Five takeaways from Pistons’ promising Summer League performance

Detroit News

The NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League is winding down, and the offseason showcase had its share of positives for the Detroit Pistons.

The rookies played well and the other players in the young core showed that they’ve made some strides in their skill sets. Although the Pistons finished 3-1 in the regular games, they didn’t make the Summer League playoffs, falling just short because of a point-differential tiebreaker. Their lone loss was to the Houston Rockets, who are in the championship game.

Cade Cunningham predictably did not play in Summer League, as he recovers from leg surgery, but he’s trending toward returning healthy for the start of training camp in the fall. The Pistons didn’t do as much as some would have hoped in free agency, so they’ll need significant internal improvement from their own players next season — most notably, Cunningham.

The Pistons did have Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren and James Wiseman play in the first two games to get some action, but there wasn’t much to gain from playing them beyond that. They finished 4-1, an impressive showing, with good contributions from other players in the final three games.

Although there were some encouraging performances, none of the Pistons were named to the first- or second-team All-Summer League.

With the end of Summer League, the NBA slows down for a bit, with the destinations for elite-level players such as James Harden and Damian Lillard likely being the biggest news to follow until the start of training camp.

On the Pistons front, things should be relatively quiet for a couple of months, but the five games in Summer League will leave some things to ponder until then. Here are some takeaways from the team’s performance in Las Vegas:

More than a consolation prize: Ausar Thompson, the Pistons’ pick at No. 5 overall, was thought to be a big question mark. Some of the chatter was that if he’s not a shooter or scorer, how could he possibly help in the short term? Thompson showed in the first four games that he can be a valuable asset with his defense and his overall basketball IQ. Thompson averaged 13.5 points, an eye-popping 10 rebounds and 3.5 assists, along with 2.3 steals and 1.8 blocks. Those can look like pedestrian numbers but considering that he played the first two games with the likes of Ivey, Duren and Wiseman — who each averaged more than 16 points — he found his groove.

Although Thompson likely won’t be a starter when the regular season begins, he’ll bring some energy and defensive skills that will help during some stretches of games. The Pistons didn’t have many similar athletic, rangy and aggressive defenders, which showed in their allowing of 118.5 points per game last year and the second-worst point differential (minus-8.2).

It isn’t always about who starts, but it’s reasonable to expect that the Pistons could use Thompson to close some games as a valuable on-ball defender. He’s backed up some of what general manager Troy Weaver thought would be a needed skill set on the roster.

The 40 ball: Along with Thompson being something of an unknown quantity entering Summer League, there were some fans who were wondering what Marcus Sasser, the pick at No. 25 overall, would bring.

Question answered.

Sasser dropped 40 points in 30 minutes on the Indiana Pacers on Sunday in the Summer League finale. With Thompson sitting out, there was more than enough opportunity for Sasser to show his ball-handling and facilitating — he had five assists and didn’t have a turnover — and he notched the highest-scoring performance of this year’s Summer League.

As impressive as Sasser’s ability to score from all three levels — he went 5-for-9 on 3-pointers and only 3-for-3 from the free-throw line — his court vision and comfort level with running the offense were notable, as well. It’s fair to try to keep things in perspective — the Pacers rested many of their Summer League regulars as well — but 40 points is 40 points, whether it’s middle school, AAU or the NBA.

Youth movement: Beyond the rookies, the Pistons saw some good things from Ivey, Duren and Wiseman. Although they only played the first two games, there’s plenty to be encouraged about as they head into training camp. Duren showed an expanded skill set, hitting a 3-pointer and some ball-handling ability that could bode well for him as the projected starter next season.

In their loss to the Rockets, the three youngsters shined, with Duren contributing 23 points and 10 rebounds, Ivey 22 points and 10 assists and Wiseman 17 points and 10 rebounds. Thompson added 12 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.

Ivey had a tough opener, but he responded with a good second game, including a pair of 3-pointers and a better handle on the offense. He likely won’t be called to do that as much with Cunningham’s return, but it was encouraging to see that he could bounce back.

The combo of Duren and Wiseman (with Duren looking to play power forward) was awkward, at times, but it allowed Wiseman to control the paint a bit, which included some solid minutes.

All-in for the team: Many of the Pistons’ veterans made the trip to check in on their teammates. Along with Cunningham were Isaiah Stewart — who agreed to a four-year contract extension worth $64 million — Killian Hayes, Monte Morris, Alec Burks, Marvin Bagley III and Isaiah Livers.

There usually is a team activity during Summer League, but to see so many of the players show up at games and to be visible is a good sign for the chemistry and camaraderie that seem so vital to the success of Weaver’s rebuild plan.

A good Buddy: Buddy Boeheim shot a healthy 45% (9-for-20) on 3-pointers in five games. He averaged six points per game and only made one field goal inside the arc, but he did what he was supposed to do and played into his strength. Boeheim was on a two-way contract last season and as he continues to develop his skill set, he could become a better option, and there is still plenty more maneuvering that has to be done before the season starts.

There’s a chance he could return to the Pistons or Motor City Cruise in the G League. If not, he could latch on with another team and get a better opportunity.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

Threads: @RodLBeard

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