Pistons Mailbag - May 26, 2021

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Four weeks from the lottery and two months from the draft, how the Pistons will fare on lottery night and what they should or might do with the top pick get us going this week on another edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Darrell (Detroit): Since Mason Plumlee doesn’t have much of an outside shot, is not a go-to post player and doesn’t scare players on the defensive end, doesn’t he present the same problem of clogging up the middle of the floor that plagued Andre Drummond? And if the Pistons land the second pick, wouldn’t Evan Mobley make the most sense for the Pistons? Jalen Suggs and Jalen Green would also add great value, but Mobley solves a problem that hasn’t been addressed at center since Bill Laimbeer?

The Pistons have had a Hall of Fame center in Ben Wallace since Laimbeer, so let’s start with that. Wallace also wasn’t a 3-point shooter or a post-up threat. There are ways to be an effective offensive player without being a dynamic scorer. Plumlee does many of the things at the offensive end that Wallace did. He’s probably a better passer than Wallace was if not quite the same level of offensive rebounder. They both excelled as screeners and in dribble handoffs. Plumlee had a 21 percent assist rate this season, about 250 percent better than Wallace’s best season with the Pistons, though a lot of that is how they were used. The Pistons played through Plumlee quite a bit to maximize his passing ability whereas the Wallace-era Pistons, quite logically, played through their All-Star backcourt and especially Chauncey Billups (your turn for the Hall of Fame), though Larry Brown elevated Wallace’s offensive profile and, indeed, there was an uptick in Wallace’s assist rate over his final three years with the Pistons to 7.7, 7.6 and 8.2 once Brown arrived from his previous high of 6.9 pre-Brown. As for Mobley, that’s where I’d put my money today if the Pistons were to get the second pick and Cade Cunningham goes first, as widely expected. Mobley’s length and versatility is beyond intriguing and then there’s Troy Weaver’s self-proclaimed love of big men to consider.

Far more the latter than the former. He’s just not the type who is concerned about currying favor with the media to win positive appraisals. He’s also not the type who is going to show his hand. More than anything, Weaver is confident in his ability to assess amateur talent and thoroughly fearless in executing moves based on those assessments. And when you’re confident in your ability to assess talent, that information is valuable and to be protected vigilantly, so what’s to be gained by trying to pry information from media members who have talked to other general managers and might want to swap intelligence? The best example of Weaver’s faith in himself is making the moves he made to acquire the 16th and 19th picks in the November draft. That’s an area of the draft where you miss at least as often as you hit. It’s risky to trade away tangible assets for picks in that area of the draft and Weaver went to great lengths to get that done. If it’s too soon to know what the ceilings of Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey might be, it’s not too soon to say their floors have already beat the odds for picks in that draft range. And neither player had been linked to the Pistons leading to the draft one way or the other. No, Weaver isn’t the type who engages in media gamesmanship.

Jason (@JJLumberjack42): I’m thinking that Troy Weaver will trade a few draft picks for a shooter from another team.

At some point, the Pistons know they need to add shooting to their mix by one means or another. I don’t know that it’s realistic to think that the three second-round picks they take into the July draft are going to yield that type of help, either by executing the picks or by trading them, in time for next season. But Weaver isn’t afraid to make moves to either acquire picks or send them the other way.

Arthur Smith (@Detcookieman74): If we get the No. 1 pick, who will it be?

Cade Cunningham is the presumptive No. 1 pick by acclimation. That doesn’t necessarily mean Troy Weaver and his front-office see it that way, of course, but I’ve yet to see anyone report that even one NBA front office thinks otherwise about the assessment of Cunningham as the clear top choice. Without a major revelation between now and July 29, I wouldn’t expect that to change. Cunningham seems as likely to go first overall as Zion Williamson did in 2019 or Ben Simmons in 2016 or Anthony Davis in 2012.

STACY! cordell (@stacy_cordell): If we win the No. 1 pick and draft Cade Cunningham, how do you think that will affect Hayes’ outlook at point guard?

