Pistons Mailbag - Thursday, Dec. 1

A little bit of everything – Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Livers, Dwane Casey’s future, NBA scheduling – is on the menu in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

@wataman66: When are we going to realize Killian Hayes is not the answer at point guard and move to find his replacement? Also, how come Marvin Bagley III doesn’t provide effort on defense and setting screens like Jalen Duren?

Langlois: Now seems a curious time to be dismissing Hayes’ future when, at 21 and with all of 115 NBA games under his belt, he’s shown obvious signs of improvement over the past several weeks. Since injuries to Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey have broadened his role, Hayes is averaging about 11 points and six assists as a starter and shooting about 40 percent from the 3-point arc despite the fact he’s had to take a bunch of late-clock attempts that have dragged his average down. And the part about moving to find his replacement … well, they have drafted both Cunningham and Ivey, capable primary ballhandlers, since drafting Hayes. As for Bagley, his primary appeal has always revolved around his scoring ability and the rest has had to catch up. Bagley is still only 23 and while he’s athletic, it’s different than the type of explosive athleticism Duren possesses. Duren has the physical tools to be a dominant defender and has a thicker frame. It’s not effort that separates them.

Langlois: He’s fourth on the team in minutes per game behind Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Bojan Bogdanovic and trails Cunningham, the leader at 33.3, by less than three minutes a game. If the Pistons have all hands on deck, Bey’s minutes might tick down a little simply because they’ve now got some depth on the wing with Bogdanovic, Isaiah Livers, Hamidou Diallo playing well and Kevin Knox making a move. This isn’t really an issue.

@the_muels: I’ve heard rumors about Dwane Casey being moved to the front office next year. If this happens, who are the top head coach candidates and who do you think is most likely to replace him?

Langlois: Whatever you’ve seen – and, to be clear, I’m not sure where that’s coming from – is pure speculation. Casey is 65 and he’s been coaching for more than four decades and for the last 12 years consecutively as a head coach. That’s a long time in a highly pressurized position. Casey hasn’t spoken publicly about how he sees his future unfolding and that’s not uncommon for coaches who understand that very few of them get to script their own journeys. Pistons owner Tom Gores’ admiration for Casey comes through every time he speaks about the man he persuaded to come to Detroit when he was fresh from the sting of being fired in Toronto while simultaneously being voted Coach of the Year by his peers. General manager Troy Weaver has in Casey a coach who values to a T the same traits in players he seeks. Casey has embraced a mission with a preposterously young team that not many coaches of his stature would have. If Casey moves to the front office, it’s almost certain to be his decision. There’s no evidence it would be anything but.

@itz_lena/IG: Does Cade need surgery? Will he be able to play 12/20?

Langlois: Cunningham has missed the past 11 games with left shin soreness. Dwane Casey said Sunday, “It’s up to the medical group and to Cade and whatever is best for his health. I’m all for it. Whatever he decides to do, I’m 100 percent behind him.” It appears he’s referring to the options available to Cunningham, which have been reported to be rest and hope the situation resolves or choose to have it surgically repaired. I know that doesn’t address whether he’ll be able to play in two or three weeks, but as it stands now and for all we know, it’s impossible to make that determination at this time. It’s possible there’ll be clarity ahead of that date, of course.

@StevenWisdom13: When will we be good?

Langlois: A fan base encompasses a wide spectrum of perspectives. Much of it clamored for the Pistons to tear it down and go all in on a rebuilding effort for some or all of a full decade before it was launched late in the 2019-20 season with the decision to trade Andre Drummond. Troy Weaver was hired that summer. He’s had three drafts. By any reasonable calculation, given the assets on hand when Weaver arrived, the Pistons are about at the mid-point of a rebuild – assuming everything goes right, which is a high bar to clear in the world of personnel evaluation. When the Pistons won back to back games at Denver and Utah last week, for every fan who celebrated the magnitude of that achievement there might have been another lamenting the prospect of diminished odds of landing Victor Wembanyama. All of that is a long way of saying that if you step back and look at where the Pistons are today, they’re as on track as anyone could have reasonably hoped they’d be by December 2022 on the day Drummond was traded. The NBA.com survey of general managers before the season started had the Pistons with a top-three young core. The performances of rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren since that survey was taken have only bolstered that standing. So it all depends on your definition of “good,” I guess, but the makings of a good team are already in place. If you account for talent on hand, capacity for growth, draft capital and future salary cap flexibility, I’m not sure what else you’d need to project good days ahead.

