The Detroit Pistons’ Bench is Keeping the Team Afloat

Image: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019-20 NBA regular season is only a week old and yet within the last five games the Detroit Pistons have played in, there seem to be so many different stories surrounding the organization that is grabbing the attention of the media headlines.

Whether it’s about Blake Griffin being out for 5-10 gives due to injuries (knee/hamstring).

Reggie Jackson going down with an injury (lower back) two games into the season.

Or Andre Drummond trying to prove that he is a player worthy of a max contract.

But seems to be the under the radar storyline is the Pistons bench rotation—and how the bench unit, AND NOT THE STARTERS, has been helping the team stay close in games and win them as well. Currently, Andre Drummond and Markieff Morris—Morris who has been filling in the starting power forward spot until Griffin returns, are the only two players in the starting unit averaging 10 or more points per game. The other anointed starters—Bruce Brown, Tony Snell and Reggie Jackson, have yet to average more than 10 points per game this season.  

Tony Snell is showing the effort to try and carve his niche in Dwane Casey’s system, but he has yet to find his groove. Bruce Brown, who was never considered to be a threat on offense, has at times impeded the team from becoming an offensive-force to be respected due to his inability at this time in his career to hit the three-ball. And as previously stated Jackson is out with a back injury and is listed as day-to-day so far until further notice.  The ineptitude of the starting unit to come out of the gates blazing on offense has only added more pressure on the bench unit to clean up the mess that the starters have created.

It’s not a secret that in these first five games the leader on the floor for the team has been their 31-year-old, backup point guard Derrick Rose. With no Blake Griffin to establish a tempo and pace in the game, Rose has been bestowed with the responsibility of creating opportunities for himself and his teammates to score. It’s even strange to say that he is outperforming the expectations set on him once it became official that he signed with the Pistons. Even though it’s a small sample size of games, Rose is already leading the team in scoring (21.5 points) and assists (5.2 assists) per game, off the bench!

Just take a moment to let that sink into your mind.

But Rose isn’t alone in his herculean performances—he has a partner—a Robin to his Batman in Luke Kennard. Even though it’s still early in the season, Kennard is off to the best start of his career—He currently is the third-leading scorer for the Pistons at 18.3 points per game (again, off the bench). With Rose commanding ballhandling duties, it allows Kennard to run in between screens and catch and shoot the ball with poise and confidence—and even handling the ball and running the offense for whenever Rose needs a spell handling the ball, or when he is not on the floor.

This is the Kennard that people have been clamoring to see ever since he stepped foot into the league in a Pistons uniform.

Langston Galloway has even stepped up and become a consistent scoring presence in a supporting role off the bench—shooting 32% from the field and 33.3% from the three, with 3.0 attempts per game. He has done a little bit of everything, from knocking down corner three balls, guarding opponents one-on-one, and hustling for loose balls. The player most people would’ve assumed to be traded during the offseason and into training camp—is now one of the strongest role players on the team, making a difference on the floor whenever his name is called.

Probably the most pleasant surprise for the team is Christian Wood. Wood beat out NBA veteran and BIG3 MVP, Joe Johnson, for the last spot on the team with his feverish and energetic style of play on both ends of the court during the preseason. He hasn’t been getting a ton of minutes as expected, but I’m sure that will soon change with his recent performances against Philadelphia and Indiana. Wood is currently averaging 10 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game. He plays hard whenever he is on the floor. In the game against the Pacers in Detroit, he put his offensive skills on display and showcased to the masses his ability to knock down the three-ball—a skill that not many players at the center position possess. With his knack for scoring, passion for playing defense and never say die attitude, he only helps strengthen the Pistons bench unit.

But here’s the thing, the Pistons can’t continue this forever and expect to win.

I have no doubt that once Griffin comes back, and Jackson returns that the offensive woes in the starting unit will subside, and things will start to slowly fall back into alignment.

But until such time, the team will have to find ways to correct their inefficient scoring in the starting lineup. Due to slow starts and poor play from the starting five, the Pistons currently stand at 2-2. There is an argument to be made that the Pistons could’ve beaten the Philadelphia 76ers (with no Joel Embiid), and should’ve beaten a younger, inexperienced Atlanta Hawks team. As of right now, the Pistons should be 4-0, or at least 3-1 to start the season.

Markieff Morris is going to have to step up while he is filling the shoes left behind by Griffin. Drummond will need to continue to be the leader of the team and stay engaged during play—not allowing his mind and mentality to take him out of the game and become a non-factor. Bruce and Snell both need to be more of a contributing factor on offense, as well as defense. Things have gotten so bad that once Jackson was listed as hurt, Dwane Casey had no choice but to insert Kennard into the starting lineup to help provide a spark on offense that was desperately needed.

Maybe a starting lineup of Tim Frazier/Kennard/Snell/Morris/Drummond might be needed until Jackson and Griffin are at full strength and can step back into their starting roles. But until that time, the team needs to find ways to score. They can’t keep relying on their 31-year-old backup point guard with knee problems to continue to always save the day for them. The plan was to always keep Rose’s body as fresh as possible, and at this rate, God only knows how for how long his body can keep going if he is required to play more than 30 minutes per game?

The Piston’s starting group needs to find their rhythm on offense. And not rely on their backups to bail them out whenever they come up short. It might seem cool to have your two of your three leading scorers come off the bench. But in the long run it won’t help the Pistons chances of preserving their key players and help get them into the playoffs.

Featured Image: Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports


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