(Editor’s note: With training camp approaching, Pistons.com continues a series that examines the questions they must confront in their quest to turn the corner on general manager Troy Weaver’s restoration of the franchise to greatness. Today’s question: Can the Pistons turn the 3-point line to their advantage after struggling in recent seasons?)
It’s been a while since the 3-point line worked to the advantage of the Pistons. They finished 22nd in 3-point percentage last season. In the two seasons prior to that, they were 29th and 23rd. The last time they finished above the middle of the pack, the COVID-interrupted 2019-20 season, the Pistons were 11th in 3-point percentage.
It was midway through that season when they made the organizational decision to rebuild. They’ve fielded rosters significantly younger and more inexperienced than the league average ever since and suffered the growing pains that inevitably accompany rebuilding projects. Shooting is one of those casualties. Young teams struggle to generate favorable shots and often to shoot at league average when they do.
But the Pistons, who bring on highly respected Monty Williams as coach and enter the season with the best depth they’ve had in a generation, expect to be vastly more competitive this season. They also project to be a significantly better shooting team with the addition of veterans Monte Morris and Joe Harris to go along with the return of Cade Cunningham, whose playmaking and savvy figure to have ripple effects up and down the lineup.
Between Morris, Harris and veterans Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks, the Pistons have four shooters who range from above average to elite. In the 2022-23 season, that foursome shot a combined 41.1 percent from the 3-point arc – 464 of 1,129 – on a combined 18.5 attempts per game.
Those 1,129 attempts represent 42.5 percent of the 2,659 3-point attempts the Pistons launched last season. And that was with Bogdanovic playing 59 games and Burks 51. Give them something closer to full seasons and it’s not unreasonable to believe that Morris, Harris, Bogdanovic and Burks will account for 50 percent of Pistons 3-point attempts or something close to it.
Bogdanovic has shot better than 40 percent from the 3-point arc in four of the past six seasons and was at 38.7 and 39.0 in the other two. Burks has crested 40 percent in four straight seasons. Morris has been between 37.8 and 39.5 each of the past four seasons and is at 39.2 for his career. And Harris has six straight seasons above 40 percent, twice leading the NBA at 47.4 in 2018-19 and 47.5 in 2020-21.
Given their lengthy track records, it’s pretty much a given their cumulative 3-point shooting will come in at 40 percent or better. The average NBA team took 2,806 3-point shots last season or 34.2 per game. If Harris, Morris, Burks and Bogdanovic account for 45 percent of Pistons 3-point attempts – and that’s a pretty low estimate if they stay reasonably healthy – in the season ahead and shoot a combined 40 percent, the rest of the roster would need to shoot just 33 percent in order for the Pistons to shoot what was the league average last season at 36.1 percent.
That seems well within their grasp. The keys, in all likelihood, will be how Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Isaiah Stewart fare.
The Pistons fully expect a shooting jump from Cunningham, by all indications poised for a big season after standing out at USA Basketball’s Las Vegas camp ahead of World Cup competition. Ivey shot 36.3 percent from three after the All-Star break last season and should only benefit by having Cunningham setting him up this time around.
Stewart finished at 32.8 percent in his first season shooting threes at any volume – he went from shooting 109 in 139 games over his first two seasons to 205 in 50 games last season – and would have been near league average if not for a mid-season slump that coincided with a shoulder injury. Over the last four games before suffering a hip injury, Stewart hit 10 of 17 triples.
Rookie Ausar Thompson is an unproven 3-point shooter, but he’s probably not going to take enough to have a significant impact on the team’s cumulative average even if he emerges with a prominent role. Isaiah Livers has shot above league average in each of his first two seasons and 37.8 percent for his career despite a series of injuries stalling any real career momentum. A healthy Livers not only figures to have a more prominent role but also to make the Pistons a more dangerous team from the 3-point linr.
If Cunningham’s career arc takes the turn the Pistons fully expect it will, his ability to create shots for teammates should only enhance the 3-point ability of Bogdanovic, Harris, Morris and Burks and help Stewart and Ivey find their way. Ivey, too, became remarkably good at creating shooting chances for teammates as his rookie season unfolded. Fold all of that into a Williams offensive system heavy on ball and player movement and the likelihood of the Pistons finding more open shots – and fielding lineups with shooters with a history of making them – looks very promising, indeed.