The youth movement already was well along in Detroit when the organization saw its 20-52 record (last in the East) turn into the No. 1 overall pick. They turned that into Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, who becomes the third Piston born in 2001. And another half dozen who will still be 23 or younger by the end of this season.
That’s a lot of newbie learning that will be needed, despite the strides made last season by Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes and Saben Lee. Having Jerami Grant, re-signing Cory Joseph and acquiring Kelly Olynyk provides some experience and guidance, but much of the training will continue to come on the fly.
GM Troy Weaver and coach Dwane Casey want to preach and tighten up the Pistons’ defense, which has been slipping in recent seasons from the calling-card status that had in Detroit’s two championship eras. From eighth in 2016-17, the Pistons have slid to 22nd and 19th the past two regular seasons. This year’s crew certainly has the athletic ability and roster depth to push harder at that end, in need of know-how and (until we see it) commitment.
Will the Cunningham-Hayes tandem work as the starting backcourt? Detroit drafted Hayes in 2020 with the idea he would be their lead guard of the future. Despite missing much of his rookie season, Hayes had the Pistons impressed with his skills and court acumen in the 19 games he played after April 1. Then eight months later, with the No. 1 pick overall, Detroit grabbed Cunningham, the consensus favorite. In a best-case scenario, the Pistons would have an athletic duo, each capable of running the offense. But Hayes shot 37.7% in those 19 games, including 28.8% on 3-pointers. And how would Cunningham like starting his NBA career nudged out of his natural spot?
The Pistons are long on potential, but tapping into it will take time. Adding the Draft’s No. 1 pick is better than not, but for perspective we should remember that Anthony Edwards’ arrival in Minnesota meant a bump of four victories. Predicted finish: 26-56.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Killian Hayes: While playing only 26 games, he led the Pistons in assists 17 times.
Cade Cunningham: Multi-dimensional scorer who has added strength to his 6-foot-8 frame over the summer.
Saddiq Bey: All-Rookie selection who led last year’s crop with 175 3-pointers, eager to broaden his game.
Jerami Grant: Put his extra minutes and primary role to good use, averaging 22.3 points on 17.3 FGA.
Isaiah Stewart: Brawny rebounder/defender with great nickname (Beef Stew) and glimmers of offensive skills.
Kelly Olynyk: A candidate to start, too, especially early in the season, as a veteran influence and scoring option.
Cory Joseph: Veteran guard earned call-back by posting career-best shooting stats and 3-to-1 assists/turnovers ratio.
Josh Jackson: Potent enough in limited minutes, but not enlarging his role will be a heavy lift.
Hamidou Diallo: He’s perfect for the push for tighter defense, but his offense remains a work-in-progress.
Trey Lyles: Former lottery pick all but vanished after the All-Star break with San Antonio.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Pistons have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
STAT TO KNOW
+10.1% — Grant saw the biggest jump in usage rate — from 17.7% in 2019-20 to 27.8% last season — among 280 players who played at least 500 minutes in each of the last two seasons. He saw the fifth biggest drop in effective field goal percentage (from 55.5% to 49.1%) among 183 players with at least 300 field goal attempts in each season.
— John Schuhmann
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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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