Pistons Mailbag - June 23, 2021

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The Pistons won the NBA draft lottery – perhaps you’ve heard? – and that lit up the Mailbag channels for this week’s edition:

Brad Monasterie (@BMonasterie): Do you think the multiple ballhandlers setup, with Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham, is a formula for success in 2022’s NBA?

I don’t know that there’s any one formula for success, but the more ballhandlers the merrier in my view. There’s no such thing as having too many skilled players so long as they aren’t fatally flawed in other critical areas. Just as you’d always prefer the taller player so long as he’s not giving up anything in quickness and mobility, so would you always rather have the more skilled player so long as he’s not a liability in areas of toughness and defense. There are so many proficient shot-makers in today’s game that it’s hard to win if you don’t have enough of those types of players to keep the scoreboard moving. However you get those points almost doesn’t matter – you just have to be efficient in getting them.

Kylelisk16 (@kylilisk16): The obvious choice is Cade Cunningham. But since we took Killian Hayes last year, does that change anything? Maybe trade down? I’m in favor of taking Cunningham.

Trading down is an option – not one I expect has much chance of tempting the Pistons to do so unless it’s an absolute bounty in return – but it will have zero to do with any concern of duplication between Cunningham and Hayes. There are a million factors that would determine the course of action for Weaver to take, starting with how he views Cunningham. If he sees Cunningham as the clear top player, then trading down becomes even less likely. But if he views Cunningham in the same tier as others (Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs, perhaps) or perhaps if he views someone else as the clear top player but can leverage another team’s interest in Cunningham into landing the player he likes best plus other assets, then trading down becomes much more viable. In any case, I don’t think the presence of Killian Hayes is going to come into play in any way, shape or form.

Trevor Loftus (@TheTrevorLoftus): Is there a random big man in Europe with a lot of raw talent available this year and any chance we can take him over Cade?

Perhaps it’s time to let it go.

Maurice Templeton (@SpiritualHooper): Time to book a flight to Vegas for Summer League.

Indeed. That’s going to be some Summer League lineup the Pistons put out assuming all of the first- and second-year players are included. Let’s say Cade Cunningham is the No. 1 pick just for purposes of this example. The Pistons could start Cunningham next to Killian Hayes in the backcourt with 2020 first-rounders Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart up front alongside 2019 first-rounder Sekou Doumbouya. Off the bench, you’d have Saben Lee, Devidas Sirvydis, Tyler Cook and, potentially, the three 2021 second-round picks. On a typical Summer League roster, the first of those three second-rounders at 37 would probably be starting and getting 25-plus minutes a game. On this roster, he’ll be lucky to crack the rotation and get 10 minutes. And with the No. 1 pick in a celebrated draft on their roster, you can expect to see the Pistons in a lot of prime-time Eastern tipoffs in Summer League and playing their games in the Thomas & Mack Center, not in the auxiliary gym at UNLV.

@splashlegend/IG: Which rookies are going to be on the Pistons Summer League roster?

See above. In a typical Summer League, there might be three or four players who are projected to be on the following season’s roster or have a legitimate shot at a future with the franchise. This time around, the Pistons will have a minimum of eight and potentially more than 10. I don’t know if it’s ever happened quite like that. It’s going to make it tough to sign undrafted players they might like, but that’s the cost of acquiring so many young players over such a short period of time and liking the future for all of them.

Profoundly disagree. If Isiah Thomas had still been active and in his prime in 1994 when the Pistons had the No. 3 pick, do you think they would have steered clear of drafting Grant Hill because he projected as a 6-foot-8 playmaker? I don’t see why anyone thinks Hayes and Cunningham couldn’t play together. Their size presents no defensive matchup issues; in fact, quite the opposite. Their size empowers the Pistons to go all in on Dwane Casey’s preference for switching everything one through four. Hayes isn’t going to be bullied by too many forwards and Cunningham isn’t going to be badly mismatched on point guards. It’s certainly not an issue to have two players capable of initiating offense and handling the ball, is it? That, too, is a strong preference of Casey. He’d like three of them, in fact, and having two with the size of Hayes and Cunningham makes it possible to play that many. If it’s Saben Lee, Cory Joseph or somebody else, the Pistons could play Hayes at the two and Cunningham at the three alongside a point guard and throw the playbook wide open.

