Detroit Pistons leaning on veteran stars, not rookies, early in season. Is that a mistake?


The Detroit Pistons’ loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday was, in many ways, similar to their loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.

For much of the first 3½ quarters, the Pistons were the better team. A Delon Wright 3-pointer gave them a 101-93 lead with 4:05 remaining in the fourth.

It didn’t last, as the Pistons went scoreless the rest of the quarter, and Cleveland responded with an 8-0 run to tie the game. Like Wednesday’s game, which saw them lead until midway through the fourth, Detroit couldn’t finish the job.

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The Pistons also led, 112-103, with 2:15 to go in the first overtime, but gave up a 9-0 run. The second overtime period was never in question. Cleveland scored the first 10 points to clinched a 128-119 victory, dropping Detroit to 0-2.

Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin (23) looks to makes a pass to Jahlil Okafor (13) during the first half at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Mich., Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020.

During the game, many fans took note of the minutes disparity between some of the Pistons’ veteran and their young players. Blake Griffin played 44 minutes and 20 seconds, Jerami Grant played 42:31, Delon Wright 42:12 and Derrick Rose 33:07 off the bench.

Meanwhile, starting point guard Killian Hayes played just 19:30 and and fellow rookie Saddiq Bey played around 6. Of the players considered to be a part of Detroit’s “young core” only Svi Mykhailiuk played more than 20 (23:34).

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Since the offseason, coach Dwane Casey, general manager Troy Weaver and other Pistons brass have preached the importance of instilling a winning culture. Even though they’re not focused on making the playoffs this season, the Pistons aren’t embracing a full-on tank either. Casey wants his veterans to lead by example and show the young players what it takes to win. The young players are expected to earn their minutes and be held accountable for mistakes.

Cleveland Cavaliers center Andre Drummond blocks a layup attempt by Detroit Pistons guard Killian Hayes during the first half at Little Caesars Arena, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020.

Saturday’s game was a somewhat-extreme example of what that could look like. Griffin and Rose closed out the end of the fourth quarter, save for a brief rest for Rose, and played both overtime periods. Rose had an uncharacteristically off night, finishing with 13 points, four assists, four rebounds and six turnovers while shooting 4-for-15 from the floor. He committed back-to-back turnovers toward the end of the first overtime that Cleveland tie the game.

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Hayes wasn’t much better, finishing with three points (1-for-7), three rebounds, two assists and two turnovers. But given the result, many fans would’ve preferred to have seen the Pistons’ seventh-overall pick get more run.

After the game, Casey acknowledged he could’ve given Hayes another chance.

“You think about all of those things,” Casey said. “Killian, he was 1-for-7 himself. That’s definitely another option that we definitely want to look back on, too.”

Detroit Pistons forward Sekou Doumbouya (45) makes a layup against Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Mich., Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020.

It’s only been two games, and Casey and players are still learning each other. Both Griffin and Grant were visibly frustrated while talking to the media after the game. Losing isn’t fun, and it’s especially tough to lose after giving up leads deep into the fourth quarter.

In a season that’s about developing the young players, it can also be frustrating for fans to not see them given a chance. Casey has talked about finding the balance between giving rookies room to grow while still holding them accountable for their mistakes and encouraging good habits.

Saturday showed that there isn’t always an easy balance to be found. Rose, the former NBA MVP who received some All-Star consideration last season, is a safer bet to close games than Hayes until the rookie proves he can help the Pistons win. No one could have predicted Rose would turn the ball over twice in the first overtime.

Regardless of any rotation decisions, the Pistons led by eight with 4 minutes to play. They got big performances from Griffin (26 points, eight 3-pointers) and Grant (28 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks).

In both losses, they did everything necessary to win until the final minutes. Griffin is done blaming a new roster for their struggles. They’ve shown they can play at a higher level than they have so far.

“You can sit on that as an excuse as you want, but that’s an excuse to me,” Griffin said. “We just gotta be better. I gotta be better getting us into stuff that we should be in. We just gotta be better. I don’t like to lean on the ‘new.’ It’s basketball at the end of the day. Gotta play basketball and I gotta do a better job.”

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

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons seek balance between playing rookies, leaning on vets



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