Younger guys must start ‘enjoying’ physical play

In what has been the longest offseason in Detroit Pistons history, their in-market group workouts bubble gave coach Dwane Casey one of his biggest offseason wishes — two weeks of physical, undisturbed, five-on-five competition. 

The Pistons wrapped up group workouts last Friday, and it allowed the young players on the roster, along with five players from the Grand Rapids Drive, to scrimmage and practice together for the first time since their season ended on March 11. Since the Pistons were left out of the Orlando bubble, it allowed the Pistons to play catch-up. 

“Guys are competing, diving on the floor, taking charges at a high level,” Casey said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to accomplish out of the bubble is create that atmosphere of competition. Young guys have responded.”

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We’ve learned a lot during the last two weeks from both Casey and players. Here’s an overview of what the Pistons accomplished during group workouts. 

Doumbouya learning a little bit of everything

Nearly 18 months after he was drafted, Sekou Doumbouya remains one of the biggest mysteries on the roster. The coaching staff is helping the 6-foot-9 forward realize his athletic gifts while also adding to his overall skillset. 

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As he did during his rookie season, Doumbouya mostly played power forward during group workouts. But Casey had the Pistons experimenting with zone defense, taking a page out of the Miami Heat’s book. Doumbouya played center within the zone, and Casey sees a future at the position for him when the Pistons play small. 

‘He’s going to have some versatility for us, especially the way the league is going if we do go small in that situation,” Casey said. “Was really pleased with the way he adapted. That’s the way to go to be a quarterback in the middle of the zone, you have to be a radar. He fits the bill in that position.”

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Casey has also been pushing Doumbouya to develop as a ball-handler. He was an underwhelming transition player last season and Casey wants him to be able to push the ball immediately after grabbing the rebound and make the right reads. 

It’s a work in progress, but by this time next year, Casey expects him to be much more effective at it. 

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“This is a great time to learn because we probably won’t have him do it during the season until he grows into it,” Casey said. “This is a development phase for him to be able to bring the ball down. Not in pick and rolls, but again, working in our transition game, getting a rebound and busting out with it. I thought he did a better job. By this time next year he’ll be much better at it, but this is a good start for him. 

“We don’t have Sekou playing in the pick and roll game right now,” Casey added. “He’d probably like to, but he’s not there yet.”

Luke Kennard of the Detroit Pistons shoots a free throw against the Milwaukee Bucks during Game 2 of the playoffs at Fiserv Forum on April 17, 2019 in Milwaukee.Kennard healthy, embracing larger role

Luke Kennard didn’t suffer any physical setbacks through the three-week camp, a positive sign as he’s coming off of a season cut short by tendonitis in both knees. He said he’s in the best shape of his career. Casey agrees. 

“I thought he came in in great shape,” Casey said. “His body was good and he accomplished what we wanted to do with him to see where his body was, how much progress he had made with his knee, his tendonitis. No issues whatsoever with his tendonitis. I think he’s probably in the best shape of his career, since I’ve had him in two years. He played with force, played with intelligence, confidence. So he really came right back where he left off where he was playing.”

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Despite playing a career-low 28 games due to injury, Kennard had a career-high 25 starts last season. He took on a bigger role as a primary creator and distributor and maintained his efficiency from the 3-point line. If he’s picking up from where he left off last season, it bodes well for him as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. 

Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey during action against the Charlotte Hornets, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020 at Little Caesars Arena.Casey wants a tougher team

Casey preached the importance of having a well-conditioned, physical team throughout workouts. He praised the conditioning level of several players in camp, including Doumbouya and Svi Mykhailiuk, multiple times. 

He isn’t as satisfied with the physicality aspect, though. For the first time during his time in Detroit, he had the Pistons work on taking charges. 

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“Getting used to contact, enjoying contact, flesh-to-flesh contact that you gotta have to win in today’s game,” he said. “That’s Miami. That’s Boston. L.A. does it in a different way. To compete on that level, you got to be able to have flesh-to-flesh contact, physical contact on both the offensive end and defensive end. I thought we got away from that last year. I thought Blake (Griffin) was our most physical guy. Derrick (Rose), from a guard position. But our young guys have to enjoy that contact and the physicality of today’s game no matter how big or what your size is.”

Kennard, Brown growing into leadership roles

Rose and Griffin didn’t join the team for group workouts, creating a leadership void — and an opportunity for the young players to grow into it. 

Kennard and Bruce Brown stepped up as leaders, Casey said. Brown, one of the more vocal players on the roster, embraced it naturally. Kennard took a leap forward as a leader, which makes sense considering he’s the longest-tenured player on the roster. Casey wants other players to embrace the leadership role as well, but those two stood out. 

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“All those guys have potential,” Casey said. “We still try to get Svi to talk and be boisterous, because he’s a smart player. Luke has kinda taken that mantlepiece of leadership in the void of Derrick and Blake.”

Pistons guard Jordan Bone drives against Knicks guard Allonzo Trier at Little Caesars Arena, Nov. 6, 2019.Bone learning how to be a point guard

Jordan Bone, the two-way rookie guard last season, had good numbers with the Grand Rapids Drive in 2019-20. He averaged 17.5 points and 7.1 assists, shooting 42% overall and 38% from the 3-point line in 31 games. 

He was one of the best athletes in the 2019 NBA draft combine, recording the fastest lane agility, shuttle run, 3/4 court run and a 42.5-inch vertical jump. He’s still learning how to use his athleticism at the NBA level. Bone didn’t spend much time on the court with the Pistons last year, but Casey said he’s getting better at changing speeds, rather than going full speed 100% of the time. 

“I thought he did a good job in the camp the last three weeks of changing speeds,” Casey said. “Really pushing the ball up the floor, not seeing anything and then attacking. That was his gift. His gift is his speed and I thought he did a better job this week.” 

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: What the Detroit Pistons’ learned from their bubble workouts

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