I have a lot of respect for Keith Langlois of Pistons.com, who is, by all accounts, a prepared interviewer, a numerically inclined analyst, and (as I’ve said before) much too gracious a mailbag host.
Once of the perks of his position with the Pistons organization covering the team is he gets the pre-training camp extended sitdown with new Pistons head coach Dwane Casey. My role, meanwhile, as a writer with no direct access to Detroit’s newest head coach, is I get to parse Casey’s every phrase and clause for insight into what he’s thinking ahead of training camp for your reading pleasure.
What IS Casey thinking about going into training camp and the preseason? Let’s find out.
Part II of Langlois’ interview
Part III of Langlois’ interview
Andre Drummond should focus on the present
But now is the time for (Andre). I told him the time for him is now – not worry about the word potential. This is the time for him. Don’t worry about how old he is. It’s time for him to be a pro, to be a man, produce, to win, think about winning now, not worry about getting better every year – no. This is the time right now for him to perform and be a mature, NBA player.
Andre just turned 25 this offseason, and I admit to still thinking of him as a young guy with untapped potential. Casey either doesn’t want to rely on the unseen, or prefers Andre focus on what he’s good at now instead of worrying about adding to his game. In this, Casey isn’t WRONG, but it’s a little at odds with Andre practicing his threes in the offseason with Casey’s blessing.
Speaking of which:
Andre shooting threes is a reward
(Taking threes is) the carrot. That’s the key. In my experience with other big men like that – went through it with (Jonas) Valanciunas in Toronto – of him not losing his inside presence, his protecting the rim, his guarding the lane, getting back in transition, running the floor, all those things. Before you can think about shooting the three you’ve got to do all of these first. Those are your day job.
Well, that assuages some of my concerns around Andre having a green light to hoist from three. Of course, you obviously wish Andre’s animating element was his defensive play, but that’s just who he is. As we saw last year, involving Andre in the offense in new ways keeps him invested in his play and engaged on defense. I think the “carrot” of getting to show off his offseason work at the 3-point line, SPARINGLY, is big enough to keep him interested on defense.
Blake Griffin’s the leader of this team
(Blake) had probably the most impressive, organized workout regimen this summer that I’ve seen of any veteran player like him. He hired statisticians to come in and keep stats of his shooting, his stretching regimen. He brought in other workout players to simulate five other players so he had the whole gamut covered. That showed me, too, that he was organized and hopefully other players saw that and he led by example.
Statisticians for shooting drills sounds like just good old-fashioned positive reinforcement to me, but it DOES remind me of this anecdote from a Lee Jenkins profile of Blake:
You forget how insanely driven these guys are. I can’t imagine doing anything 325,000 times.
Anyway, Casey talks about Blake as the head of the team. With Blake being the best offensive player, the player with the highest profile, the player ownership wanted to trade for, and the player with the most to prove this season, I’m inclined to believe him. Looking forward to a monster season from Blake Griffin.
Sammy Gelfand isn’t a coach, but he’ll be with the coaches
Gelfand, the analytics guru the Pistons hired away from the Golden State Warriors, figures to have a meaningful say in the on-court look and feel of the team.
Yes, (Gelfand) will be behind the bench. Before games, possibly at halftime. During the game, it’s tough to try to do all of that with the fluidity of the game but after the game, before the game and game preparation is huge from that standpoint... (T)he most important thing about analytics is I don’t know as much about analytics as they know about coaching, but sometimes analytical guys will come in and try to tell you how to strictly coach by numbers and you can’t do that. Where he has a great feel about how you present things, he has a great feel for the game, he’s seen it firsthand from a winning organization in Golden State but most of all just his approach is top-notch and he knows his stuff.
The on-court, in-game integration of analytics is why you hire a person like Sammy Gelfand in the first place, and if he’s assisting in halftime adjustments and sitting behind the bench, he’s functionally an assistant coach specializing in analytics. Not every NBA team has that deep a marriage between the coaching staff and the analytical staff, and fans should look forward to the insights Casey gleans from Gelfand this season.
I can already guess one of the insights:
The Pistons are going to shoot a lot of threes
We have a number. I don’t want to give it to the world but we have a number we want to shoot per game. It’s a philosophy... There’s a method to the madness, there’s a way we want to utilize them, there’s a way we want to get to those types of three-point shots. We know what type of three-point shots we want to get, the way we want to start the offense to get to that, so there’s a method to the madness of it but we definitely want to utilize the three-point shot.
Dwane doesn’t want to give you a number, but I will: 30.5.
