Pistons Mailbag - April 28, 2021

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Isaiah Stewart, Frank Jackson, Dwane Casey, the draft and the future are front-burner topics in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Darrell (Detroit): Beef Stew has been a beast as a starter on both ends of the floor and is only 19. What are the chances he’s a starter next season and does Mason Plumlee become the backup center or is he a prime trade asset if Stewart becomes the starting center?

It’s a valid question. I don’t know that Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey are dwelling on how Stewart is used next season when there are so many more immediate concerns on their agendas right now. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, though, it’s safe to assume that Stewart is going to have a broader role next season. His minutes have ticked up steadily all season: 17.4 minutes a game in January, 19.2 in February, 20.9 in March and 24.5 in April, when he’s started five games. The Pistons value Plumlee for the subtle things he does – and some not so subtle – on the court and for everything he means in the locker room, so I don’t think there’s much of a likelihood they’ll be actively looking to move him to clear more time for Stewart when there’s room for both. Plumlee’s presence is not going to impede Stewart’s progress.

Michael (Waterford Twp., Mich.): Steph Curry for MVP? What he’s doing right now is pretty amazing. Although there are obvious other candidates like Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden. Let’s say Curry does not go cold and keeps shooting it to the point it should be illegal. Can’t help but feel he should get it. Where do you feel he ends in MVP balloting? Not a big fan of team records having such a big impact on voting.

Curry is making 42.8 percent of his 3-pointers on a career-high 12.0 attempts a game – and perhaps the most astounding part of that equation is 42.8 percent has actually lowered his career accuracy mark. It’s now down to 43.4 percent. I think there’s probably too much momentum behind Jokic at this point, but if Denver falters over the final two-plus weeks and Golden State surges and avoids a play-in game, maybe that’s enough to pull Curry up to co-favorite. I’d have no issue with either outcome and, yes, I think they’re the two most legitimate contenders. I don’t think team record should be disqualifying, necessarily, but it would be hard to justify an MVP vote for a player whose team is significantly under .500. As much impact as a great player has on winning in basketball, a true MVP should be able to muster at least a respectable team record. And Curry has led Golden State to respectability, at minimum, amid challenging circumstances.

@shronkeykongwastaken/IG: How detrimental would it be for the Pistons to fall out of the top five of this draft?

That’s probably not a question we’ll have an answer to until we see the 2021 rookies perform for a reasonable sample size of games, but it would be disappointing, for sure, if the Pistons again experience lottery misfortune. The commonly held view of the 2021 draft is that it’s stacked at the top. There’s been a solid consensus that there is a clear top five of Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga – in some order – and then not much clarity beyond them even if there are still a bunch of intriguing prospects. If that perception holds in NBA front offices, then a top-five pick is going to be a valuable asset leading to the draft and, yes, it would be a blow if the Pistons don’t wind up with a top-five pick. But if that’s the way it unfolds, you make the best of it. The Pistons got bumped two spots in the 2020 draft, but Troy Weaver maneuvered to add picks at 16 and 19 to their lottery pick at seven and the results have been overwhelmingly positive so far. I think he’s earned the expectation that whatever happens in the lottery, Weaver will maximize the return on draft night.

Jeremy (@jeremy40715853): Why do we keep playing Frank Jackson? He is ruining everything we’ve tanked so hard for this year.

Twitter doesn’t have a sarcasm font, so I can only assume your tongue was planted firmly in your cheek when formulating your question. Yes, Frank Jackson is playing well and, yes, he’s helped the Pistons win a few games over the past few weeks. He’s also 22 and playing on a two-way contract, heading for restricted free agency and intent on solidifying his status as a no-doubt NBA player so he doesn’t have to sweat out being waived out of training camp as he was a few months ago in Oklahoma City. The Pistons want to see if Jackson can sustain this level of production for more than 20 games before deciding what his fit and value are to them with a contract negotiation looming should they decide to pursue that avenue.

