Now that was an eventful week in Grand Rapids Drive basketball. Pistons’ affiliate show up well in all of them, adding another pieces to its overall successful year so far. To be more specific, last week the Drive provided a fine opportunity for Pistons’ sophomore, Khyri Thomas, to play some less demanding basketball while he’s preparing to come back to the big club from months long injury. It also had one of its players being called-up to the NBA. Donta get a 10 day contract from the Pistons and was sent there with appropriate fanfares. And finally, the Drive won two out of three games including beating-up G-League-leading Wisconsin Herd on the road.
But it didn’t start so well. The Drive ended its four games winning streak with a lost at home with the same Wisconsin Herd team in its first game of the week. As if that wasn’t enough, Jordan and Louis, maybe confused by constant rotating between Detroit and Grand Rapids, found themselves in a shooting slump (Jordan was 4/16 from field with 1/9 from the long line; Louis was 4/13 from field though 2/5 on threes). Also Todd Withers lost his earlier accuracy, going only 3/9 and 1/5.
However the team bounced back in the next game, against bottom dwellers, Northern Arizona Suns. Jordan and Todd’s shot still wasn’t falling but the team got boosts from Khyri Thomas, who in his first game since October scored 27 points making 7/12 triples, and Donta, who had 22 points, 17 boards (10 on o-glass) and 3 blocks in what it turn out to be his last game – … at least for the next 10 days – in G-League. And then the climax of the week came, the coldblooded win against the Herd which was playing before its own crowd and with NBA player (and former Wolverine) D.J. Wilson in their starting lineup. The Drive was trailing by 19 after three quarters but won the last one 48-20. Jordan, who had a huge game with 28 points (7/12 on treys), 11 assists, 3 steals and 0 turnovers, was leading this fourth quarter charge with these crunch plays. His daggers were seconded by great hustle from Tre’Shawn Thurman.
So it turn out that Jordan was saving the best for last. But throughout the whole week he manage to put together a healthy dose of his great drives, jumpers, triples and passes. He also started to play some high-end defense again.
Despite some early struggles, Louis put together a good week, too. He’s becoming more and more reliable three point shooter (he was 7/16 for the week) and playmaker. He makes superb drives and plays good D all the time. However his efficiency from inside the arc could be a little better.
Donta was the best player for Grand Rapids last week, averaging 21 PPG (with 64 FG%), 14,5 RPG and 2 BPG in two games before being called-up. This time he broaden his repertoire of great plays (that includes rim-rocking plays around the basket, uncompromising hustle on o-glass and relentless rim protection) with nice post play and nice drive.
Also Thurman and Khalil Iverson didn’t let you forget about themselves. We already saw some nice plays from Thurman. But that wasn’t all. His three point shot is becoming legit. For the season, he has 36,2% 3P% and is making 1,2 triples a game. He can drive to the basket, play off ball, and pass the ball nicely. He’s also solid defender. Khalil also made some treys last week, thou he still shoots them too rarely. Beside this, he show the ability to make strong moves around the basket, to pass the ball, to play in transition, to hustle on offensive glass and to provide top notch defensive plays.
Against the background of these two players we keep our eye on as interesting wing prospects for rebuilding Pistons, Todd Withers’ last week didn’t look this good in the first two games. However, even though his triples were off, he still show some good defense and hustle. And, after going through brickfest for a second week in a row, he finally woke up in the third game of discussed week, in the famous victory in Wisconsin. He scored 17 points in it, making 5 threes in 11 tries.
But the player in focus last week was Khyri. The thing that jumps out of his two games on assignment in Grand Rapids is that he had the green light to shoot. He took it really seriously, and tried to finish practically all of his plays with a shot. The results are a mixed bag. Nevertheless they are telling some significant things about his hitherto development. What’s their story?
Well, first of all, Khyri has a potential to be a high volume three point shooter. In two games with the Drive, he took 39 shots and 20 of them were triple tries. He connected on 8 of these tries, but was 7/12 in the first game, and only 1/8 in the second. So for now he’s a streaky shooter. The good thing is that, the former Bluejay have potential to be not only a spot-up shooter, but someone who can also shoot threes running through screens.
Second, Khyri made definitive progress with ball handling. We saw the first sign of this one year ago. But in Summer League his dribbling wasn’t always sharp. Now he runs P&Rs very confidently. However, there’s still something he needs to learn in this regard. Namely, he needs to learn what to do coming of P&Rs. His ability to read defense and vision isn’t great, yet. That’s why his P&Rs mostly end with long twos or blocked drives in which he misses open teammates who could take better shots. (Here are examples showing that Khyri has some vision that can be further developed) Similarly with his dribble drives, Khyri needs to better read what the defense gives him, take drives when he can go decisively against not too many opponents (or somehow circumvent meeting them with cunning moves)) and avoid going into the traffic.
Third, with his active, long arms, Khyri can be very good or even great on ball defender. He also shows some good awareness for off ball defense as well as he can be disruptive both at the rim and on perimeter. And he can make hustle plays, too. However, his overall defensive impact may be unappreciated if he won’t eliminate such mental mistakes.