Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, the Motor City Cruise, the lottery, the 2021 draft, free agency – we hit on a little bit of everything in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Lou (Indio, Calif.): Do you think we can live with the point guard of our future shooting 33 percent overall and 25 percent from three? I don’t see the potential yet.
Langlois: He’s taken 148 shots in 21 games. As sample sizes go, that’s pretty tiny. And the circumstances under which he’s played this season – no Summer League, thrust into the starting lineup a few weeks after finding out which team had drafted him, taking the jump from Germany to the NBA, playing in a foreign country – were more than a little daunting. Through all of that, I see the potential pretty clearly. He’s got great size, vision and zip on his passes and that’s a heck of a starter kit for a point guard. He’s got terrific hands and is already a good defender, rare for a rookie. The adjustment to the size, speed and length of NBA defenders speeds the game up just enough to skew the shooting numbers now. If by this time next season they haven’t taken a jump, we’ll talk.
@andrew.pek/IG: Would the Pistons avoid drafting Jalen Suggs because of Hayes’ development?
Langlois: There are a few ways of interpreting your question. Do you mean because Hayes has shown good development since returning from injury they wouldn’t want to draft another player who projects as a point guard? Or do you mean the Pistons would avoid drafting another point guard on the belief that it would hinder Hayes’ future development? Bottom line, in either case, I believe that there’s only one thing that would keep the Pistons from drafting Jalen Suggs: If Troy Weaver doesn’t think he’s the best player available at wherever the Pistons wind up picking. I’ve said this in different ways to different questions, but I don’t believe the current Pistons roster construction is going to have any impact on Weaver’s draft execution. If you buy the hype that there are five players in this draft who would have been the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft and if the Pistons are fortunate enough to wind up with a top-five pick – and the only guarantee of that is to have the NBA’s worst record, which appears firmly in Houston’s grasp with only a half-dozen games remaining – then this is Weaver’s chance to get a high-impact player. And when those types of players are available, you don’t fret for one second about roster fit. And, by the way, I think Suggs and Hayes would be perfectly compatible if it comes to that. They’ve both got great size, so unlike the Cleveland backcourt, for instance, where they’ve paired Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, you wouldn’t have to worry about being exploited defensively because of a backcourt size deficiency. Suggs and Hayes could play together for however many minutes a game they wanted them to overlap.
Langlois: Dwane Casey has rhapsodized about the impact of having the G League affiliate, the Cruise, sharing the same practice facility and having them play home games a brisk walk away from the Pistons Performance Center – and Little Caesars Arena, for that matter. They’ll all be within about 2 miles of each other in the heart of Detroit. Casey often cites the way young players in his Toronto tenure would practice with the Raptors in the morning, play a game with the Raptors 905 G League team in Toronto that night and be back at practice with the Raptors the next day. Sekou Doumbouya, Deividas Sirvydis and Saben Lee, for sure, would have been on a similar regimen this season if things hadn’t been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Cruise had been playing in Detroit this season. It’s likely all three will get some time with the Cruise next season – perhaps even if they’re in the playing rotation for the Pistons. Casey says they used players such as Pascal Siakam, Norm Powell and Fred VanVleet that way for the Raptors even after they’d worked their way into the NBA rotation. Troy Weaver had the same experience in Oklahoma City where the G League Blue team played in an arena, part of the city’s convention center, literally across the street from the Thunder’s arena.
@damehates2k/IG: Saddiq Bey or Beef Stew?
Langlois: Hmmm. Both. It’s not a decision the Pistons have to make, so … both.
BLM (@TreadUponStars5): I know this isn’t a question, but the Pistons better take Cade Cunningham with the first pick – no excuses.
Langlois: If you can arrange it so they get the first pick, that would be optimal. Look, if the Pistons get the No. 1 pick, Pistons fans should rest easy that the decision will be in Troy Weaver’s hands. He seemed to do OK with the draft last November.
@zalman_127/IG: Who do you think we should take in the draft?
Langlois: There seems broad consensus that Cade Cunningham is the No. 1 pick, though I suspect there are a few general managers who haven’t quite made that determination yet. Final boards aren’t put together until 24-48 hours before the draft by most front offices because that’s not something you do until all the information is at hand and there is still a lot of information to be gleaned even if there aren’t any more actual games to be played by the top prospects. But the Pistons, even if they were to finish with one of the three worst records, will have no more than a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick. If the Pistons stay where they are as of this morning – in the No. 2 spot – by far their single greatest likely outcome is to pick fifth. There would be a 27.8 percent chance of landing the fifth pick and that’s almost as twice as likely as any other single outcome. In order, their chances of landing each of the top six picks – they could pick no lower than sixth if they were to go into the June 22 lottery in the No. 2 position – would be 14.0, 13.4, 12.7, 12.0, 27.8 and 20.0. So there’s a one in five chance that four teams could leapfrog the Pistons and push them to sixth – so a better chance four teams jump the Pistons than there is a shot that the Pistons land the top pick. Wherever they land on that spectrum, they’re going to take the player Troy Weaver thinks has the brightest NBA future. And, once more, I don’t think Weaver is going to spend much time worrying about roster fit with whomever he decides to draft.
