Two different teams now must be merged for Detroit Pistons

Detroit Pistons forward Saddiq Bey (41) reacts to the win Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Pistons forward Saddiq Bey (41) reacts to the win Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Pistons had two quite different teams on the court recently. One was led by Saddiq Bey and Hamidou and a bunch of G-Leaguers. The other, most of the roster from the beginning of the season. Now, both teams have to be merged.

For 18 months, the Detroit Pistons had managed to avoid COVID-19, unlike much of the NBA. Like an oasis of no germs, not a single Pistons player tested positive during the entire 2020-21 season.

That luck continued for the first few months of 2021-22, but when the virus hit, it hit big in terms of numbers (as far as we know, no player took seriously ill). And then, on December 22, it was announced Cade Cunningham had entered the NBA’s health & safety protocols.

Cunningham was just the first many players who were taken off the team for COVID-19 protocols. It would be easier to list who was not playing than who was still eligible to take the court.

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This was on top of already not having leading scorer Jerami Grant and big free agent signee Kelly Olynyk due to injury.

After Frank Jackson went down with badly sprained ankle early in the second half against the San Antonio Spurs on December 26 (Merry day after Christmas indeed), the Pistons basically had just two players who normally had received playing time:

  • Hamidou Diallo, a 6-5 win who had started the season buried on the bench but had played fiarly well since replacing Grant in the starting lineup.
  • Saddiq Bey, also a wing normally, was the lone remaining starter. He had been in a terrible shooting slump to start the season but had done pretty well the past few games.

After that, it was a bunch of players called up from the G-League, young players who had played mostly in the G-League for experience and fringe NBA players signed to 10-day hardship contracts.

And how did they do? Well, after the first game, when players barely knew their teammates names, not bad. Actually historically good for some:

This version of  the Pistons held a 14-point lead on a relatively healthy New York Knicks team. If Alec Burks did not go off for 19 points in the fourth quarter, Detroit probably win it, instead of a 94-85 loss.

Then came New Year’s Day, when the pick-up Pistons defeated the Spurs in a rematch. We all know how that ended:

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A win, a close game and a blowout loss, really not much different than the full-strength Pistons (actually they had not won a third of their games, so even better).

While Diallo and Bey had taken over as scorers during the three games, other had stepped up.

  • Luka Garza, drafted 51st in the 2021 draft, posted two 20 points games.
  • Derrick Walton Jr., the former Michigan player and Detroit native, moved smoothly into the role of starting point guard. His pass between the legs of the Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl to Bey for the game-winner was classic.
  • Cassius Stanley, the former Duke player had 19 points in the win over San Antonio, including making 3 of 4 three-point attempts.
  • Justin Robinson had eight points and three assists against the Spurs. He then played the entire fourth quarter in Detroit’s win over defending NBA champion Milwaukee, with most players back.

Detroit Pistons teams 1 & 2 need to draw from the best

Just about everyone except center Isaiah Stewart and guard Cory Joseph returned to the team for the January 3 game with the Bucks.

Stanley had been sent back to the G-League and Walton was not available but Robinson, Garza and Micah Potter (who had two quick baskets against the Spurs) all saw action.

The rest of the team was pretty much the same old, same old: Cade, Killian, Josh, Saben joining Diallo and Bey.

The mix worked, with the first win over the Bucks in three years.

The question is, how many of the FIll-in Heroes will find a permanent spot?

Walton, who did so well, should be there as should Stanley.

The Pistons were 5-25 before all of this hit. It is not like we are tinkering with the roster of the 2017 Warriors. If Detroit is rebuilding, here are some a few new bricks.

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It is now up to coach Dwane Casey to ‘mix and match’ from the regular Pistons team and COVID-19 created version. Neither has a lot of players who can make the difference in winning or losing, but each have a few who showed they are. Merging those players into one unit will give Detroit a boost.