@rennanvogel/IG: Who is a better fit next to Hayes: Cunningham or Green?

Whichever one Troy Weaver thinks is the better player. One thing about the type of players Weaver and Dwane Casey pursue is they allow for wide latitude with lineup combinations. Hayes can guard one through three pretty easily and Cunningham and Green can, too, with Cunningham big enough to guard some fours. Offensively, it comes down to having enough shooting but I suspect both Cunningham and Green are going to wind up being above-average 3-point shooters and Hayes is going to get there, too. I really don’t see any concerns about Hayes and Cunningham getting in each other’s way. Some of Hayes’ best moments late last season came when he played off the ball with Saben Lee. If you have two or three capable playmakers/ballhandlers, it not only reduces the stress load on each of them but allows the offense to drill down to the defense’s weak points with impunity. That’s not an argument for Cunningham over Green, necessarily, because a 6-foot-6 athlete with elite athleticism and potentially elite scoring ability obviously electrifies an offense, too. If both of Cunningham and Green hit their ceilings – and that’s really what the personnel evaluation comes down to: which is most likely to do that? – then you can’t go wrong either way.

@zoobyq/IG: If the Pistons draft Cade Cunningham, what’s the starting five look like? Hayes/Cade/Grant/Bey/Plumlee?

That’s a reasonable guess. I’d probably go Hayes, Diallo, Bey, Grant, Plumlee to start and let Cunningham get a little more play with the ball in his hands on the second unit along with Frank Jackson, Josh Jackson, Isaiah Stewart and Sekou Doumbouya, perhaps. Frank Jackson isn’t a pure point guard, but he’s played there and handles the ball well enough that you could make Cunningham the half-court initiator. That’s a pretty intriguing second unit.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): Wow! The No. 1 pick! Ben Wallace is the man! I’m thinking about Kristaps Porzingis again via trade and then signing someone like Kawhi Leonard or Bradley Beal as a free agent two years from now. I think we would be a free-agent destination with Porzingis, Grant, the No. 1 pick and our young players. The future is bright and we might be able to compete soon and not risk hurting our future. Restoration in progress!

Let’s not put the cart before the horse. The appeal of the Pistons to free agents the likes of Leonard or Beal two years down the road will be very much determined by what they accomplish between now and then. The future has much greater possibilities today than it did a year ago at this time – and that much more so with the results of Tuesday’s lottery – but free agents good enough to be desirable targets for any team with the cap space to accommodate them are going to want to see more than potential alone. The Pistons will have to exhibit clear signs of progress on the court and in the standings to truly put them on the radar for players of that magnitude.

Robert (Albany, Ore.): Cade is a fine pick. What does Troy Weaver do with the second-round picks? Suddenly, we have a guard glut with Jackson, Jackson, Diallo and Lee somewhat crowded out. A very nice summer for Pistons basketball!

As I’ve maintained ever since the Derrick Rose and Delon Wright trades added two second-round picks in 2021 to the one the Pistons obtained from Brooklyn in the preseason Bruce Brown trade, I don’t think it’s realistic that the Pistons add four more 2021 draft picks to next season’s roster. Two, max. If there’s a way to combine the three second-rounders to move into the back end of the first round should a player Troy Weaver values be available there, that’s one option, though I remain skeptical that 37, 42 and 52 gets them there. We’ll see. A likelier outcome is either trading one or both picks for future second-rounders or drafting players who will spend next season, at minimum, playing internationally. I don’t see the Pistons having quite a glut of guards, but they’re building some nice depth there that will give them lineup options and trade flexibility.

@plofficial/IG: What are some types of players you’d like to see the Pistons pick at 37, 42 and 52?

History tells us the deeper you get into the second round, the less likely you are to find someone who’ll have a meaningful NBA career. The top 10 picks in round two (31-40) usually yield two or three pretty good players. After that, it’s spotty. So given that I don’t think the Pistons are inclined to include four more rookies on the roster one season after dedicating five roster spots to rookies, I’d look for young European players as one possibility. Among the names to watch in that category: Roko Prkacin, Ariel Hukporti, Rokas Jokubaitis, Filip Petrusev, Ibou Dianko Badji, Vrenz Bleijenbergh and Gabriele Procida. As for the “type” of player: Troy Weaver has been adamant about not straying from their tenets of seeking players who are tough and selfless. He looks for those traits foremost, then physically has a predilection for players with length and athleticism. I think another realistic option is trading one or more of those picks for future second-rounders. Trading the pick at 37 will probably get the Pistons two future seconds. That’s what they gave up two years ago to get the 38th pick from Philadelphia to draft Khyri Thomas and one of those picks is going to the Knicks this year at 32. Weaver could also try to package all three picks to move into the last first round.

