For the bottom dwellers of the NBA’s conference standings, March and April are typically reserved for experimentation. For the Detroit Pistons, no stranger to the bottom of the standings in recent years, that means core rotation players are rested, raw prospects are thrust into action and 10-day contracts are handed out liberally.
In recent years, the likes of Derrick Walton Jr. (2019-20), Tyler Cook (2020-21) and Braxton Key (2021-22) were all signed to temporay deals by Detroit in the closing months of the season. Each of Walton and Key have made return appearances with the team since their initial arrivals, but neither of the 10-day trio left a lasting impact.
Enter Eugene Omoruyi, the latest Piston to be picked up off the waiver wire. In a short amount of time, the Nigerian wing has endeared himself to the Detroit faithful through pure hustle and a desire to compete.
Omoruyi’s skill level is not dissimilar to the aforementioned 10-day pick-ups of years’ past, but something feels different about the 26-year-old. Maybe it’s because the roster is starved for a real power forward or because his defensive intensity is something Detroit has lacked. But, the second-year pro has had an undeniable impact in each of the eight games in which he’s appeared.
Since joining the Motor City on March 3, Omoruyi has contributed 9.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 21.1 minutes a game. Solid reserve-type numbers, but considering his playing time, nothing special. His true impact is felt beyond the box score. The Oregon product has been making winning plays on this oppressively losing franchise by galloping in transition, seeking and attacking cutting lanes on offense, and swiftly navigating opposing screens.
Following Omoruyi’s career-high tying 17-point performance against the Indiana Pacers Monday night, Dwane Casey praised his newest player’s basketball acumen: “He sets the tone running the floor and his basketball IQ, he knows the game, he knows where to be on both ends of the floor.”
Perhaps no better play echoes his coaches sentiment than in the third quarter of Saturday nights clash with the Pacers:
Omoruyi turns defense into offense with a brilliant contest on Chris Duarte’s jump shot—no small feat considering Omoruyi elected to go under the screen—before bolting in transition for the open lay-up.
Whether it’s occupying the correct lane in transition, exposing a hole in the defense with a cut to the rim or floating curiously in the painted area, Omoruyi has a knack for making himself available without the ball on offense. His first quarter of Thursday nights contest with the Denver Nuggets encapsulated each of these off-ball scoring traits:
- In play No. 1, Omoruyi drifts patiently into the painted area, taking advantage of the space given by Nikola Jokic. Jokic looks to provide help on a potential Wiseman post-up, Hayes recognizes this and feeds the in position Omoruyi for an easy two points.
- Plays No. 2 and No. 3 are identical baseline cuts where Omoruyi, once again, takes advantage of his opponent’s lapse in concentration and finishes with a reverse lay-up.
- Play No. 4 provides a microcosm of Omouruyi’s relentless motor. Upon the turnover, he fins himself under the basket—the furthest of any Piston from their own basket. He then outruns everybody down the court for the jam.
Down the other end of the floor, Omoruyi has flexed his tenacity as an on-ball defender and when deterring his man off-ball. Defense is the foundational piece to Omoruyi’s game, as someone who didn’t begin playing basketball until 10th grade, he attributes his defense and energy to earning him minutes: “When I started (playing basketball), defense and energy were the only things that got me on the court,” Omoruyi told The Athletic.
Even when he makes a mistake or commits a foul, it isn’t for a lack of trying. Watching the defensive wing continuously attempt to draw offensive charges has been both humorous (for fans) and admirable.
His willingness to repeatedly part-take in basketball least glamorous play encapsulates the journeyman’s desperate desire to succeed: “I know someone is chasing my shoes like I’m chasing someone’s shoes. That’s how I always play. I’m always confident to go out there and bet on myself and do what I have to do to help the team win,” Omoruyi told The Athletic.
So what’s next once Omoruyi’s second 10-day contract expires on March 23? Well, if Detroit wants to keep the hustling wing around—which seems highly likely—NBA rules stipulate they will need to sign him for the remainder of the season. From here, the future is uncertain.
Omoruyi is yet to sign a fully guaranteed deal in the NBA since going undrafted in 2021. But with the performances he’s put fourth in Detroit, it would come as no surprise if Troy Weaver or another front office were to offer the 26 year-old his first fully guaranteed contract.