Abu (San Antonio): The Pistons were eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend. What do they need to address in the draft to ensure they make the playoffs next season?
Langlois: The draft will be one piece of an improved product. I’d say the No. 1 piece will be a summer of development for the entire roster, which should be considerable when you look at the fact that they have 11 players 24 or under and four 20 or under. I mean, the six 22 or under – and it was seven until Frank Jackson turned 23 on Tuesday – that’s a college team. And you would fully expect a college team returning seven key players to take a significant year-over-year leap. Then comes the draft. And what they need to do to address maximizing help in the draft is to guarantee a positive outcome in the June 22 lottery. Not much they can do about that in a game of chance. But a top-five pick in a draft considered very top heavy would surely improve the talent base. Then there’s trades and free agency. Given Troy Weaver’s track record, it’s fair to guess there will be activity on that front. I don’t know that all of those things can “ensure” they make the playoffs next season because, well, teams that take playoff spots this season aren’t giving them up easily. But I think the odds are better that with 11 days to go next season – the spot we’re in now this season – the Pistons are more likely to be fighting for a play-in berth than looking at lottery odds.
Ottapide (@ottapide): How much cap space do the Pistons have this summer?
Langlois: There are a lot of moving parts, but the Pistons can get to about $20 million in cap space. There won’t be a ton of roster spots open, assuming it’s a priority to retain restricted free agents Frank Jackson and Hamidou Diallo, so it’s possible the Pistons use all or the bulk of that money on one player this time around if Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey feel as strongly about someone as Weaver felt about Jerami Grant last off-season.
Darrell (Detroit): Were the Pistons to land a top-three pick to start alongside Killian Hayes and use their roughly $20 million in cap space to sign 3-point shooters Doug McDermott and either Bobby Portis or Kelly Olynyk to back up Saddiq Bey and Jerami Grant, and retain Cory Joseph at a much smaller salary, they could make a lot of noise in the Eastern Conference. That’s a lot of ifs, but none of those scenarios are long shots. There wouldn’t be much of a drop-off with a second unit of Joseph, Josh Jackson, McDermott, Portis/Olynyk and Stewart or Plumlee. If the team managed to creatively retain Frank Jackson and Hamidou Diallo, they’d be 12 to 15 deep not including the three second-round picks.
Langlois: I think Frank Jackson has put himself squarely in position to be a fixture of the second unit next season. It’s not inconceivable he presses to start – he played a team-high 35 minutes while coming off the bench in Monday’s game – but why mess with success? I’d say the odds are that both Jackson and Diallo, coming off a career-high 35 points in Tuesday’s narrow loss to Charlotte, are back. The Pistons didn’t trade for Diallo to let him walk, not given the history between Weaver and Diallo from Oklahoma City. They didn’t invest much in Jackson, picking up him after Oklahoma City waived him and giving him only a two-way contract, but he’s emerged as a consistent bench scorer and a 40 percent 3-point shooter who’s athleticism also makes him a threat off the dribble. Dwane Casey has been an enthusiastic supporter all season and has made him a permanent part of the rotation for two months once the NBA lifted restrictions on the use of two-way players. Jackson has been just as enthusiastic in his embrace of his opportunity here and, presumably, is inclined to keep it going here.
Seckin (@SeckinKIRCl17): If I understand Troy Weaver’s talent criteria correctly, I think he takes a close look at Kai Jones. He fits the profile, in my opinion. What do you think in terms of fit? If the Pistons fall out of the top five, he is my favorite prospect.
Langlois: If there’s a consistent top five for the 2021 NBA draft – Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga – there is zero consensus about who comprises the next five. There are probably no fewer than a dozen candidates to be the sixth pick. Sure, Kai Jones fits into that tier. And Weaver is on record as saying he loves big men. So Jones, a native of the Bahamas who landed at a New England prep school and was the No. 50 consensus recruit in the class of 2019 before spending two years at Texas, naturally would be on the radar if the Pistons get pushed to sixth in the lottery. And, perhaps, even if they land in the top five. There is no guarantee – perhaps not even a likelihood – that Weaver sees the top five as the consensus sees it.