Kumar (Troy, Mich.): Is it time to hang another Ben Wallace jersey in the rafters?

Who’d argue with that? Might be time for a statue.

D-WILLY (@dfrommotown): No way they trade this pick, right? Will Cade Cunningham be a Piston?

The safest bet is the Pistons keep the pick. The safest bet if they keep the pick is taking Cunningham. But I don’t know that it’s a no-brainer that’s what happens. If Oklahoma City hadn’t fallen to sixth but instead had gotten the second or third pick, I think there could have been a possibility of the Thunder using their treasure chest of future first-round picks to entice the Pistons into trading down a spot or two. Falling to sixth makes it far less likely to draw strong consideration.

Darrell (Detroit): Rumor has it the Warriors are looking to package James Wiseman and their two first-round picks for veteran talent in order to win now. They’ll have to add additional salary to make the math work to obtain quality veterans, so how about Wiseman, Wiggins, Looney and their two first-rounders for Grant, Plumlee, Okafor and Josh Jackson? Golden State would get a huge upgrade in talent and save millions in cap space over the next two seasons when factoring in the salary scale for the two first-rounders. The Pistons would get a wealth of young talent to add to their existing talent and still have a ton of cap space for the 2023-24 season.

I didn’t delve into the cap ramifications of your ambitious proposal, so start with that. It’s complicated. I can imagine that adding Jerami Grant would be appealing for Golden State and Mason Plumlee could fill a role with them quite nicely for the way he helps facilitate offense without being a scorer. Josh Jackson also would be a good addition to the rotation there. But I don’t know that they’d be willing to give up last year’s No. 2 pick plus two more first-rounders to do it – or that they couldn’t find something more beneficial to them for that package elsewhere. As for the Pistons end of it, yeah, there would be some temptation. But they would be preposterously young next season and I’m not sure that’s the direction Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey want to take this team. Weaver wants a veteran presence sprinkled in with the young talent he’s accrued – he said that pretty explicitly last month – and you’ve stripped the roster of its most important veterans in Grant and Plumlee with this deal.

Al Deloney (@fastdaze): What does this mean for Hami? I see the tweet with the eyes. Could we see Diallo and Cade Cunningham starting with Killian Hayes off the bench?

I wouldn’t expect the Pistons to be any less inclined to want to retain Hamidou Diallo just because they won the lottery. Diallo is a really unique player. And because he can defend multiple positions and because Cunningham is such a versatile player offensively he gives you the ability to play all sorts of lineup combinations, there’s plenty of room for him and Cunningham on the same team. As for who starts and who comes off the bench, see above: Cunningham’s versatility really opens things up for Dwane Casey to mix and match. There will be all kinds of viable lineup combinations for Casey to experiment with over the course of the preseason and season next year.

Tha Realest (@Tha_Realest24_8): Why would Troy Weaver come out and say that trading the pick is an option? If I’m Cade Cunningham, would that make me not want to work out with them?

Why not? If there’s one thing we came to learn about Troy Weaver in his first year on the job, it’s that he’s unafraid to make moves that open him up to scrutiny. There are and always have been general managers who are leery to make moves because every time you make a move – a draft pick, a free-agent signing, a trade – you open yourself up to the possibility of being wrong. And in personnel evaluation, it’s impossible to get it right all the time. Players are not only incomplete as players but as people when you draft them at 18 or 19, so projecting how they’ll turn out is an exercise in extrapolation and inherently risky. So of course you leave open the possibility of trade. Do I expect the Pistons to keep the No. 1 pick? I do. But Weaver was asked a direct question about the possibility of trading the pick and his response was at least as much for his 29 peers across the NBA as it was for Pistons fans and the public at large. Why not let them know you’ll take calls and hear them out? It can’t hurt. As for Cunningham, I think it’s pretty clear he wants to be the No. 1 pick. Would you want a player on your team who’d take umbrage at the general manager looking out for the franchise’s best interests?

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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