You might’ve heard this before: The Detroit Pistons goal to start the season was “to compete on a nightly basis.” If you haven’t, this was echoed from the front office, the coaches and even the players. The players had aspirations of participating in the NBA playoff Play-In Tournament instead of the NBA Draft Lottery.
But within the first twelve games of the season things went terribly wrong. So what would inspire Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer to speak glowingly about the job their colleague Dwane Casey is doing? The Pistons player development, led by Casey.
“…(Dwane) Casey does a great job developing young players,” Spoelstra said.
From Play-In to Player Development
You might be wondering how can anything be praised during a season expectations are impossible to meet?
Change the expectations.
The Pistons had no choice but to alter what the season plans were after injuries to key players.
First, big man Marvin Bagley was sidelined after tweaking his knee in the team’s open scrimmage. Significant because of how impactful Bagley was the season before when acquired from the Sacramento Kings. The pick-and-roll between Bagley and a rookie Cade Cunningham drove the Pistons offense and gave hope for a future led by Cade. The Pistons winning percentage jumped from low .200 to over .400 post all star break in games that Cunningham played in.
The Pistons were equipped to handle an injury to Bagley, but when Cunningham went down after 12 games it changed everything. It’s the top reason for the Pistons missing the mark according to Bojan Bogdanovic, as reported by HoopsHype.
“When Cade (Cunningham) went down, that kind of hurt us big time,” Bogdanovic said. “We were thinking that maybe we’d be fighting for the Play-In Tournament, but when he went down, he was our main guy. All of our offensive strategies were connected to him…when he went down, our season, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs without him.”
If this team were ready to win, the roster construction, offensive and defensive schemes would cater to more experienced players. Instead Casey has repeatedly stated once star Cade Cunningham went down the goal became player development. Meaning younger players would have opportunities to play through mistakes, and in critical game moments.
NBA Taking Notice
The Pistons record and play-in hopes have been the biggest casualties of a lottery bound season. But most of the other goals on the rebuild check list are meeting or exceeding expectation.
Chiefly it’s been the development of rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren which has found other NBA coaches complimentary. And last season they were being commended for the role played in Cade Cunningham’s successful rookie campaign.
Some observers pondered if Duren would need time in the NBA’s G-League before regular minutes in the NBA. But the Pistons had a plan with Casey and Weaver admitting on draft night Duren’s skillset was very raw, but moldable.
And the league has taken notice of the rookie big man, including Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer.
“Just the physicality, the size, and the athleticism he has is impressive for a young player, Budenholzer said. “With his size, strength and physicality he looks like he has a good career ahead of him and they have a great player in him.”
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra appreciates how the player development approach is paying dividends on and off the court. He spoke to the level of player Ivey is, but also his character and reputation.
“He’s a heck of a player…He’s extremely athletic and has quickness and explosiveness,” Spoelstra explained. “Everything you hear about him, he’s a quality young man. He’s only going to get better.
And after giving Ivey his props, coach Spoelstra gave a nod to the job coach Casey and his staff are doing.
“It’s a good place for him here, (Dwane) Casey does a great job developing young players.”
The future depends on “it’s internal development and growth,” according to Troy Weaver’s rebuild philosophy. And it’s the ultimate goal Casey is chasing to end a season knocked from its original course.
“All those little things from the rookies and making the advances in their rookie year would be the highlight for me as a coach,” Casey said. “You don’t win as many games, but the plus is that’s going to pay great dividends down the road.”
It’s nice to hear the front office and coaches in alignment, but it’s exciting to hear the players have bought in too!
“I feel like being in this organization is going to help me develop and grow,” Duren said. “Coming in with a player like Jaden is going to help my game. I feel like I’m in a great spot for my future.”
What’s Next for the Detroit Pistons
Jaden Ivey and the Detroit Pistons play the rebuilding Houston Rockets, Friday, March 31st at 8:00 PM.
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Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
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