The Detroit Pistons are shorthanded and struggling down the stretch.
After winning six of eight games before and after the NBA All-Star Game, they’ve regressed and tumbled back to the bottom with six losses in their past seven games. Hamidou Diallo and Frank Jackson, both nursing injuries, seem unlikely to return this season, which leaves Detroit with an open roster spot and minutes to potentially fill.
Enter, Braxton Key.
Sources: The Pistons are expecting to finalize a 10-day contract with F Braxton Key. Key is averaging 18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in G League. Was on Virginia’s natty team in 2019.— James Edwards III (@JLEdwardsIII) March 23, 2022
Detroit has an open roster spot.
Detroit is signing the former Virginia wing to a 10-day deal with just over two weeks to go in the regular season. Key has the chance to make an impact with the Pistons potentially looking to limit Jerami Grant’s minutes
as they tank down the stretch.
Right now, the only other wings off the bench are promising rookie Isaiah Livers (currently dealing with a concussion) and two-way player Jamorko Pickett. The former has been a revelation while the latter is pretty clearly overwhelmed at this point.
Key, 25, is interesting. He’s the nephew of longtime NBA big man Ralph Sampson and helped lead the ‘hoos to the 2020 NCAA Championship. He’s got good size at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds and pedigree after playing at powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in high school.
He’s a bit of a tweener and has some limitations. Just a 27% shooter from 3-point range at Virginia, Key looks like the kind of guy who does the dirty work — rebound, defend, score when needed — much like Tyler Cook last year.
They’re much different players, though.
Key has actually shot it really well from deep this season for the Delaware Blue Coats of the G League, hitting 38% on 4.3 attempts per game, up from 29% last season. Factor that in with averages of 18.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists and you can squint and see a funky point-forward type of guy.
But... those gaudy G League numbers are often overstated. Anybody with a pulse can put up big numbers at that level — defense is where Key really has a chance to stick:
An absolute defensive switch and block right here from Braxton Key. My goodness, man. pic.twitter.com/IZXOVVRCIL— Dakota Schmidt (@Dakota_Schmidt) March 23, 2022
Key has averaged 1.5 blocks and 2.1 steals per game this season and kind of profiles as a poor man’s Matisse Thybulle. That’s a type of player the Pistons could certainly find minutes for. This team really lacks a defense-first wing, and that may be the niche Key looks to fill.
My guess is — if he impresses over the next 10 days — Detroit signs him for the last week of the regular season, too. I’ll be interested to see how much time Dwane Casey gives him and which parts of his G League game translate to the NBA.
These are the kind of moves I wish the Pistons had done more of this season. We saw Houston dabble with 10-day guys and end up with a nice piece in sharpshooter Garrison Matthews. Taking shots on unknown talents is a winning formula for a rebuilding team.
Maybe Troy Weaver found another one in Key? We’ll know more in 10 days.