New-look Pistons tip off 2020-21 at Minnesota

NBA

New general manager Troy Weaver made dramatic changes to the Detroit Pistons’ roster during the abbreviated offseason, and that handiwork will be on display when the Pistons begin their season at Minnesota on Wednesday.

Neither team has taken the court for a regular-season game since play was halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. They were two of the eight teams who didn’t get an invitation to last season’s restart in Orlando.

Detroit returns to action with four new starters and the returner coming off an injury-marred campaign. Former All-Star Blake Griffin barely played last season after he opted for left knee surgery in early January. He now finds himself surrounded by unfamiliar faces.

“I’m the only person in this starting lineup that has run this offense before,” he said. “You can kind of see that at times but that’s to be expected.”

Former Denver Nuggets Jeremi Grant and Miles Plumlee agreed to contracts with Detroit in free agency. Grant officially was acquired in a sign-and-trade deal. The backcourt includes lottery pick Killian Hayes and Delon Wright, who was acquired in a trade with Dallas.

Weaver’s plan was to make defense the team’s calling card. He wanted long-limbed athletic players who could seamlessly make defensive switches. Coach Dwane Casey has already seen that during an abbreviated preseason.

“Defensively, we feel ready,” Casey said. “Defensively, I think we’re handling the curve. We signed defensive players, some toughness. With that, we’re ahead of the curve. Offensively is what I’m concerned about more than anything else, guys understanding their roles, what they can do and playing to their strengths in our offense. That’s our main challenge right now.”

The second unit, led by Derrick Rose, has the potential to be one of the league’s highest-scoring benches.

Griffin still anticipates the team will have to grind out victories.

“I’m thankful we have our defense to sort of hang our hat on,” he said. “That needs to be the case throughout the season.”

Anthony Edwards, the top pick in the 2020 draft, will be making his debut for the Timberwolves but is expected to come in off the bench. Edwards adds scoring punch — he averaged 19.1 points in 32 games during his lone college season at Georgia.

Veteran point guard Ricky Rubio is back for a second stint with the franchise. He was acquired in a three-team trade last month.

Coach Ryan Saunders is still in the process of sorting out the roster.

“Everybody would love to get to a predictable rotation,” he said. “When you’re in the rotation, you know when you’re going in, when you’ve got to get ready, when to hop on the bike, those types of things. This year is not predictable, so depth is a key. I like that we’ve had a competitive camp.”

The team still revolves around Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.

Towns averaged a career-high 26.5 points and 4.4 assists last season but only appeared in 35 games due to a wrist injury. Russell, 24, averaged more than 20 points for the second straight season. He averaged 23.1 points over 45 games, which started with the Golden State Warriors.

Towns has yet to establish himself as a difference-maker on the defensive end and he’s trying to alter that.

“It’s been a very genuine experience,” Saunders said of Towns’ approach during training camp. “You can see a change, a shift, in the mindset.”

–Field Level Media

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