@nkm04/IG: What is Killian Hayes like as a person/teammate?

Langlois: From all appearances, he’s a perfectly normal 21-year-old – well, a perfectly normal 21-year-old with the rare ability to be good enough at basketball to be drafted in the NBA lottery as a 19-year-old. Hayes has been exposed to more of the world at 21 than most people will be in a lifetime and that affects different people in different ways, I’m sure. But Hayes is also in the mainstream among Pistons players, an overwhelmingly young roster, and he shares so many things in common with most of his teammates. By all accounts, it’s a tight group without any unhealthy cliques. Point guards who pass as well and as willingly as Hayes are usually well liked by teammates for good reason. The rookie class of 2020 – Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Saben Lee, the latter since traded to Utah in the Bojan Bogdanovic deal – came to Detroit under the very odd circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and they bonded tightly. I think the fact Hayes has been able to weather some tough times in the NBA – starting with a traumatic hip injury in his first days in the league – is a testament to the support he’s gotten from those in his inner circle, teammates foremost.

@fatimaelmoukahal/IG: Will Isaiah Livers keep starting?

Langlois: It seems unlikely he’ll remain in the starting lineup when one or both of Cade Cunningham or Jaden Ivey is available. Livers started at guard on Tuesday night when both Cunningham and Ivey were out. With Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Bojan Bogdanovic all available, he won’t be starting at forward. But Livers clearly has earned Dwane Casey’s trust at the defensive end and that, combined with his size and the threat of his 3-point shot, are very likely to keep him in the rotation even if Casey has other options, like Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox, on the second unit. Livers has a shot, indeed, to be part of closing units fairly routinely if his all-around play continues to ascend. Three-point shooting, size and defensive versatility are very handy traits, it turns out.

@darrylld74/IG: If the Pistons don’t get in the top two of the draft, who would you prefer for them to draft?

Langlois: The top two are universally considered to be Victory Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson and after that there are at least a handful and probably two handfuls of candidates to be the third pick in what now – too early to be definitive – is shaping up to be a pretty good draft. I think it’s still very likely to be the case that Troy Weaver would take the player he thinks is destined to be the best of the bunch in three or four years, regardless of position. But in a perfect world – with Jalen Duren as a center, Isaiah Stewart as a power forward/center hybrid, Saddiq Bey as a forward and Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Killian Hayes as guards – that an athletic wing would be a very snug fit. The guys who might qualify to fill that niche include twins Amen and Ausar Thompson of Overtime Elite, Duke’s Tariq Whitehead, Villanova’s Cam Whitmore or Arkansas’ Anthony Black, among others. When the college season gets into the meat of conference play, perhaps the lines will become a little clearer.

@Mrshourite1: They say it “all evens out” through the course of the season but the Pistons seem to always be heavily taxed on the schedule early in the season, leading to rough starts. Our strength of schedule is ridiculous and we play more games than anyone out of the gate. When do we complain?

Langlois: Only Utah (24) has played as many or more games than the Pistons, who’ll play their 24th game tonight to match the Jazz. Only Utah (14) had played more road games than the Pistons, who have played 13 away from home. The Pistons have also played the third-toughest schedule based on cumulative opponents’ record. So, yeah, it’s been a grind so far, compounded greatly by injuries to virtually every key player on the roster. Cade Cunningham has missed 11 games, Marvin Bagley III 13, Alec Burks 12, Isaiah Stewart seven, Jaden Ivey four and Saddiq Bey three. No one has played all 23. That level of disruption is tough for any team to counter, but especially teams as young as the Pistons. One reason they’ve played so many games, it appears, is to accommodate their trip to Paris in January where they’ll play the Chicago Bulls. The game is on a Thursday. They have a home game on the Sunday before the Paris trip and don’t play again until the Monday after their return. So three games in a nine-day span. When you’ve got 173 days to shoehorn 82 games into – that’s the amount of time between the Oct. 19 opener and the April 9 regular-season finale – there is only so much wiggle room. You’ve pretty much got to play a game every other day to make that work and when you have a nine-day span with that few games, it has to be made up elsewhere.