Forty-one weeks to the day since the Pistons last played a game that counted in the NBA standings, they’ll open the 2020-21 season at Minnesota tonight. That sparks a whole bunch of questions that gets us rolling for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Kurt (@Silverlion23): Will the Pistons have enough outside shooting this year? And do you think Saddiq Bey makes an impact?
Langlois: Three-point shooting, indeed, is one of the big questions about this year’s Pistons. The two most accomplished 3-point shooters on the roster are Svi Mykhailiuk and Wayne Ellington, but it remains to be seen if they’re competing for the same minutes. Dwane Casey wants Delon Wright next to Killian Hayes to ease some of his burden as a rookie starting point guard and that is perfectly understandable. Wright has been roughly an average NBA 3-point shooter over his career but he hasn’t been a volume shooter; his career numbers say he takes 30 percent of his attempts from three. Blake Griffin has become a volume 3-point shooter and he’s been better than league average of late if you throw out last season’s numbers when he clearly was playing hurt over the 18 games he logged. Jerami Grant took 40 percent of his shots from the arc last season and hit them at a 39 percent clip. Given the expanded role he figures to have with the Pistons, if he continues along that trend line the starting unit probably works just fine. If Josh Jackson’s improvement last season on top of the promise he showed in preseason, when he hit 9 of 18, is legitimate, then he and Mykhailiuk give the second unit a chance, especially if Sekou Doumbouya nails down a spot on that unit and shows his summer improvement – as a shooter and everywhere else – is for real. Bottom line, there’s the potential to be an average 3-point shooting team and you’d expect Casey’s offense, as it historically has, to produce relatively high volume. As for Bey, the Pistons really like him and he doesn’t appear to be overwhelmed by the moment despite the fact he, like all rookies, was robbed of a typical rookie off-season development concentration. Right now it looks like he’s on the fringe of the rotation, but as I wrote that rotation is likely to run deeper than usual, so he’ll have a chance to grab more minutes if his performance warrants it.
Aviationut (@Lionsfan1977): Who had better potential as a rookie – Lindsey Hunter or Killian Hayes?
Langlois: The Pistons made Hunter the 10th pick – one spot ahead of Allan Houston – when they spent the first-rounder they got from Miami in the John Salley trade on him in the 1993 draft, which was held at The Palace of Auburn Hills and was headlined by local star Chris Webber going No. 1 and then minutes later learn he was traded from Orlando to Golden State. Hayes went three spots ahead of that. Hayes is bigger and has more playmaking potential than Hunter, who despite arriving as a high-scoring college star made his mark in the NBA primarily as a defensive specialist and a 3-point shooter. Hunter spent a remarkable 17 seasons in the NBA, so you start with that when you sum up his career. He struggled as a starter but found his niche as a veteran bench energy player. Hunter was almost 23 when he debuted in the NBA and Hayes is 19, so it’s really tough to measure them against each other as prospects entering the league. I would say the Pistons have loftier outcomes in mind for Hayes than a player whose highest value was a bench energy guy, but doing that as well as Hunter did – again, lasting 17 years in the NBA is a major achievement – is something special.
NBAinwinterMLBinsummer (@trustthestache): We know who will be the first man off the bench. In normal circumstances, who will typically be the second? Josh Jackson seems like a good candidate.
Langlois: If you’re asking strictly on the order of their entry into games, it’s too early to tell until Dwane Casey has a rotation pattern established. Jackson’s played small forward mostly in preseason and Jerami Grant is the starter. If Casey winnows the rotation down and decides to essentially rotate Grant, Jackson and Blake Griffin at the two forward spots, then perhaps Grant comes out of games midway through the first quarter and goes back in late in the quarter or to start the second at power forward for Griffin. But if Sekou Doumbouya continues his impressive preseason and the forward rotation stays at four, then that would dictate a different rotation pattern. If you’re asking which bench player outside of Derrick Rose is likeliest to become a staple of the second unit, Jackson surely put himself in the running with the way he played over the final three preseason games. He was outstanding – 3-point shooting, making plays off the dribble and defensively. I think Svi Mykhailiuk also is in that mix. He appeared very confident in himself and could be ready for a big jump over last season, which actually ended with him kind of quietly taking a big step forward.
Brother Juwan (@BrotherJuwan): Who are the two players that have the most potential to have a breakout scoring year?
Langlois: I think some combination of Josh Jackson, Sekou Doumbouya and Svi Mykhailiuk. As the season opens, they appear to have solidified their status as rotation-worthy players. You specifically cited “scoring” and in the case of Jackson and Doumbouya, their breakout potential is probably more about their all-around ability to have an impact. Jackson, in particular, can be an impact defender. Doumbouya can stir things up in transition and with his cutting ability. The wild card for both players is their 3-point shooting with each showing great promise in preseason. Mykhailiuk is sort of on the other end of that spectrum. His 3-point shot is what got him to the NBA, but his improvement in other areas since opportunity opened for him midway through last season when Luke Kennard was sidelined with knee issues has been eye-opening. That improvement has been enough for Mykhailiuk to get the playing time that makes his elite 3-point shooting a true weapon.
