Tom Gores has faced a ton of criticism since purchasing the Detroit Pistons. And rightfully so. In his first several years as owner, he’s made a ton of questionable decisions. Nevertheless, over the past several years, he’s turned the corner by surrounding himself with the right basketball minds. And Wednesday’s news that the Pistons will extend the contract of Dwane Casey is yet another move that proves one thing.
The Detroit Pistons are heading in the right direction.
On Wednesday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Pistons are extending Casey’s contract through the 2023-24 season. Now for the casual Pistons fan, that may seem questionable. Why? Well, as of now, Casey’s record is 81-137 as the Pistons coach. Additionally, in their lone playoff appearance under Casey (2019), the Milwaukee Bucks swept his Pistons in the first round. So his success in Detroit is non-existent.
However, “dialed-in” Pistons fan loves this move. And it’s mainly because of the second half of this season.
When this season started, Piston fans began to wonder what the heck Casey was doing. Firstly, the lineups changed constantly. Nothing made sense. The fact that Blake Griffin started as many games as was horrendous. And yes, I was aware of Griffin’s enormous contract, which is why he was on the court. A team doesn’t pay a guy that much to ride the bench. Secondly, I wasn’t sure if he was putting Killian Hayes in the proper position to succeed. There were times that Hayes, in my opinion, should have ended several Pistons games.
And that’s even with the on-court mistakes After all, he couldn’t have fared worse than Derrick Rose, who became a turnover machine.
Lastly, their play was very inconsistent. The Pistons blew so many first-half/first three-quarter leads. It raised a mind-boggling question. How in the heck is this team looking like world-beaters, yet they blow leads in the final minutes? It was hard to comprehend.
Then something happened. Trade Weaver…I mean, Troy Weaver did something special. It was something that the Pistons front office should have done years ago.
The team hit the reset button officially. And by reset button, that means they got rid of dead weight.
When the Pistons bought out Blake Griffin and traded Derrick Rose to the Knicks, the Pistons showcased their total commitment to “restoring” the Pistons to greatness. And the best way to do that is to let the young guns play ball. After removing those vets from the team, Pistons fans saw the actual value of Casey’s coaching.
He’s a developer of talent. During his time as the Toronto Raptors’ coach, he developed Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, Norman Powell, and Fred VanVleet. In his first four seasons with the Raptors, their win total increased each season. Along with that, the Raptors won at least 51 games in his final three seasons there. Heck, if he didn’t get fired––after winning 59 games and coach of the year––he might have won an NBA Championship. After all, the Raptors gave Nick Nurse a lovely gift by acquiring Kawhi Leonard.
To the point, Pistons fans witnessed Casey’s skills as a developer of talent after the All-Star break in the same fashion from his Toronto days.
Let’s take a look at some players Dwane Casey developed in Detroit.
And let’s start with Saddiq Bey.
Outside of Anthony Edwards and Tyrese Haliburton––who arguably should be a Piston––scouts touted Bey as the most “NBA-ready” rookie in his draft class. And so far, he’s proving that to be true. This season, Bey is third amongst rookies in points per game (12.1), first in three-pointers made (169), and has made the third most three-pointers by a rookie in NBA history.
And the accolades don’t stop there either for Bey. He also earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors in February (2/8-2/14). He’s the three-point threat that the Pistons drafted Luke Kennard to be. Bey doesn’t become this damn good without Casey giving him the green light.
Next, there’s Isaiah Stewart. And Detroiters love them some Beef Stew.
If you’re a fan of old-school Detroit Pistons basketball, then you have to be a fan of “Beef Stew”. He plays the brand of basketball that would’ve meshed well with the Bad Boys era of the Pistons. And just like Bey, Stewart is having a phenomenal rookie season. He’s averaging 6.7 rebounds, 1.26 blocks, and scoring 55% from the field.
These are all first-place totals among rookies this season. And again, just like Bey, there are more accolades.
Stewart is one of nine NBA players this season with 26+ games with multiple blocks. He’s also one of four NBA players since 1990 to have a stat line of 15+ points, 15+ rebounds, 3+ steals, and 3+ blocks in a single game. Also, Stewart’s 21 rebounds during an April 16th victory over the OKC Thunder were the most by a Pistons rookie since 1977.
That’s pretty damn impressive.
To stay with the rookies, let’s look at Killian Hayes.
Now let’s keep it “all the way 100” about Hayes. He started this season looking like an absolute bust. Hayes looked very timid on the court. And he seemed to be very easy to defend. Then him missing a significant stretch of games with a torn hip labrum didn’t help his case either.
Despite the lousy start, however, Hayes turned a corner upon returning. He’s currently in the stretch of 13-straight games with at least 5+ assists. This streak is the longest by any Pistons rookie since Isiah Thomas during the 1981-82 season. Thomas and Hayes are the only Pistons rookies with this long of a streak. Over his last three games, Hayes has averaged 14.7 points, seven assists, and 47% shooting from the field.
Lastly, but not least, there’s the production of Jerami Grant.
Grant left the Denver Nuggets for one reason only: he wanted to be “the man” on “his” team. This season, he has proved his worth. And that’s despite the Pistons having the league’s second-worst record. He’s currently averaging 22.3 points, just above ten more points than he averages last season (12 ppg). It’s the highest increase in scoring average from the 2019-20 to 2020-21 season.
It also marks the highest ppg average by a Pistons player in their first season in Detroit.
The progression from Bey, Stewart, Hayes and Grant is something Pistons fans can hang their hats on moving into next season. However, this does not happen without Dwane Casey. Casey has done one thing that some coaches don’t often do with young teams. And that’s letting the young players learn on the court. He’s letting the guys play their game and come into their own.
Heck, even look at Josh Jackson. Jackson started his career playing out of position. Regardless of what anyone says, Josh Jackson is not a power forward. He’s a small forward who can play shooting guard. And under Casey, he’s currently having the best year of his career, averaging 13.3 points.
The Detroit Pistons needed continuity during this restoring of the franchise. And instead of playing musical chairs with head coaches, the Pistons observed the incredible coaching job by Dwane Casey. With the Pistons in prime position to land a lottery pick in the next draft, they don’t need to change coaches right now.
The Pistons need a coach with patience. They need a coach who can continue to develop the skills of a young roster. And lastly, they need a coach who can teach them how to “play the right way,” a quote Detroiters have heard once upon a time.
The Detroit Pistons needed Dwane Casey. And at least for the foreseeable future, they’ll have him.