Since then, it’s been one heck of a ride.
Hayes struggled mightily in seven games before going down with a serious hip injury. Derrick Rose, his veteran backup, was fine in his stead before being traded to the New York Knicks earlier this month.
Then the keys were fully handed to Delon Wright. One of head coach Dwane Casey’s favorites from his time in Toronto, Wright was a steadying presence who did wonders for the Pistons up-and-down halfcourt offense. He’s an even-keeled vet with the ability to hit shots, make his own offense, rebound, and find others.
He’s a jack of all trades and a master of none—a very good role player.
Well, then he got hurt, too.
Now, we’re four games into the Saben Lee & Dennis Smith Jr. Show at point guard and... it’s been surprisingly fun to watch.
Most thought that Wright’s injury put the nail in the coffin when it came to the Pistons being pesky against all comers, but the Lee/DSJ combo has more than picked up the slack.
Lee, a second round pick this year, has flashed blazing speed and high-level athleticism in his cameo. His shooting has been better than expected — but still needs work — and he has a nose for the ball on defense. Lee is ALWAYS trying to find the best shot for the team offensively—to his own detriment at times.
The numbers off the bench are encouraging: 13.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists per game on some unsustainable 60/50/80 shooting.
Smith Jr., on the other hand, jumped into the starting lineup and hasn’t disappointed. After never finding his footing with the Knicks, the player we’re seeing over the past few games looks more like the guy the Dallas Mavericks drafted with the 9th pick in 2017.
Defense, somehow, has been Smith Jr.’s calling card early. He’s recorded 7 blocks and 9 steals since arriving in Detroit, serving as a disruptive force on that end despite not being the best team defender within the Pistons’ system.
His numbers are good — 12 points, 1.8 rebounds, 4 assists per game on 50/47/50 shooting — and he’s been one of the more fun players to watch, especially after dropping this poster on the Sacramento Kings last night:
DENNIS. SMITH. JR. SHEESH. pic.twitter.com/VTBknRjOxM— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 27, 2021
Hayes will return to the court at some point, maybe this year, maybe not, and so will Wright. That’s going to be a problem as Lee and Smith Jr. have both proven to be worth developing in bigger roles over the remainder of the season.
There were rumblings of the Philadelphia 76ers being interested in Wright, a fit that makes sense on a lot of levels. It’s something that probably wouldn’t sit well with Casey, who seems to enjoy the security blanket of “his” guys serving in veteran roles, but it’s the best course of business.
Troy Weaver knows this season is about two things: player development and asset management. Moving Wright and giving Smith Jr., Lee, and (maybe) Hayes the chance to play down the stretch accomplishes both.