The Detroit Pistons’ practice facility in New Center was filled with new faces on Monday.
Their rookies, Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser, scrimmaged and participated in drills with most of the rest of their summer league roster, under the watchful eyes of the new coaching staff — including Monty Williams and assistants Stephen Silas and Jarrett Jack.
There were some familiar faces in the gym as well, as James Wiseman and Jalen Duren will join the team in Vegas and also practiced on Monday. Isaiah Stewart and Cade Cunningham were spotted in the back taking part in a shooting drill.
But overall, it felt like the first day of school.
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The Pistons are in the midst of preparing for Las Vegas summer league, the 10-day odyssey that begins Friday. It’ll be an important week-plus as the team acclimates to a new staff, new playbook and new teammates.
“It’s been fun,” Jack, a 13-year NBA veteran who will lead the summer lead squad, said. “This young group, young talented and athletic group, just get here and get familiar with him, watch them play, implement some of the things we’re going to be adding going forward and watching them soak it all up. It’s been a fun process.”
Much of the focus in Las Vegas will be on the Pistons’ 2023 draft picks, Thompson and Sasser. Life has slowed down for both since the team selected Thompson fifth overall, and then traded into the back of the first round to take Sasser with the 25th pick.
Both are facing unique adjustments to the NBA. Thompson is coming from Overtime Elite — an Atlanta-based professional league for prospects between the ages of 16 and 20. He and his twin brother, fourth overall pick Amen, dominated. But Ausar is adapting to a new role and new expectations in the NBA.
Thompson’s defense and athleticism propelled him toward the top of Detroit’s draft board, and the former is something the new coaching staff is keying on with him. Thompson said Williams has been pulling him aside after practices with advice and criticism. The team believes Thompson has the skills to be one of the league’s best defensive wings, and his education starts now.
“People are more athletic, stronger, smarter, especially the little guards we’ve got here,” Thompson said. “At the end of the day, basketball is basketball. I’m learning a lot, every day I’m here I’m learning more and more. Better than I was my first day, better than I was my second day.”
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Thompson is a longtime admirer of Jack, who played for the Golden State Warriors from 2012-13. Thompson, a Bay Area native, said he used to play as Jack on NBA 2K. Jack is becoming a fan of Thompson’s game as well.
“I think Ausar has the potential to be one of the best young two-way players in this league, and Marcus, lightning-quick, really can help our pace change end to end and he’s a guy that can manufacture offense on his own,” Jack said. “Both of them play at a pretty good pace. There will be some bumps in the road, of course, but that’s part of the process of them reaching their potential.”
As a four-year point guard at Houston, Sasser is adding big-game experience as a rookie. He was a starter for a Cougars team that made deep tournament runs during his last three seasons — a Final Four in 2020-21, Elite Eight in 2021-22 and Sweet 16 last season. Sasser initially tested the draft waters after his junior season, but decided to return as a senior to make a run at the national championship and improve his draft stock.
Sasser acknowledged that the IQ level of the NBA feels higher compared to college. But otherwise, he feels like he fits right in.
“I think it was the best thing for me,” Sasser said of returning for his senior season. “I felt more prepared when I got here. It was an adjustment, but not as big of an adjustment as I thought it was just because of the four years I spent in college. I just feel like my body developed, just my IQ. I’ve seen a lot of things on the floor. It’s not a lot to learn, but it’s a little to learn.”
Summer league will be the first real taste of NBA basketball for both rookies. They’ll be guided by a head coach in Jack who understands the rigors of the NBA, and will also be able to lean on their teammates. Jaden Ivey and Isaiah Livers will also play in summer league, along with Wiseman and Duren.
Jack said he’s trying to instill a “we” mentality in Vegas, and the expectation is the lessons learned in summer league will prepare the team for success this fall.
“When you’re at the ground floor and you’re starting and you’re going through the bumps and bruises together, when you do reach a certain ceiling or attain some goals it’s a very fulfilling feeling,” Jack said. “But you don’t forget those times. When I came into the NBA, I got drafted to the youngest team in the league. We had some bumps and bruises for sure, but that helped me get to the point now where I’m able to grab somebody who may have been in a similar situation early on in their career and show them that things are possible and that positive things can be on the horizon if you come in here and work and band together.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.