The kids will play — presumably. After raising the blood pressure of Pistons fans with limited minutes for Detroit’s stable of young players in a double-overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, things will look plenty different tonight against the Atlanta Hawks.
The team’s official injury report lists Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose as out for left knee injury management and rest, respectively. That’s no surprise after the two veterans played 44 and 33 minutes, which is about 10 minutes more than optimal for both Griffin and Rose.
Okafor’s foot injury, originally described as an ankle sprain, kept him out of practice Sunday and he is being listed as questionable. Sekou Doumbouya, who tweaked his ankle in the Cavs game did practice and is listed as probable.
This means that there should be ample playing time for Detroit’s young players. The presumption would be that Jerami Grant slides to the four with Griffin out. That one is easy. A little more difficult to figure are Dwane Casey’s plans for backup point guard.
If I had to guess, I’d say Casey takes Delon Wright out of the starting shooting guard slot and makes him the backup point guard tonight. That would open up another spot in the starting lineup, and there are plenty of candidates to fill it.
Casey could go to Svi Mykhailiuk who has struggled a bit with his shot early in the season but is a reliable 3-point threat with starting experience last season and a player who has made some strides on the defensive end.
He could also turn to Josh Jackson who has been dynamic but a little erratic off the bench. He could provide some length and defensive versatility and while the results are not there, Jackson is also not afraid to take an open 3. He’s not afraid of anything, actually, and that could either inject some life into the starting unit or make him best suited for a bench role where he has more freedom to free associate.
In either case, this would also seemingly open up a few more wing minutes for rookie Saddiq Bey who got his first minutes of action in the Cavs game. Casey has praised Bey’s NBA readiness since he arrived.
“He knows how to play. He knows spacing, he knows timing, he’s a detail guy,” Casey said, crediting a lot of that to the development Bey received at Villanova.
Rose out likely means a longer leash for Killian Hayes, who played 19 minutes against the Cavs but none in the fourth quarter or either overtime.
Casey was sure to tell his young guard not to read anything into that and to stay ready.
“There’s going to be a lot of times when he’s in there. ... As he continues to grow, finding minutes are going to be easy,” Casey said.
Having Wright as the backup point guard might actually be beneficial for Hayes to observe as Wright and Hayes have much more similar skillsets than Hayes and Rose.
“Derrick’s more of a dynamic, go-get-his-own type guard,” Casey said. “Delon is a guy who sees the floor almost the same style as Killian so they can emulate each other.”
You can tell just how thankful Casey is to have Wright, who he worked with as a young player in Toronto as a young player. I’ve called Wright a security blanket and a pressure release valve, and it seems like Casey agrees.
“He’s an old, warm blanket. He’s always there when you need him. Not flashy, not spectacular with what he does, but he’s always doing the right thing. It’s great for Killian to see that.”
While acknowledging nothing is more valuable than time on the floor playing in games, Casey stressed the team is focused on making sure the young players are comfortable, they are learning and getting better.
“This season is to develop Killian, develop Isaiah (Stewart), develop Saddiq,” Casey said. “As the year goes on and they get more comfortable, we’ll feed them more minutes because this year is about those guys.”
Stewart, the rookie center out of Washington, is set to see his first action of the season with Okafor likely out with a foot injury. Okafor has struggled as the reserve center and it’ll be interesting to see what Stewart, who gets raves for his tenacity and work ethic, will be able to do.
Stewart is a bit undersized, but he tries to rebound everything, goes into the paint hard and has enough shooting touch to take advantage of space.