I do. Finding players who offer consistent scoring off the bench is tough. It’s a difficult role. There’s a reason Pistons fans automatically reference Vinnie Johnson when the topic is effective sixth men. We’re three decades removed from his exploits and he’s still the gold standard of Pistons bench scorers, which tells you how rare it is for a player to thrive in that role for any extended period. Jackson hasn’t done it long enough to put himself in that conversation yet – which gets to the point of the previous question and response – but it’s been an encouraging run for him that’s going on two months. In 24 games – nearly one-third of a typical 82-game season – Jackson is averaging 11.3 points and shooting 48.7 overall and 42.7 from the 3-point line in 21 minutes a game. He doesn’t turn the ball over, he knocks down his free throws and he’s been solid on the defensive end. Dwane Casey has been his biggest fan and Jackson, having the greatest sustained success of his four years in the NBA with the Pistons, has been effusive in his praise of Casey and the environment he’s found in Detroit. He’ll be a restricted free agent and that gives the Pistons a significant advantage in retaining him. At this point, it would be an upset if he was anywhere but Detroit next season.

@harleym.04/IG: Who are the most likely second-round pick prospects? Or do you think they’ll trade them away?

You can peruse the various top 100 lists to get a good general sense of which prospects fall loosely in the 20-80 range where most of the second-round picks are now found. The Pistons have three second-rounders for the 2021 draft, none of them their own pick, which is held by the Knicks. The Pistons have picks from the Raptors, Hornets and Lakers. The Toronto pick is currently the most favorable at 38, followed by Charlotte’s at 45 and the Lakers at 53. I think there’s only slightly more than a zero percent chance that the Pistons add four more rookie draft picks to the 2021-22 roster even if you were to include the two two-way contracts they’ll add. I would expect they’d either trade one or two of those second-round picks for future picks or, perhaps, combine one or two of them to move up, if that opportunity presents itself. Another possibility would be to exercise the picks on players who are destined to spend another season or two playing in leagues other than the NBA and not count against the 15-man roster or two two-way slots.

R38TC (@CervezaEsVida): What do you prefer in the draft: a specific position player or best available?

Certainly the latter, but even within that there are different interpretations. When you say “best available,” do you mean the best player today, the one with the greatest potential or the player most likely to reach his potential? I would say that most front offices would choose the third of those options. Based on the one draft we’ve seen Troy Weaver conduct, it’s clear he has a type of player he finds most desirable. Athleticism is a key trait. So is length – a wingspan greater than height. Those things are generally necessary ingredients to be a better-than-average defender and Weaver prioritizes defensive mindset and skill set. And that goes hand in hand with the toughness gene Weaver certainly prioritizes. So use that filter and then look for a player with the character that will maximize his ability to reach his athletic potential. If you stay disciplined to that formula – and Weaver has been seriously disciplined across his many player transactions in the five-plus months in which he’s had the chance to make moves – you’ll wind up with a roster other teams consider assets. Drafting for position is a fool’s errand. The only caveat would be if you judge two players equally – believe that their outcomes will be close enough that half the league will value one more highly than the other in three or four years – and have a greater need for what one could offer than the other.

Mob (@MobHoops): Why is Dwane Casey trying to win games?

It’s in his nature – as it is for pretty much every coach who’s ever made it to the NBA. If you’re a coach and that’s not part of your makeup, chances are you’re never getting a head coaching job anywhere, never mind the NBA. But it’s also a core belief of his general manager, Troy Weaver, that to build the team he wants – one that will compete for NBA championships – it’s critical to acquire players with fierce competitive instincts. Once you do that, how do you then suggest to them to pursue winning half-heartedly? The Pistons have won two games this month when they held six or seven players out with various injuries or simply to rest them. They finished their last two games – Saturday at Indiana and Monday against Atlanta, losing the first and winning the second – with their starters spending all or most of the fourth quarter on the bench. They’re not driving the players who give them the best chance to win now into the ground in a wild-eyed pursuit of wins, but they’re not about to tell 19-, 20- and 21-year-olds to throttle down to lessen their chances to win a game but marginally improve their chances for a favorable outcome in the June lottery. The revised lottery odds don’t give a team with the second- or third-worst record a greatly improved chance to land a top-three pick than a team with the sixth- or seventh-worst record. It’s not worth eroding the gains made over a season where the daily mantra is selflessness and developing the habits that lead to success. That’s why.

Detroit Pistons (@PistonsCOL): Do you think Dwane Casey will get fired in the off-season?

No. I think it’s a lot more likely he’s around when his current five-year contract expires if he chooses to keep coaching – and Casey, as he’s said often, appears to be enjoying this season despite the losses. He feels like he’s got a roster full of players who care about winning as much as he does and that makes the growing pains a lot more tolerable.

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. To have your question considered, submit it along with your name, email address and city/state using the form below.

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