Improved health means Detroit Pistons will soon get back to two-big lineups

·5 min read

Five weeks after media day, the Detroit Pistons are finally nearing full health.

Jalen Duren (left ankle sprain), Marvin Bagley III (right MCL sprain) and Alec Burks (left navicular fracture) all practiced on Sunday, marking the first time this season the Pistons had a full roster at a practice. It was the first time Burks practiced this season, and was Bagley’s first full practice since he suffered his injury during the first quarter of their preseason game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 11.

It means Dwane Casey will soon be able to go back to two-big man lineups, which he was forced to abandon after the the first three preseason games due to injuries. The Pistons want Isaiah Stewart to thrive alongside another center. It’s why he has embraced the 3-point shot this season. We’ve seen sprinkles of Stewart and Duren together on the floor through 10 regular season games, but it likely won’t become a staple of Casey’s rotation until Bagley is available.

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This past week highlighted the importance of playing two big men together. In three consecutive games, the Pistons faced the Milwaukee Bucks’ tandem of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez twice, and then played the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Jarrett Allen-Evan Mobley pairing. Detroit has had no choice but to play small thus far.

Pistons forward Marvin Bagley takes warmups prior to the preseason game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.
Pistons forward Marvin Bagley takes warmups prior to the preseason game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.

“Getting all of our guys back, our bigs back and healthy will help us with that,” Casey said after practice on Sunday. “You’ll have some flexibility — you can play big, you can play small. But most definitely you can match up with big lineups that we’re seeing.”

The Bucks outrebounded the Pistons, 52-35, in Wednesday's 25-point loss, and 50-43 in Monday two-point defeat. The Cavaliers recorded 13 blocks on Friday and also won the rebounding battle, 47-34, en route to a 24-point setback. Stewart has rebounded well this season, but he hasn’t gotten enough help from his teammates. Duren and Bagley should remedy the rebounding issues (Detroit is 21st in the NBA, averaging 42.5 rebounds per game).

Though he's only eighth on the team in total minutes played, Duren is second in offensive rebounds with 22, behind Stewart’s 30. Duren and Bagley will give the Pistons two strong rebounders and lob threats, and will balance out a rotation that’s had obvious deficiencies so far.

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What remains to be seen is the extent that Duren and Bagley can thrive together, given neither player is great at spacing the floor. Stewart has yet to command much attention from opposing defenses when taking outside shots, but he is 10-for-38 through 10 games. Bagley has never taken 3-pointers with high volume, though he has the green light to do so this season. In two preseason games, Bagley only took three 3-pointers. Stewart took 18 in four preseason games.

At the very least, the Pistons can probably bank on the Stewart-Duren frontcourt combination working to some extent. They’ve thrived in very limited minutes so far, outscoring teams by eight points per 100 possessions in the 25 possessions they’ve shared the floor. Defensively, Stewart can handle more mobile big men while Duren mans the paint. The two often work out together after practices. On Sunday, they completed post-up drills with player development coaches Rashard Lewis and Drew Jones.

Pistons center Jalen Duren grabs the rebound over Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu in the first half of the Pistons' 136-112 loss on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, at Little Caesars Arena.
Pistons center Jalen Duren grabs the rebound over Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu in the first half of the Pistons' 136-112 loss on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, at Little Caesars Arena.

“Tonight would’ve been a great night to be out there playing with another big against their big lineup, so I feel like the future is bright for us for the talented bigs we’ve got in Duren, Bagley,” Stewart said Friday night. “When I see other teams play big lineups, I get excited about what we have here in Detroit.”

It’ll pose a rotation challenge for Casey, who wants to avoid tinkering with his starting lineup from game-to-game. Rather than starting Stewart and Duren, it’s more likely that Casey will rotate Duren and Bagley into games earlier against teams with superior size. Once Burks returns, it’ll give the NBA’s worst bench unit thus far a needed lift.

“As far as rotations, we may have to make them quicker according to who we’re playing,” Casey said. “We have to figure out who that starting five is, the next rotation because we’re struggling with our second unit scoring.”

Pistons will tip off at 7:30 Monday as NBA encourages voting

The Detroit Pistons' home games at Little Caesars Arena typically tip off at 7 p.m. They won't tip off until 7:30 on Monday, Nov. 7 when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder, due to the NBA's loaded Election Day Eve schedule.

The NBA didn't schedule any games on Tuesday, Nov. 8 to encourage fans to participate in midterm elections. As a result, all 30 NBA teams will play on Monday for the first time in league history. Each game will tip off 15 minutes apart and will stream for free on the NBA App. The Pistons' 7:30 p.m. tip-off will be sandwiched between the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic (7:15 p.m.) and the New Orleans Pelicans and Indiana Pacers (7:45 p.m.).

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons getting healthier, should usher in two-big lineups