The Detroit Pistons held an open practice on Sunday afternoon, and for all intents and purposes it was a success. No one was injured, and the players looked the part.
Little Caesars Arena was abuzz with fans excited to get their first glimpse of the 2022-23 team, including rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. Even though this was just an open practice, it’s likely most fans went home happy.
Now that we have established a level of realistic expectations for the results of the practice, let the Kool-Aid drinking commence.
The Detroit Pistons Rookies
Jaden Ivey appeared as fast as advertised. He used the pick and roll to get where he wanted, but he must continue working on what to do when he gets into the paint. A few times he had to make last minute passes under duress. This will get better as he adjusts to the NBA speed and how quickly windows can close. Overall, Ivey was very impressive and showed flashes of what he will contribute right away.
Jalen Duren may spend time with the Pistons G-League affiliate Motor City Cruise for a number of reasons. He is one of the youngest players in the NBA. He’ll be competing for playing time with veterans Nerlens Noel, Marvin Bagley and Isaiah Stewart, and every rookie has growing pains.
But from what I saw at open practice, Duren’s skill set could mesh well with the high-IQ rotation of Pistons guards like Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes. Duren showed the ability to swat shots and effectively man the paint as a weak-side defender. Fans in the arena remarked how it seemed the opposing team was avoiding Duren in the paint.
The Stars of Open Practice
Cade Cunningham looked the part of a team leader poised for stardom in the NBA. Again, it was just the team practice, but Cunningham made the game look easy. With a mix of dribble drives, three point shots, and timely passes to shooters like Bojan Bogdanovic, Cade appears to have picked up where he left off last season.
Cunningham isn’t the Incredible Hulk, but his weight gain is definitely visible. On several drives to the basket, Cade was just stronger than his defender and made a layup appear easy. It was a clear improvement over last year, where at times defenders would bump him on a drive and cause a turnover.
Killian Hayes stated during media day press conferences that he felt more confident and aggressive. He backed up his words from the beginning of the team scrimmage. Hayes impressed right away with a steady handle, solid passing, and perimeter defense that still appears to be the best on the team.
Before Cade Cunningham scored a flurry of baskets, sometimes against Killian, Hayes wasn’t looking to score much. After taking a few buckets? Killian was a man on a mission from mid-range. He displayed an array of passes and shots off the pick and roll. That should excite Pistons fans.
Bojan Bogdanovic wasn’t a world beater during the team scrimmage. But he is a stretch four who will make an immediate impact on the team offensively. He shot the ball confidently, knew where to be, and often made himself available to the ball handler. This is a skill set many younger players have a hard time developing.
On several occasions, the defense shaded Cade Cunningham to go to the left, and Bogdanovic appropriately moved to the open spot for Cunningham to find him. Not all the threes dropped for Bogdanovic however, but he showed what he is capable of.
Who Else Impressed
Jules Bernard: I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much from the undrafted 6’6 Bernard out of UCLA. With a mix of speed, composure, and a knack for scoring, Bernard stole the show early on with a few layups and a mid-range floater. He also showed the ability to play the pick and roll, get to the free throw line, and position himself on defense. Though he may be trending toward the Motor City Cruise roster, I can see Bernard fitting with the Pistons better than former guard Saben Lee.
Marvin Bagley III: First and foremost, Marvin Bagley looks slim and trim. He showed a bouncy, gazelle-like stride. He also looked lighter on his fight when coming down from a block, dunk, or jump. Not only that, but he showed improved activeness on the defensive end, rebounded tenaciously, and emphatically swatted a few shots.
Isaiah Stewart: I was very impressed with Isaiah Stewart’s presence on the court, especially rebounding and making difficult shots in the paint. Though I want to see more out of his improved three-point shooting, I saw the flashes of the player he looks up to: Al Horford. During the Pistons media day, Stewart stated Horford is the player whose game he is trying to emulate.
Whether it was perimeter defense off a pick-and-roll switch, or defending straight up with no help in the paint, Beef Stew held it down. I look at him as X-factor 1A and Killian Hayes as 1B as we head into the 2022-23 season.
Saddiq Bey: Bey just oozes confidence and leadership qualities that would make any coach proud. Bey looked sure of himself on offense, though I wanted to see him run the pick and roll some. He also appears to have slimmed down, while not sacrificing strength. This will allow Bey to be even more versatile, which he showed by mixing shots from the perimeter with back-to-the-basket shots from the paint.
Rodney McGruder: Rodney McGruder or RodneyMac, as Pistons in game announcer Mason affectionately calls him, set out to prove he can still play. His three-point shooting was dependable, but he seemed more active handling the ball and getting into the paint. The main takeaway from his performance is he will be a hard-working veteran role model for the younger players.
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