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What we’ve learned about the Detroit Pistons halfway through Summer League

Who Shined and Who Disappointed After Opening Weekend in Summer League?

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

To the NBA’s credit, Summer League has gradually turned into something of a marquee event. The Thomas and Mack Center stands are frequently filled with NBA stars, top ranking executives, and even celebrities.This is not grainy NBA TV footage in an empty gym in the Orlando Magic’s practice facility anymore, this is a legitimate, sought after event.

Let’s be honest though, Summer League is what separates basketball fans, and basketball nerds. If your idea of a fun midsummer Saturday night is ordering some takeout, and watching hours of meaningless basketball games consisting of a few notable rookies and sophomores, combined with 80% of guys you’ve never heard of, then join me on the nerd bandwagon and move along. If you are a normal person, and just simply want to gain some insight into the ongoing development of some of Detroit’s key young players, then you are in the right place as this nerd has you covered.

I’ll get to individual players in a moment, but I’d like to first offer you a few general takeaways from games one and two for the Detroit Pistons in Vegas. First off, against the Magic, the defensive intensity was noticeably higher compared to Summer League’s in the past. Guys were routinely picking up ball-handlers full court, and leaving little space for drives on the perimeter. This was clearly a mandate from the Pistons new staff, and to the players credit, it seemed to be a message received… for one game.

Additionally, the Pistons “veteran” players in particular seemed to be on a mission to showcase the work that they’ve put in this summer in effort to expand their games. We will get into that more in a moment. Lastly, some overreactions. Can some of us admit (myself included) that we had Anthony Black too low on our draft boards? And, do you think Cam Whitmore had a chip on his shoulder going up against a team that passed on him? Sheesh. Now, to some of what I took away from the performances of some key players.

2023 NBA Summer League - Detroit Pistons v Houston Rockets Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Ausar Thompson

The Good

The term “adult in the room” is what came to mind for me when watching Ausar’s debut. While on the court with a bunch of players trying to showcase their individual games, Ausar stood out by simply being comfortable in who he is, and not trying to press in order to make plays and stand out individually. He consistently made the simple, but correct play on offense. He routinely threw the ball ahead, made cuts to create open shots, and did not over dribble when he had the ball. He had a few nice assists, and hockey assists both in transition and in the half-court. Simply put, he seemed to care most about just winning the game.

Though we got a limited chance to see it, Thompson displayed some real on-ball playmaking potential, and seldomly appeared to get sped up. In a few instances in which he was featured on the ball, he was able to get to the rim with relative ease and efficient movements, and made nice passes to cutters or shooters spotting up. In both games, he was able to hit Duren and Wiseman for easy buckets both in transition, and in the flow of the half court offense. In game two, his off ball cutting stood out, and he made some nice finishes at tough angles off of cuts, and showed that leaping ability that enticed scouts during the draft process.

Ausar also fought relentlessly on the boards, and was awesome on defense. He had active hands, and came up with a lot of steals and deflections without fouling (though he did have a couple against Houston). His length and lateral quickness stood out, and helped him often beat his man to the spot and force a pass or tough shot.

The Less Good

The biggest concern for Thompson coming into the draft was his shooting, and he did little to quell those concerns in either game. The Magic sagged off of him more than any player on Detroit’s roster and dared him to shoot. Ausar did not indulge Orlando’s offering, and only shot twice outside of the paint. On one hand, this could be applauded, as it shows maturity in not taking the bait, and continuing to play within himself. On the other hand, he could be criticized for not using lower pressure game reps to work on catch and shoot opportunities. In game two, we saw him go through a stretch in which he missed several shots in a short time, both off the dribble, and off the catch. Most of his misses weren’t close. Obviously, it’s early on, but this is going to have to be a point of emphasis moving forward if Ausar wants to realize his full potential.

2023 NBA Summer League - Detroit Pistons v Orlando Magic Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images

Jalen Duren

The Good

Jalen Duren is overqualified for Summer League. He followed up an impressive rookie season on the glass by grabbing every rebound he wanted, when he wanted. In game two, he dunked everything, and showed an impressive catch radius as a lob threat around the rim. Against the Magic, Duren also showed good lateral movement on defense, locking up Anthony Black in space, and forcing Kevon Harris to make an incredibly tough shot when matched up on the perimeter. Duren also appeared to be in fantastic shape and ran the floor consistently. He has clearly been working on expanding his game, which is a scary sight for anyone who isn’t his teammate. More on that in a minute. Though he was out of control at times, Jalen continued to build on the flashes of passing potential he showed both in college and as a rookie.

The Less Good

Duren’s attempt to incorporate more face up and ball-handling (and shooting) to his game had mixed results. There were some wild misses and turnovers, but there were also some nice off the dribble and face up moves to the basket that resulted in points for him or others. Also, watching Jalen-Freaking-Duren sink a three pointer and make multiple long two’s off the dribble at age 19 is massively intriguing for Pistons fans. Can he bring this to the main roster? It remains to be seen, but the fact that he is working to get there is exciting beyond belief, and could unlock a whole other version of him offensively. Lastly, Duren’s biggest swing skill, in my opinion, is his shot blocking. If he can become an average to above average shot blocker, his ceiling shoots up tremendously. We did not see a lot of weakside rim protection from him through two games, but he will continue to have opportunities to improve here.

