The Detroit Pistons were eliminated in the first round of the Las Vegas Summer League playoffs because their best player didn’t play and the other team had an overqualified big man rampaging through everything.
...That sounds familiar, but I can’t place my finger on why.
Anyway, Summer League is always an opportunity to take stock of where a team’s young guys are heading into training camp, which is an eternity away. Here’s what we learned about the Pistons’ young guys:
Bruce Brown can contribute even if he’s not shooting
This was so apparent, I wrote about it two games in. The Vegas coaching staff put the ball in Bruce’s hands, gave him space, and told him to attack - which resulted in the best passing we’ve seen in his career. Repeatedly, Brown would attack space with his violent first step, diagnose a collapsing defense, and make the correct pass to an open shooter:
With this development, don’t be surprised if his improvement offensively and consistent defensive effort elevates him into the starting lineup over Luke Kennard. That’s not to denigrate Luke - if that happens, Luke is going to play big minutes as the sixth man who keys the bench offense - but to compliment the work Bruce Brown did and does on both sides of the ball.
Svi Mykhailiuk is the current backup SF
Svi didn’t have the unqualified success of a Summer League Bruce did. With the coaching staff putting the ball in his hands more than I think you’ll see during the regular season, Svi’s shot selection occasionally left much to be desired (what’s summer league without guys jacking up threes?), he turned the ball over more than you’d like to see, and his propensity for taking off with two feet meant he had trouble finishing around the rim.
However, his good outweighed the bad. His shot selection disguises it, but he’s clearly a deadly perimeter shooter, which the Pistons need. He turned the ball over, sure, but he was also a willing and active passer out of pick-and-rolls in the half-court, hitting the big men with nice pocket passes for easy shots. And, most importantly for his shot at the rotation, he was an attentive and engaged defender, sliding with guys on-ball and causing the occasional deflection off-ball. Dwane Casey is, at heart, a defense-first coach; if you don’t defend, you won’t play.
Svi defended. He should play going into the year. If all he does is make the open shots Langston Galloway got but did not make, pass the ball a little on the wing and in the PNR, and not be capital-B “Bad” defensively, he can stay in the rotation.
Svi also gave us the single best moment of the Pistons’ time in Vegas:
That counts for SOMETHING.
Khyri Thomas is a simple player in a complicated situation
Khyri vexes me.
I had hope that Khyri could play some PG off the bench as a way for him to break into the rotation - that hope is extinguished after Vegas. He got tripped up multiple times dribbling in halfcourt settings, and his lack of run-jump athleticism continues to be a limiting factor for him; he has trouble finishing in transition, and struggles getting all the way to the rim in the halfcourt. Sure, maybe I should’ve listened to the people telling me that Khyri wasn’t a point guard, but I needed to see it with my own eyes.
On the other hand, Khyri continues to be a knockdown catch-and-shoot guy (who made a couple encouraging threes off movement, which means he can maybe be a guy who shoots threes off dribble handoffs like Reggie Bullock and Tony Snell) and solid-to-good defender (even if Bruce drew the “harder” assignments - the Anfernee Simons/Aaron Holiday’s of Summer League).
The positive elements - the shooting and the defense - mean he’s an NBA player. On this roster, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s trade bait. In terms of guys at shooting guard on the roster, Luke (offensively) and Bruce (defensively) have shown more that he has, and Langston Galloway is a veteran who is present (I would not call him a “veteran presence”). And, in terms of guys who aren’t on the roster, a good chunk of the guys the Pistons should be targeting in the next 12 months (Bradley Beal and Gary Harris on the trade market, Caris LeVert and Malik Beasley in restricted free agency) are shooting guards who offer more than Khyri does.
I hope the Pistons figure out what to do with Khyri soon, because he’s too good to be in Grand Rapids for six months again.
The Pistons have a hole at backup big man
Michigan State’s own Matt Costello had a couple good games, but he was literally being spoon-fed buckets by Bruce and Svi and fouling everything in sight. He’s not the short-term answer for Detroit.
Donta Hall was a live wire on the glass, but is undersized and raw at this point. Keep an eye on him in the G-League (hopefully he pushes Johnny Hamilton), but he’s not the short-term answer either.
So, unless Thon Maker has gained the fabled 15 pounds of muscle (The Protein That Was Promised?) OR the Pistons plan on playing Markieff Morris at the 5 full-time, they need a backup center. There was rumored interest in Kosta Koufos, who would be perfectly adequate in that role, and rumored interest in Pau Gasol, who, at 39 years old and coming off a foot injury, would not be.
But the Pistons do not have a redundancy for Andre Drummond, and that’s notable.
Sekou Doumbouya is still an International Man of Mystery
Sekou only played one game, the final game of the Pistons’ summer league. In his only action, he did ... basically what you’d expect.
He had flashes of play (the transition take for his first points, the chasedown “block” he had, stroking a wing three) that offer a fever dream of the player he could be one day. He had persistent defensive miscues that explained why he fell all the way to the Pistons at 15.
If Sekou had been healthy in Summer League, we’d be able to see if his defensive issues were first-game jitters or a pattern - I’m thinking of Louis King, who was ATROCIOUS in his first summer league action and merely bad the rest of the time, or the New York Knicks’ R.J. Barrett, who struggled offensively through two games before bouncing back nicely. However, he wasn’t, so that 13 minutes is all we have until October.
I remain bullish on Sekou (and if you’re off the hype train after a mere 13 minutes of Summer League play, I can’t help you), but it was a useful reminder that he’s 18 and hadn’t played a real game in months. I’m still standing on him being a rotation player by the end of the regular season and a long-term impact player, and you’re welcome to join me.
He was no Brandon Clarke though.
The rest of the guys were mostly good
Jordan Bone will make Grand Rapids Drive games SUPER watchable. Deividas Sirvydis is 19, skinny, and can shoot the hell out of the ball, which is a nice lottery ticket to have. Jarrod Uthoff started off fine, then began gunning when he felt the walls closing in on his time in Vegas. Todd Withers was a consummate role player, and I hope no other NBA team noticed him. Costello and Hall were mentioned above.
You guys accurately described Louis King:
The DBB board compared Louis King to a MyPlayer before you spend VC on him— Lazarus Jackson (@lazchance) July 8, 2019
Once he gets that VC, though, you see the broad outlines of how he’d be good. I can’t decide if I’d rather give the second two-way contract to Withers, which would guarantee some other team would turn King into Robert Covington, or keep King on the two-way deal, which would guarantee some other team would make Withers their Anthony Tolliver.
The remaining guys either didn’t play that much (Michael Bethea Jr., Bennie Boatwright, Matt McQuaid, Marcquise Reed) or I wish they didn’t play that much (Will Cherry).
What’d you think of the Pistons in summer league? Were y’all as infuriated that Jarrett Allen was playing in Vegas as Twitter was? Did we settle on a nickname for Jordan Bone stans? Let me know in the comments below.