Oliver (Tartu, Estonia): How will the Pistons develop young players like Saben Lee, Deividas Sirvydis, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey if there is no G League this year? Probably Bey and Stewart are more likely to get some time but I think the development of these five players is significantly lower if they cannot play much.
Langlois: Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey are major proponents of the value of G League experience tracing to their success with utilizing affiliates in close proximity to their NBA parent teams in Oklahoma City and Toronto. I’m sure they would use the G League option aggressively this season if it were available to them, but that’s up in the air. I think there are ways to mitigate the damage in basketball to a greater extent than most other team sports, though. There was no minor league baseball played over last summer and that development time for pitchers and hitters is hard to make up. If there’s no G League, the Pistons will double down on skills development. They’ll also probably wind up playing a lot of 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 games after practice. From that perspective, the Pistons are fortunate they have a number of young players. In a more typical season, when a team might only have a few players who fit in that category, you’d be limited to more 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 situations – still useful, but not as close to the genuine NBA experience of learning how to navigate in space when it’s occupied by nine other elite athletes.
John (Port Huron, Mich.): I’ve been a Pistons fan for years and can only attend a couple of games a year. I would always keep up with the team on Fox Sports Detroit but my service no longer carries it. Is there anywhere else I can watch them on TV?
Langlois: You don’t say which carrier will no longer provide Fox Sports Detroit and I’m not aware of any issues specific to the Port Huron area, so I’ll assume that your carrier was one of the streaming or satellite services that have recently come to an impasse with Sinclair, which purchased the Fox regional sports networks about a year ago. Hulu, YouTube TV, FuboTV and Sling TV, as I understand it, all are at an impasse with Sinclair over fees for its regional sports carriers of which Fox Sports Detroit is one. Dish Network, a satellite TV carrier, has found itself in similar straits. The industry expectation is that with the launching of the NBA season – and the subsequent opening of the NHL season next month – the issues will get smoothed out and those services again will carry the regional sports networks. Until then, I would say your options are to switch carriers to a cable carrier or another satellite or streaming service that offers Fox Sports Detroit.
Lou (Indio, Calif.): As a longtime Pistons fan, I have watched some really bad trades over the last several years. None of these are more harmful to the team than not signing Christian Wood. We now have Mason Plumlee, who is a fair backup, as our starting five. We really missed the boat on this one.
Langlois: There should be no questions about Troy Weaver’s faith in his ability to put together a roster. The safe play for a general manager not only new to an organization but serving for the first time as a front-office chief executive would have been to retain Wood after his breakout 2019-20 season in a Pistons uniform. Wood and Plumlee are pretty much at opposite ends of the big man spectrum. Plumlee’s reputation over his seven seasons is as an assignment-sure, ultimate professional. He’ll be where he’s supposed to be on the court (and off, for that matter) at both ends and coaches love him for doing all the little things right that aren’t reflected in any conventional stats, advanced or otherwise. Wood is a highlight-reel guy who failed to stick in the NBA – and failed to get drafted – in large part because of concerns of character and judgment. He took a big step toward erasing those doubts last season and Houston invested $41 million over three years on its belief that he would continue down that path. For Weaver, who has been consistent since his June hiring in saying he would build a roster true to the principles that were the foundation of two Pistons championship eras, it is tacitly understood that he viewed that type of investment as not in keeping with his vision for their future. Only time will really tell if he was justified in coming to that conclusion. Let’s see where the Pistons are in two or three years before filing this one as a “really bad trade.”
Ken (Dharamsala, India): The Pistons drafted Isaiah Stewart at 16, a high pick to get so little playing time in the four preseason games. His flicks show he was a willing banger in college, a la Corliss “Big Nasty” Williamson. What’s up with Stewart so far? Has he been a disaster in practices?
Langlois: Nope. He’s 19. Troy Weaver drafted Stewart and two days later came to terms with two veteran centers, Mason Plumlee and Jahlil Okafor, in free agency. Weaver loves Stewart but wasn’t about to entrust a rotation role to him as a rookie – hardly an atypical response to the 16th pick in a draft, let alone a 16th pick who is six months shy of his 20th birthday. Dwane Casey quickly came to appreciate some of the things – a relentless motor and physical fearlessness, foremost – about Stewart that led Weaver to draft him. After a few days of camp, Casey said Stewart thinks every rebound is his. After his first game against the Knicks, he said most players shy away from the level of physicality Stewart exhibits. Just this week, he said this: “I’m excited about Isaiah. There’s no more intense person on the court than him. He’s going to have time on the court with us because of his energy, his rebounding and his defense.” He might have relatively few opportunities initially to make his mark, but nothing that’s happened since the draft has caused Weaver or anyone else to think any less of Stewart, who elicits raves from everyone who gets to know him. Plumlee, in fact, said Stewart has the best attitude of any young player he’s been around in the NBA. But you can’t change the fact he’s 19 or that big men who come to the NBA have plenty to learn before they can help you win games.