Pistons Mailbag - November 3, 2021

Cade Cunningham, Josh Jackson, Luka Garza and the early-season shooting and scoring struggles are all on the docket in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Josh Jackson has been playing some quality minutes on both sides of the ball. Has anybody east of Kathmandu noticed, ya think?

Langlois: Dwane Casey has noticed. Jackson is playing 22 minutes a game, essentially the same as Killian Hayes, Kelly Olynyk and Isaiah Stewart and there’s hardly a better gauge of how a coach values a player than the playing time he entrusts to him. If Jackson can incrementally cut down on his live-ball turnovers caused by driving or passing into crowds, he’ll maintain or increase his role. Even more than improving his 3-point shooting, where Jackson is at .296, cutting down on the turnovers seems like the biggest factor in how much improvement Jackson will make in this, his fifth NBA season, and reach the ceiling that made him the fourth pick in the 2017 draft. As a certain native son of Michigan might say, I think that’s really, really where he’s going to.

Langlois: That through their first six games, the Pistons ranked last in the NBA in 3-point percentage at .267. I expected there to be rough patches offensively given the youth of the starting lineup and the fact that two 20-year-olds, Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham, were poised to be the primary ballhandlers. Not having Cunningham for five of the first six games didn’t help, either, given his intuitive feel, playmaking and shooting ability. I didn’t see the Pistons being a top-10 3-point shooting team, but I figured they’d be no worse than last season and likely better. And I’d still guess that’s how it will play out, though it bears mention that 3-point shooting across the league is mysteriously down across the board this season.

@_.makridimitris/IG: Will Cade Cunningham win Rookie of the Year?

Langlois: Way too early to tell. Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes are building some early-season momentum, but there’s still 75 games to go. Check back in two weeks and things might look different. Check back in two months and it might be different still. He’s going to get plenty of opportunity to make his mark, at least.

Ben (@brgulker): Can you, Keith Langlois, make an open 3-point shot? Because somebody has to as some point!

Langlois: There was a time … like back in the Vitale era. The Pistons aren’t the only team frustrated by missing 3-point shots. The biggest surprise of the NBA season is that 3-point shooting, which has inched up incrementally for a long time, has fallen off a cliff. The .342 leaguewide 3-point percentage, down from .367 last season, is the NBA’s lowest since it was .339 in … 1999! And only 17 percent of all shots that season came from the 3-point line compared to last season’s 39 percent and this season’s 40 percent.

@solesdevirgo/IG: What are the pros and cons of being a young team?

Langlois: Dwane Casey, under oath, might have a hard time coming up with a pro this morning after Tuesday’s 117-89 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The cons are pretty obvious. Rookies, with exceptionally rare exception, almost never contribute to winning in the big picture. That’s the biggest con. If you’re a veteran team incorporating one rookie into the rotation, it’s relatively easy to cover for that. When you’re starting lineup would be a better age match for the Big Ten than the NBA, you’re going to struggle to make up for all of the bungled possessions at both ends. And when you incur that much failure, it’s a challenge to avoid becoming numb to the pain that losing inevitably causes. The pros, I guess, would be if that you can maintain an environment where that doesn’t happen – where losing still stings, still motivates on an individual and team-wide basis to change your reality – then when you come out the other side, you’re going to have a hardened, experienced team with a bunch of players about to entire the prime of their careers. The Pistons think they have a number of players from the past two drafts who can be productive pieces of winning teams. In two or three years, when they’ve supplemented the Cade Cunningham-Saddiq Bey-Killian Hayes-Isaiah Stewart core – potentially with assists from guys like Saben Lee, Isaiah Livers, Luka Garza, Jamorko Pickett and Chris Smith – with a few more draft picks and a meaningful free-agent addition or two, then the Pistons could be where the Atlanta Hawks, in this position not so long ago, are today – a team good enough to compete at the top of the Eastern Conference with youth in its corner.

@drburnett/IG: Will the Pistons address their lack of size during this season of the 2022 draft and free agency?

Langlois: The Pistons don’t have a 7-footer on the roster, but I don’t know that I’d call them undersized. They have plus size at pretty much every position but center, where Isaiah Stewart certainly plays bigger than 6-foot-8 given his 7-foot-4 wingspan and thick build. They’re considerably bigger on the wings than they were when the 2018-19 Pistons got to the playoffs and their primary wings were Wayne Ellington, Bruce Brown and Luke Kennard.

Jeremy (Detroit): I feel like this team is going to eventually grow into a problem for the rest of the league. I was wondering, since there is a fresh start and restoration feel to this team, is it time we update our jerseys? I love the originals and our color scheme, but I think it would be great if we rebranded our look just a bit. What are your thoughts on this and is it something that is being kicked around already perhaps?

Langlois: Your question came in the day before the Pistons unveiled their City Edition uniforms for this season, which they’ll wear for the first time on Friday night at Little Caesars Arena. The red scheme satisfies the wishes of many to bring back the red alternates that were very popular both in the Bad Boys and the Goin’ to Work eras, there’s a hint of teal for those craving a return of the ’90s and the lightning bolts on the shorts evoke the look from the Vitale era in the late ’70s and early ’80s. As for the rest of it, my only expertise in fashion is from the old sportswriter’s handbook: wear yellow; it hides the mustard stain.