Last season, the Pistons averaged 28.9 three-point attempts a game, tied for no. 16 in the league. Upping that by 1.6 attempts, to 30.5 a game, would vault them into the top 10 of the league. That still wouldn’t be as many as the Raptors took last year (Toronto attempted 33 threes a game), but that’s a reasonable yearly jump in attempts for a team under a new coach.
(If you’re wondering just how the Pistons will shoot 1.6 more threes a game, you haven’t been reading Michael Snyder’s pieces on Casey’s coaching approach in Toronto, and you should go do that immediately.)
Reggie Jackson is going to make some changes, or there’s going to BE some changes
What we do to trigger our offensive approach is going to be huge and Reggie initiating that. Reggie is so good with the basketball. The biggest adjustment he’ll have to make is having a (half-second) mentality of moving the basketball, getting it back, moving it again, making quick decisions. That’s a big part of the change and of the approach we’ll have is no matter who it is who has the ball, we don’t want to hold the ball. We want to make quick decisions.
That... doesn’t sound like Reggie Jackson to me. Reggie likes to run pick-and-roll, getting screens and re-screens until he can attack a defense in the paint. Reggie likes to dribble the ball a LOT - giving it up in half a second has never been in his job description. Of course, Reggie’s not fully healthy right now, so we don’t even know how much chance he’ll get to practice this in training camp. This sounds like it could get dicey... Dwane, how does Reggie feel about being more of a ball-mover and quick-decision-maker?
He understands it.
Between this and the injury news, I would not be surprised if Reggie Jackson wasn’t a Piston come the trade deadline - and that’s not something I could’ve said in August.
The wing starters aren’t set yet
It’s not going to be given to anyone, but we have a good idea of what we want to do as far as who the other two starters are, what we need in those two roles... To me, both Stanley and Glenn are starters. Reggie (Bullock) is a starter in my mind and Luke is getting there. Luke has been hurt and it’s unfair to him right now because those other guys have worked all summer, they’ve gone through the system all summer.
From the sound of things, Luke isn’t quite in the same breath as Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson, and Glenn Robinson III. DBB seems pretty settled on Reggie Bullock as a starter - but The Great Wing Debate roils on with no end in sight. Y’all know where I stand.
Luke Kennard is still hurt?
Luke has been hurt and it’s unfair to him right now because those other guys have worked all summer, they’ve gone through the system all summer and Reggie (Jackson) and Luke are kind of playing catchup from being injured all summer.
If you recall, Luke injured his left knee prior to Summer League and didn’t play. At the time, it was characterized as “nothing serious” and that the team was just being “cautious.” Summer League was in July. If it’s almost October, and Luke’s still feeling the effects of an ostensibly minor knee injury, that’s not a great sign.
Casey wants the bench to be “a game changer”
You want the second unit to be a game changer when they come in. You want to change the game. You want to bring energy. If we’re having trouble scoring, you want to do that or if we’re having trouble getting stops you want those guys to be able to do that, too. We’ll get an identity with both of (the starters and the bench).
This is a strategy and mentality Casey had major success with in Toronto, so it’s not surprising that he wants to / was tasked with implementing a similar strategy in Detroit. To me, at least, this continues to point to Luke coming off the bench when healthy. Luke proved he wasn’t a liability on D last year and a bench role offers the ability to focus more of the offense through him than a starting role. Luke can be Detroit’s Fred VanVleet.
The Pistons are going to switch on D
There’s no question. We can switch. We definitely will switch one through four and there are some situations where we’ll switch one through five, which Andre can do, Blake can do in those situations. That gives you a lot of tools in the tool kit.
I... would need to be swayed on this one. This is a departure from the more traditional defensive coverage that Stan Van Gundy employed. The Pistons have a roster that is a little more positionally ossified than other switch-heavy teams - Stanley Johnson is never playing center (à la P.J. Tucker) to enable switching one-through-five. I’m imagining Blake Griffin getting repeatedly pulled into isolation situations on switches and grinding my teeth. Let’s see how that plays out.
The ceiling is the roof
We’re better than what people are saying – that we’re right there hanging around the eighth spot. No, no, no. We’re a better team than that. But it’s up to us to go out on the floor and show everybody and proving it by going out on the floor and doing it and working and being a tough-minded team on the floor. It’s up to us to do it, but I envision us – and I know we’re better than what people have us ranked because of the talent of a Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Stanley Johnson, Reggie Jackson, the guys we have, the young players we have to infuse with them, it’s just too much there for us not to be better than just scratching into the eighth spot of the playoffs.
Yes, every coach in the league is offering a version of this prior to training camp, but who cares, it’s still nice to hear. #DetroitVsEverybody.
Let’s get the season started.