While much has been made about the emergence of Pistons rookies Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey this season, the first member selected to Troy Weaver’s inaugural freshman class has been absent for most of this calendar year.
That is expected to change soon.
Killian Hayes, selected seventh overall by Detroit in the 2020 NBA Draft, is poised to play Saturday against the Knicks. The 19-year-old rookie was not on the injury report that the team submitted to the NBA at 5:30 p.m.
Hayes played just seven games for the Pistons before suffering a hip injury that’s kept him out of the lineup since Jan. 4. He has missed 41 games.
The Pistons cleared Hayes to return to basketball activities on March 16. The team has 24 games to play.
Hayes averaged 4.6 points, 3.6 assists and just over 21 minutes per game.
The timing of Hayes’ return could lead to a reunion with former Pistons point guard Derrick Rose, who was traded to New York in early February. Rose served as a mentor for Hayes early in his rookie season before the injury.
However, Rose has missed 12 out of his last 14 games with an ankle injury and was available for Friday’s game against Dallas. He may not be available for a second game in as many nights.
Jackson shakes it off
Josh Jackson struggled with perspective early in his career.
The Detroit Pistons wing would have a bad shooting night or have his minutes cut, and get overwhelmed by not knowing what would happen next, or how he’d get his game to where he wanted it. Now in his fourth NBA season, he’s a lot more comfortable in that space.
“It’s definitely something that I struggled with early in my career, just always being ready, and not knowing what to expect,” Jackson said following the Pistons’ 120-91 win over the Washington Wizards on Thursday.
“Coming in now, you play one bad game, you miss another one, but it’s a long season. You look at the schedule, you got plenty more games to look forward to. You just always never get too high or never get too low after games like this or bad ones.
“You just think about what you can do better in the next one.”
Jackson put that mentality on full display in the win over Washington.
He received a DNP designation two games beforehand but got his first start in 33 games Wednesday vs. Portland — where he went scoreless in 18:59, going 0-for-5 from the floor.
But, as he’s learned to do, Jackson looked ahead to Thursday. He led the team with a season-high 31 points on 13-of-21 shooting, including four 3-pointers on seven shots from beyond the arc.
He credited the performance, in part, to Pistons coach Dwane Casey putting him back in the starting lineup despite his forgettable night in a loss to the Trail Blazers.
“I definitely think (starting) played a part, and made it a lot easier for me,” Jackson said. “Coming out tonight, I was a lot more comfortable, and had a feel of what I wanted to do while I was out there. It was pretty straightforward.”
Casey, in his 14th season as an NBA head coach, has been around the block a time or two with players like Jackson. Rather than limiting his minutes, Casey saw a few of Jackson’s shots fall early on and kept going back to him.
“Something got him going, something in his confidence, you kind of get that,” Casey said. “We kept running plays for him and putting him in situations where he was going to get the ball, and he responded.
“You just get a feel when a guy like that gets going.”
Been there, done that
Speaking of trying to find your groove when coming in and out of the lineup, Wayne Ellington knows what Jackson is going through.
The 33-year-old Pistons guard did not play on Wednesday night after earning three straight starts with a hot night against Indiana (16 points on 6-of-7 shooting) on March 24.
He averaged nine points and just over 23 minutes in that short span as a starter while going cold from the floor (38.1%), but came off the bench Thursday to put up 11 points in 18:51.
“Obviously, I’ve been in the league for a long time,” Ellington said. “I’m good starting, coming off the bench, whatever coach needs from me, I’m here, I’m ready to do my job.”
Ellington missed four straight games in mid-March with a groin injury before returning in that game against the Pacers in late March. During his 11 years in the league, he’s learned that the best way to stay in-rhythm during an injury is by staying close to the team on a day-to-day level.
“It’s just staying connected,” Ellington said. “Even when I’m not playing, I make sure I’m there, sitting in meetings, just like I would be if I was playing. That makes it easier, to feel like you’re still involved, to feel like you’re still playing. You’re there for your teammates mentally, just not physically out there.”
Pistons leading scorer Jerami Grant dished out for assists for a second straight game in the win over Washington on Thursday, but Casey credited him with more than what showed on the stat sheet.
The shining offseason acquisition of first-year Pistons general manager, Grant averaged 24.4 points through his first 18 games. That number has curtailed since the All-Star break; he’s started to garner more attention from opposing defenses, dropping that average to 20.1 in the 12 games since.
Casey said that his slight drop in production is due to Grant’s name being circled in every team’s gameplan.
“They’re just not going to let Jerami Grant come in each night and get 30,” Casey said. “So now they’re sending extra help, sending quick help.”
Despite the fact that Grant dropped exactly 30 in the loss to Portland, what he did on Thursday with just 12 points was just as impressive to his boss.
“What he’s doing now is great, he’s finding the kickouts,” Casey said. “He’s walking up, and when he balls up, he sees the kickouts, and now he’s making that pass.
“A lot of times, he’s finding Josh (Jackson) in the kickout. That’s the way we have to play. That’s the way we have to play. That’s the way to generate some 3-point shooting, and when your 3-point shooters can get rhythm, he can be that trigger, because he’s committing two to the ball.”
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.
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