2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League - Detroit Pistons v Orlando Magic Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Marcus Sasser

The Good

This was a tale of two games for the 25th pick out of Houston. Sasser was as advertised in night one. He shot the cover off of the ball, and exhibited a knack for making tough shots off the bounce. His potential to improve the scoring, and spacing for the Pistons’ bench unit was on full display. He was a pest on defense, and did not seem to be phased when matched up with any of the higher profile rookies on that end of the floor.

The Less Good

In regards to his first game, it’s hard to nit-pick this too much in a setting such as Summer League, but the shot selection left a lot to be desired with Sasser. He sometimes took unnecessary shots, missed open teammates, and held the ball too long at times. With a full, cohesive roster alongside him, coupled with a more structured setting in which his role is more defined, you would think that this problem may largely solve itself. Clearly, given what he had to say in his introductory presser, Sasser is aware of where he stands in Detroit’s pecking order. Game two was a different story, however. Against the Rockets, Sasser was a non-factor, totaling just three points and often struggling to separate from defenders off of the dribble. He also had a couple of bad turnovers. Sasser is a true Pistons culture fit, with his shooting, hard-nosed defense, and competitive edge. As I said, the shot selection does not worry me to this point. However, the ability to create separation is something to keep an eye on, especially considering that he is generously listed at six foot one.

2023 NBA Summer League - Detroit Pistons v Orlando Magic Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images

James Wiseman

The Good

Give him credit, James Wiseman looked motivated to give it everything he’s got in Summer League despite going into his fourth pro season, and he played his tail off. He also looks like he has slimmed down considerably, and was far more mobile than when we last saw him. Even with the slimmer frame, he was physically dominant for much of the two games. He was a vacuum cleaner on the boards, and finished lobs and dump downs with authority, and ran the floor hard. He benefited from being in the right place a number of times for passes from Thompson and Jaden Ivey, and even Jalen Duren. Defensively, he looked improved (though still lost at times), and was easily Detroit’s best rim protector. There were some shots that he did not get to, but he was still able to be a deterrent for many drives that came his way. Wiseman seems to have a good sense of the opportunity he’s being given, and seems hell-bent on doing everything he can to capitalize on it. Regardless of what happens, that is to be applauded.

The Less Good

Wiseman’s Achilles heel continues to be the fact that whenever he has the ball, it is his first, second, and third instinct to shoot it under almost any circumstance. While he was effective and relatively efficient (more so in game one) with his scoring, he missed several opportunities to find teammates for easy buckets both by kicking it out, or hitting weak side cutters. Against the Rockets, he had a nice pass to a cutting Duren, but otherwise missed several opportunities to give up a transition take for an easy finish, or kick it out when faced with a double team. If he is unable to shore up his passing and at least make basic reads, it will hinder his ability to carve out playing time for himself during the regular season as scoring will be low on his list of responsibilities on the main roster. Summer League is a great opportunity for him to work on these reads. I’ll be looking to see if things slow down for him as Summer League rolls on.

2023 NBA Summer League - Detroit Pistons v Houston Rockets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Jaden Ivey

The Good

I’m not going to spend too much time here, as I am as big of a believer in Jaden Ivey as anyone. With that said, let’s call a spade a spade. Ivey was less than stellar in night one of the Summer League. Having said that, he still had a relatively decent stat sheet, and made plays for himself and others when it mattered, in order to help Detroit secure the win. His improved defensive effort appeared to set the tone for the team against Orlando, and the rest of the young core followed suit. I was also impressed with his postgame interview, in which he said all the right things about getting other guys involved, and took responsibility for his performance. He seems to view himself as a leader, and that bodes well for the long term health of the team’s core. Even better, he followed up his self-imposed mandate to spread the ball around to others, by doing exactly that in game two. He made more of a concerted effort to get Detroit’s rookies going, by playing off-ball early to defer to Marcus Sasser, and later setting up Thompson on multiple cuts and lobs for easy baskets. A play that especially caught my eye came close to halftime, when Ivey had the opportunity to produce a highlight reel dunk in transition. Instead, at the last moment, he saw Thompson out of the corner of his eye, and left it for the rookie to get an easy hoop. This came after Ausar had just gone through a tough shooting stretch, and looked unsure of himself on the offensive end. To me, this relatively meaningless play speaks volumes about Ivey’s leadership, and commitment to winning.

The Less Good

Against Orlando, the shot selection was tough to watch, as was his frequent attacks of the lane without a plan. It appeared to be a regression from the last three months of the season, when we saw a more controlled and methodical version of Ivey. What was most disappointing to me is that Ivey appeared more interested in showcasing his shotmaking, and missed a valuable opportunity to create easy shots for his teammates, and boost their confidence. On night two, as mentioned earlier, this was much improved. He played a more under control game, and got his teammates involved before scoring later in the game in an attempt to try and bring the Pistons back. Again, I think the world of Jaden Ivey’s skillset and work ethic, and believe that he has all-star potential going forward. I am not going to take too much stock into this.

What are your thoughts on the Pistons youngsters after their first two nights of summer league?