds while shooting 46% from the field. He’s a combo guard who possesses various offensive abilities, including finishing at the rim, 3-point shooting and playmaking. Cazalon, a native of Roanne, France, was a teammate with Pistons guard Killian Hayes and the duo won silver with Team France at the 2018 FIBA U-17 Basketball World Cup, where he averaged 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Teams are allowed three two-way spots due to the new collective bargaining agreement. Cazalon and Jared Rhoden were recently announced to occupy two of those slots. The Pistons have several guards on the roster, but if they go through another injury-riddled season like last year, Cazalon could find himself earning an opportunity to contribute.

Pistons vs. Magic

Tip-off: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas

TV: ESPN

Outlook: The Pistons open Summer League play with an early game, where they’ll get their first chance to see rookies Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser. The Magic have rookie Jett Howard, the son of former Fab Five member Juwan Howard, along with fellow Wolverine players D.J Wilson and Caleb Houstan.

mcurtis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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