Why the Detroit Pistons are taking ‘next man up’ mantra to a new level early this season

Dwane Casey has said since preseason that it would take a few weeks for him to find a rotation that maximizes the Detroit Pistons’ play on the floor.

We’ve seen changes through seven games — rookie Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart have played themselves into the rotation after not playing in the first couple of games. Josh Jackson has risen from core bench piece to starter and there has been some shuffling at the wing positions.

Less than two weeks into the season, injuries have enabled Casey to experiment even more than he likely would’ve been able to with a healthy roster. And Monday’s game saw Casey make additional alterations to his rotation to accommodate injuries.

EARLY SEASON BLUES: Why the Pistons are already playing catch-up this season

The Pistons were shorthanded entering Monday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Blake Griffin missed the game due to injury management for his left knee, and Josh Jackson sat out of it after spraining his right ankle on Sunday.

Then during the Pistons’ 125-115 loss to Milwaukee, a noncontact hip injury to Killian Hayes in the third quarter removed the rookie from the rest of the game and cost them a third starter.

Casey’s first adjustment happened before the game, inserting Wayne Ellington into the starting lineup. Ellington had only appeared in one game previously, scoring 11 points off the bench against the Hawks on Dec. 28.

Casey said he wanted to reward Ellington for being a great veteran mentor and role model. Ellington is also one of the better shooters on the roster, and Casey wanted his floor spacing to open up the floor. Ellington played well, tallying 13 points (5-for-7 overall, 3-for-4 from 3.)

[ With Saddiq Bey, ‘you feel like you’re playing with a veteran’ ]

“His 3-point shooting opens space for a guy like Derrick (Rose) to attack the paint,” Casey said. “They gotta stay a little close to Svi and to Wayne to create those driving alleys. I think that’s very, very important to those guys. And Wayne is a career 40% 3-point shooter. He’s going to be a threat, he’s going to be on the scouting report to create space.

“Most of all, he’s a glue guy. Love his spirit, loves what he brings to the table each and every day,” Casey continued. “We’re 1-6 and he’s still out there talking to players and excited about being in the NBA and not dropping his head, dropping his shoulder because he hasn’t had playing time. A guy like that, you want to keep rewarding him and what he brings to the table.”

At the beginning of the first quarter, Jerami Grant picked up two fouls while defending Giannis Antetokounmpo. So Sekou Doumbouya, who usually subs in around the end of the first quarter, checked in at the 10:10 mark of the quarter. He went on to play a season-high 23 minutes, scoring 13 points (4-for-13 overall, 3-for-6 from 3) and two steals.

After shooting 28.6% from 3 last season, Doumbouya has been better so far this season, hitting 6-for-14 (42.9%). He’s also continued making strides on defense, though Antetokounmpo was understandably a tough defensive draw for the second-year forward, as he is for the rest of the NBA.

[ Svi Mykhailiuk shows why he deserves bigger role ]

“Antetokounmpo, he got loose on us but it’s a good challenge for Sekou to body him. I thought he gave some resistance in certain situations, other situations not so much,” Casey said after the game. “With Jerami getting two ticky-tack fouls, I thought he officials was unfortunate for us because it kinda set us behind a little bit. I thought Sekou came in and played as well as he could, hit a couple of shots and kept us close. As far as the rotation, with Josh out and Blake out, it’s going to be fluid.”

Delon Wright, who has been a fixture in the rotation since he arrived in Detroit, didn’t enter the game until early in the third quarter after Hayes left the game. The rotation had already a little gotten crowded — in addition to Ellington, Rodney McGruder made his season debut and played 4:44 minutes in the first half. But the Pistons needed a point guard, so Casey played 12 players for the second consecutive game.

Jackson is expected to return on Wednesday against the Bucks, and Griffin could play, too; he made the trip to Milwaukee. Hayes is scheduled to get an MRI on his hip Tuesday, so his status for Wednesday is unclear.

Even with two starters back, expect Casey to continue tinkering with the rotation.

“We said it in training camp,” Casey said. “We got Rodney McGruder in tonight. At some point we’re going to look at Saben Lee, at some point we’re going to look at Frank Jackson to give them a look, to get them some experience.”

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

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons take ‘next man up’ mantra to a new level this season

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long added to this report.