Sometimes, the best players aren’t the most important.
Marvin Bagley III is far from the Detroit Pistons best big man, but his presence in the rotation is important. He’s Dwane Casey’s security blanket off the bench, athletic enough to bounce between power forward and center when his number is called.
More so, it allows Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren to play together in the starting lineup.
That two-big lineup has been one of the few bright spots for the downtrodden Pistons this season, but with Bagley set to miss “extended time” due to a hand injury suffered Monday in Portland, it puts the immediate future of that pairing in question.
Duren and Stewart have started the last 13 games together after Bagley shifted to the bench. Duren has taken that chance to start and run with it as the rookie has averaged 8.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 stocks per game.
His defense needs to improve, but he’s flourished since joining the starters.
A big reason for Duren’s success has been the success of Stewart as a power forward. After spending the first chunk of the season almost exclusively at center, Stretch Stew has done a lot of good in his first real opportunity to play away from the basket, averaging 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 36% from 3-point range on 4.3 attempts per game.
That’s his future and, so far, he’s proving that he can handle the role of being a stretch four.
Now, obviously, there are still kinks being worked out for both Duren and Stewart. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance that they continue to start together.
The two-big lineup cannot and should not take a back seat because of Bagley’s injury. This experience is good for Duren as he learns the NBA game and it might even mean for Stewart as the Pistons continue to give him free rein to learn on the job at power forward over the final half of the season.
Aside from lottery balls, all Detroit is playing for in the second half of the season is internal development. These two should continue to start together. It means the rotation is going to need size off the bench which means, yes, Dwane Casey should dust off Nerlens Noel.
Noel is better than he’s shown this year, but he struggled in his limited audition at the start of the season. This is the perfect opportunity to get him some time, let him shake off the rust and hopefully create a trade market.
There are contenders who will need size in the coming month before the deadline. Should Noel prove he’s capable of giving good minutes of the bench, it should net the Pistons something in a trade come February 9 — even if it’s just a future second-round pick.
Detroit can find minutes for both Noel and Isaiah Livers when he returns from injury. The former can play against bigger teams, the latter against smaller ones. There are a number of ways to make this work for the next month.
However, breaking up the Stewart-Duren duo cannot be one of them.