I don’t think it will have any impact on Hayes’ playing time or future with the Pistons. If both players fulfill their potential, then the Pistons will have a playmaking point guard with size and elite passing skills and a playmaking wing with size and elite scoring ability. Ideally, the ability of both to serve as primary creators will make the other more effective. Hayes is fully on board with playing off the ball to mix things up and give defenses something else to counter. Cunningham played on a high school team with other elite talent – potential lottery picks Moses Moody and Scottie Barnes among them – so it’s not going to be foreign to him to learn to play with other good players after standing out on his Oklahoma State team.

@amazyr_8/IG: In how many years do you see the Pistons reaching at least the Eastern Conference finals?

There are a lot of variables, too many to make any declarations about getting to the conference finals on any particular timetable. I can’t predict with any confidence which teams are getting to the conference finals a month from now. But the Pistons put a lot of talented young players in the pipeline in the last six months and they’re likely to add one more very important, talented piece to the puzzle in two months on draft night. They’ll be able to add a player or two via free agency, though their big opportunity on that front will come in July 2022 when the Pistons quite possibly could have the most cap space in the NBA. That 2022-23 season – when last year’s rookies are in their third seasons, when their lottery pick has a full year under his belt, when they’ve had two more runs at free agency and one of those runs will come with a loaded war chest – is shaping up to be a very intriguing year for the Pistons. I’m not penciling them in for the conference finals by then, of course, but I would expect we’d be able to see the skeleton of a team capable of competing at that level someday by that point.

Hermy (@Hermaphro): Four rookies this year, four draft picks coming. Some may say that’s too much youth. Do you think we run eight players on the roster next season with less than two years experience?

I think that is most unlikely. The odds are far better that they add one rookie – their lottery pick – to next season’s roster than four. If I had to guess, their pick at 37 in the second round might be in line for a two-way contract, as Saben Lee, the 38th pick in 2020, signed for his rookie season. The picks at 42 and 51 could be used on players who play internationally for a year or two or traded for future picks or other considerations or some combination thereof.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): I think it’s a little early to start the playoff push for next season. As of now our only solid, good starter is Jerami Grant. Yes, there is a lot of potential for the rookies and I expect them to start proving their spots for the future. Hopefully, we can get either Cade Cunningham or Jalen Green in the draft. I think they should work well with Killian Hayes. But don’t you think we should be focused on the rebuild up until we draft Emoni Bates?

The Pistons didn’t endure the pains of this season – winning 20 games while committing so much playing time to rookies and an assortment of other young players – only to jump back on a treadmill that would shackle them to mediocrity for the next several seasons. That doesn’t mean they won’t be on guard for any opportunity to improve the roster in the short term so long as it doesn’t do anything to impede their chances for long-term prosperity. Next summer, the 2022 off-season, is the first real opening for the Pistons to make a bold move in free agency or use the considerable cap space they figure to have then to add players via trade while absorbing bigger contracts. As for planning long-term strategy around 17-year-old players – especially when even having the worst record gets you no more than a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick – no, I don’t think that’s part of the plan.

@stevebengelink/IG: The Pistons say they will keep the same roster, adding one or two players. How will they actually improve and make the playoffs?

That’s not quite what Troy Weaver said, but the general gist is correct: They don’t anticipate having a ton of roster spots. I would guess there will be more than two new faces but probably not more than five, which is a lot less turnover than the 2020-21 roster experienced. Only Sekou Doumbouya and Deividas Sirvydis, both 2019 draft picks, are the only two players from the roster Weaver inherited who remain less than a year after his hire. But as Weaver said, “We like our group and we’re excited about the guys under contract and even our own free agents. I don’t anticipate much turnover at all. I would say maybe one or two additions from the outside, but the assets from the Pistons moving forward are all in house. It’s internal development and growth and that will be our focus this summer.” I don’t think he’s including the lottery pick in the “one or two additions” from the outside because the draft pick is already an asset they hold. When you’ve got 11 players 24 or younger on the roster and two teenagers, I think it’s reasonable to say that internal improvement is going to be the most important determinant in how much better the team will be next season. And while I’m sure that Weaver and Dwane Casey will begin next season with the intention of competing for a playoff berth – or, for sure, a play-in tournament berth – I’m also certain that making the playoffs in year two of the Weaver restoration is not going to be the litmus test for whether or not the process is on track. By and large, next season is still going to be a continuation of what this season was about – developing the many young players to put the Pistons in a position to compete for bigger things over many seasons.

