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The Close Out: A closer look at Killian Hayes, Mason Plumlee and Josh Jackson in Detroit’s wild week 1

Matt Way attempts to make sense of the Pistons’ bizarre start to the season.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The first two games of the season have already brought a rollercoaster of emotions watching the rebuilding Pistons. There’s been some joy in promising stretches from young players, and both frustration and confusion with the veterans blowing leads late in games and the coaching staff allowing them to do so.

Let’s be clear – two games is way too small of a sample size to truly judge anything. Rotations will inevitably evolve as the youth develop. There will be some fun nights, and some really frustrating ones. The roster very well may change. As we wait out the beginning of a very long process, much of the fun will come in the details.

Watching what Killian Hayes, Sekou Doumbouya, and others can and cannot do is more important than what happens on the box score. There’s a fine line between luck and skill, errors and limitations. Parsing out what is important and what is not will be the key in molding the roster moving forward.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the things that happened on the floor in the first week of the season.

Killian Hayes, in the middle of the defense

Hayes has shown some real ability to get to the free throw line with and without screen help, something that’s encouraging given there were some questions about his non-elite first step. But what he’s done when he’s penetrated past the initial perimeter defense has been a mixed bag.

Against the Cavaliers, he picked up the ball a bit too early and didn’t have a clear plan once he did. His instinct was to pass, but he had no obvious targets. So he threw up an ugly desperation attempt at the last second:

In his debut, Hayes again picked up his dribble early and had to protect the ball from wandering arms, throwing off his timing. Result? He left another floater attempt short:

On his first career make, Killian picked up the ball at the last second, made a quick stop and drained an in-rhythm shot:

Approaching Andre Drummond, Hayes was decisive, throwing a little Euro step at him to create a little extra space knowing Drummond had to defend the rolling Plumlee:

The key thus far for Killian appears to be having a plan. Like many young guards, Hayes will need to learn not to pick up his dribble until he knows he has at least one viable option for what to do next. Being decisive will help get to the correct footwork for the situation to make in-rhythm plays.

Plumlee’s passing

We told you that Mason Plumlee is a gifted passer, and it’s been evident in just his first two games in a Pistons uniform.

Much of it has come from hitting back cuts, which likely will be an important part of Detroit’s offense. With a young starting point guard and without an elite dribble penetrator on the roster, the Pistons are going to face plenty of obstacles in attacking defenses. When defenses aren’t running zone, they’ll spend plenty of time pressuring the perimeter to disrupt the offense. And Detroit will need a counter to keep defenses honest.

When Cleveland denies a pass to Jerami Grant, Plumlee creates a little separation with his backside and throws a perfect bounce pass for a dunk:

Minnesota extended a bit too far to disrupt Hayes, who cut to the rim and was led expertly by a beautiful pass for a layup:

Plumlee recognizes the Cavaliers over-extending to deny Svi a catch-and-shoot three, and lays a ball directly in Svi’s path to the basket for a bucket and the foul:

In Minnesota, a simple drive to the paint drew extra attention, and Plumlee made them pay immediately finding Delon Wright who had snuck behind the defense:

As the roster learns Plumlee’s game and develops chemistry with him, it will be worth noting how the Pistons’ youth takes advantage of a talented passing big when they are working off the ball.

Josh Jackson makes plays

Perhaps the biggest revelation of the preseason was Josh Jackson’s strong play on both sides of the floor. He showed off his athleticism, shot and rebounded the ball well, and displayed the ability to do a little bit of everything for a Pistons team who will undoubtedly need it.

That strong performance has bled into week one of the regular season, and makes you wonder when he might find himself in the starting lineup.

Jackson has found frequent success in getting to the corner in a variety of ways and making opponents pay. Note here how he slows a bit when he gets to the corner from the baseline in order to perfectly time his hop while receiving the ball to shoot an in-rhythm three:

In the second half, he runs the same baseline switch and again nails a corner shot:

Both of these may be open looks, but Jackson creates them both off his own off-ball movement and times his shooting motion perfectly with the pass to get in-rhythm. That’s a very important skill for him to foster if he’s going to finally become an efficient shooter from deep.

Against Cleveland, he also showed some ability to create for himself. If Jackson can turn into a good shooter, he’ll need to develop some creation off the dribble in order to fully leverage his shooting.

After he slips a screen for Derrick Rose, Jackson receives a pass and uses his advantage to get Cedi Osman off balance, throwing in a crafty up-and-under to get an easy two points:

When Jackson receives the ball off initial Delon Wright penetration, he speeds past a trailing defender and displays superb body control to avoid a charge and hit a tough-angled attempt to extend Detroit’s fourth quarter lead:

The sample size is still miniscule, but there’s been a lot to like from Josh Jackson early in his Pistons career. He will inevitably experience some shooting woes, but if he can continue to diversify his offensive game, it will help him stay a positive force on the court during tough times.