Luis Jimenez (@LuisJime710): Our defense has seemed pretty solid, but our offense has been very underwhelming so far. What do you think it will take to get our offense rolling? Also, how do you feel about our young players such as Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart only getting around 20 minutes a game in a development year?

Langlois: What will it take to get the offense rolling? Time, foremost. The starting lineup includes three 20-year-olds and Saddiq Bey, 22 and in his second season. To compound matters, Cade Cunningham’s early-season ankle injury means that unit has not had any time to adjust to playing with one of its two primary ballhandlers. Time together and repetitions – hundreds of them, possession by possession – will begin to sand down some of the rough edges. As for playing time, six of the top nine players in minutes per game are 24 or younger. That’s a non-issue. Bey ranks first, Cunningham third, Hayes fourth and Stewart sixth in minutes per game with Stewart at 23. There’s giving young players minutes and then there’s throwing them to the wolves. There’s a school of thought that you impede development with too much exposure before the foundation is in place to accommodate those minutes.

Mark (Los Angeles): I’m a big fan of coach Casey, but why does he keep the first unit starting? The second unit is better. The first unit digs a hole every time.

Langlois: And here’s the other side of the coin. If winning immediately were the foremost objective for the Pistons, the roster would have been put together differently and playing time would be meted out differently. I’m sure Dwane Casey, in consultation with Troy Weaver, is considering – or will, at some point – being a little less aggressive with his use of the many young players on the Pistons roster. The plan coming into the season was to play the young players – Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart – as a unit to keep them together. Casey mentioned the other night that a handful of games wouldn’t cause him to start making any major overhauls to the grand plan just yet. He mentioned 20 games – a quarter of the season, essentially – as the more appropriate time to recalibrate. If the offense keeps bumping along at the bottom of the NBA, maybe that speeds up the tinkering and maybe he begins sprinkling some veterans into the first unit and some of the young guys start to come off the bench.

Joseph (Manila, Philippines): Is it smart to draft young, unpolished rookies, then waste time training them or sending them to the G League or let them go after some years? The Pistons have drafted very young rookies like Andre Drummond, Sekou Doumbouya and Killian Hayes. Why not take somebody who is a little experienced (like Luka Doncic) and maybe older who can help immediately?

Langlois: Not sure you want to use Luka Doncic to prove your point. He entered the draft when he was first eligible and was 19 – the same age as Hayes and Cade Cunningham were when the Pistons drafted them. He didn’t have any more experience than most other teens other than he was allowed more playing time by virtue of the fact he was good enough to get it. Doncic had a much higher level of success in the competitive EuroLeague and Spain’s ACB than players of a similar age typically experienced. Doumbouya was 18 but turned 19 before 2019 was over, making him eligible for the 2019 draft. The draft is almost always dominated at the top by 18- and 19-year-olds who identify themselves by the time they hit their early teens as potential star talents. The Pistons are far more the norm than the exception in taking young players at the top of the draft. Those players are drafted for the hope that they deliver on their potential and become high-impact stars, but the flip side is that there is probably a wider range of outcomes possible in drafting a player at a relatively early stage of his skills development.

Niranjan (@BLOCKEDBYSTEW): When do you think the Pistons will stop treating Cade Cunningham like he’s coming off an injury – start playing him on back to backs, take off the minutes restrictions, etc.?

Langlois: He played 29 minutes in his second game. We’ll see how the Pistons handle the back to back later this week, but I doubt Cunningham will be held out of back to backs beyond that if he sits Friday – and that remains to be seen.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): Can the Pistons get the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft? There was talk the NBA was going to make a rule that the same team could not win the draft lottery in consecutive years. I think it was the Cavalier rule?

Langlois: It would be fitting, given that the Stepien rule – the one that bars teams from trading first-round picks in consecutive years – was named for the erstwhile Cavs owner, Ted Stepien, who once traded what became the overall No. 1 pick turned into James Worthy in 1982 for the Lakers for Don Ford, a sixth-round 1975 pick who averaged 6.4 points per game over an eight-year career. No, there is nothing prohibiting the Pistons from winning the lottery again this season. Given that they went 51 years between winning the No. 1 pick, they’re due.

Boony Merryweather (@merryweatherbo1): Why haven’t we seen Luka Garza come in and play the four? He seems like a great big man with great shooting.

Langlois: Garza slid to 52nd over concerns that he would struggle to guard anyone and be exposed in pick and rolls. A lack of lateral mobility is a death knell for big men in an NBA where teams target defensive liabilities and hammer the mismatch until it no longer bears fruit. If there were concerns over how Garza would guard centers, the mismatch would only become more glaring against power forwards. To the extent you could call any exercise of the 52nd pick a gamble, the Pistons are betting on Garza’s smarts, toughness, basketball IQ and scoring acumen to compensate for whatever defensive shortcomings he might have.