John Pestano (@Lionsbadboy): Man, we have to pick in the top three and redeem ourselves from our ’03 blunder of a pick. Until this day, I still can’t believe we took Darko Milicic. That’s so wrong and it was proven wrong. Now’s a chance to atone for that pick.

Did it turn out well? No, it did not. But given everything that was known at the time, a 7-footer who moved with the fluidity Darko did and flashed the shooting ability he had sure seemed like the move. And don’t let revisionist history win out here. While there were folks vocal about Carmelo Anthony as the No. 2 pick, many of them were coming from the camp that had always been skeptical about European players over American players. There were a lot of people – a lot – who were convinced Darko was going to be an all-time great. There were people who felt he should have been the No. 1 pick over LeBron James. I distinctly remember ESPN’s Jay Bilas saying if Milicic had been in the 2004 draft as he was assessing it and discussing why he felt Dwight Howard, a high school player, would be the top pick, that Darko would have gone first over Howard. Darko didn’t fail because he was from Europe. He failed in large measure because he wasn’t as driven to become a great NBA player as he was driven to get to the NBA in the first place.

@rell285/IG: We’ve got to do whatever it takes to get Cade.

I’ll leave you to figure out the details. Best of luck.

Xegesis (@xegesis): How did you take Troy Weaver’s comment that Killian Hayes needs to fight for his right to party? It seemed to me that Weaver wasn’t happy with what he saw.

I didn’t take it that way. I took it as Weaver’s way of explaining why it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone that a 19-year-old who played one season as a starting point guard in a so-so German professional league, didn’t have the typical rookie off-season following the draft to acquaint himself with his new organization, new town, new teammates and new coaches and came to a foreign country to play against the best players in the world didn’t take the NBA by storm around a three-month injury absence. “The NBA is tough,” Weaver said when asked what he saw from Hayes. “He’s coming from overseas. Not a different game – it’s basketball – but learning the nuances of the NBA game vs. the European game and it’s tough. You’ve got to be ready every night to compete and fight and understand there’s no easy way out and if you’re going to be successful in this league and be a good player, you’ve got to fight for it. One of the best songs ever made, people joke about, but you’ve got to fight for your right to party. If you want to be a really good player, you’ve got to fight for it. The Beastie Boys were on point.” Now, was there a message sent to Hayes there, that he has to battle through adversity? Maybe. But Weaver and Dwane Casey understand fully that the amount of adversity Hayes faced was enormous. Imagine being 19 and dealing with all of that this season amid a pandemic. They love his makeup. It’s a huge summer for him to work on his game and his body in a way he couldn’t last summer. If it was a message, it was just that – last season is over, seize the day.

Carlos (Philadelphia): Jerami Grant had by far one of his best seasons with the Pistons. What do you see in this man’s future with the ballclub? Do you think he will win NBA Most Improved Player since he narrowly missed an All-Star berth?

New York’s Julius Randle was the favorite to win MIP over Grant and Denver’s Michael Porter Jr., the three finalists, in large measure because the Knicks had an unexpectedly good season, earning the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and Randle plays in the NBA’s biggest market. Randle won it, getting 98 of the 100 first-place votes, Grant getting the two others. The gap wasn’t as big as that margin would lead you to believe, but it wasn’t a surprise that Randle won. Take out the market factor and Grant would have been a compelling favorite in most any other year, nearly doubling his scoring average while maintaining his efficiency levels. I agree with Dwane Casey when he says Grant should only get better over the life of the two remaining years on his Pistons contract, too. At 27, he’s very much in his physical prime.

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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