Pistons’ youthful squad experiencing growing pains 

Photo by Charles Hallman Bojan Bogdanovic

In awarding its 2022-23 midseason grades, the NBA media recently gave the Minnesota Timberwolves a D. Unlike the Wolves, the Detroit Pistons were a preseason pick to be a playoff contender, yet they also got a D from the same media group.

Despite similar grades, the Pistons have put together some impressive wins, including twice defeating the Timberwolves in a span of a couple of weeks (in Minneapolis on Dec. 31, and in Detroit on Jan. 11).

The R-word—rebuilding—has been the primary focus of the Pistons’ franchise for the past few seasons, with a roster made up of young players.

“Going into it, you know it is an intensive development situation,” explained Coach Dwane Casey, now in his fifth season with the team. “You get disappointed when you lose. You get frustrated, but again keeping the big picture in mind.”

The “big picture” Casey refers to is the team’s nucleus that includes Cade Cunningham (No. 1 draft pick in 2021), Killian Hayes (No. 7 pick in 2020), Jaden Ivey (No. 7 pick in 2022), Saddiq Bey (Brooklyn Nets first-round pick in 2020 acquired in a trade), Jalen Duren (Charlotte Hornets 2022 first-round pick acquired in a trade), Isaiah Stewart (Portland Trailblazer 2020 first-rounder acquired in a trade), Bogan Bogdanovic (a 33-year-old veteran acquired by trade in 2022), and Hamidou Diallo (a four-year veteran acquired in a trade in 2021).

Diallo, says Casey, “sets the tone. He’s not trying to do too much. He’s playing within himself, and that’s where he has to play for us.”

“We do believe [Detroit has] still got some holes on the roster,” added veteran Pistons broadcaster Greg Kelser. Youngsters such as Cunningham, who’s out for the season with an injury, and the rookie Ivey have been impressive, according to Kelser. “Putting a few veterans in there with them,” he says, will easily put the Pistons back in championship contention sooner rather than later.

“It comes in phases for young players…learning how to play hard every night, how to compete and then how to win,” said Kelser, a former NBA first-round pick himself in 1979.

“[We see] the rewards of a young and talented, great group of kids enjoying playing together, and they like each other,” Casey said. “We are not winning right now, but those wins will come.”

Bogdanovic, an eight-year veteran, stressed that he and the young Pistons “gotta stay focused.”

Isaiah Stewart concurred. “We are building something inside the locker room.  This is my third year, and I feel like we’re building something.”

“We’re about developing them,” Casey added.

This season has been full of ups and downs, highs and lows, but according to Piston veteran coach Casey, who previously built Toronto into a championship contender, he knows that both being an effective teacher as well as showing great patience is crucial at this time.

“My next job is not depending on when or how we do, but is the legacy that I want for our organization, to build it up, to get it back up to the championship level,” said the Detroit head coach.

“He showed that in Toronto,” noted Kelser of Casey. “There’s some guys playing really well in this league right now that he had, giving them confidence and showing them the way. He’s doing the same thing here.”

“That’s the beautiful thing about Detroit,” Casey concluded. “The fans in Detroit know what a championship-caliber team looks like. They understand that. They want to win just like everyone else, but they understand how young we are.” 

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