With five players 21 or younger in prominent roles, what would the Pistons want to add next to their foundation? That gets us off and running in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Darrell (Detroit): If the Pistons landed the second pick in the draft, would they select Scoot Henderson or perhaps trade down and select Brandon Miller, who’s shooting lights out from three. I’m having a hard time envisioning the Pistons with four starting-caliber point guards when they are light on the wings.
Langlois: But what if Troy Weaver thinks Henderson really is the second coming of Derrick Rose and sees Miller as just a run-of-the-mill wing whose ceiling is average starter? And, to be clear, average starter means really good basketball player. But with the second pick in the draft and the chance to draft someone who might someday be a several-time candidate for All-NBA teams and perhaps a legitimate MVP candidate, do you pass on that because of your depth chart? No, you do not. Also – and this is a minor consideration in the bigger picture – the size of Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes really mutes the argument that the Pistons wouldn’t have room for another guard in their rotation. The Pistons could very easily construct lineups with all three of Cunningham, Hayes and Jaden Ivey in them. If you have another dynamic guard on the roster, you could play three of them together for the bulk of the game and have plenty of playing time to go around for all four. Ivey’s athleticism and length allow him to guard up some, as well.
Langlois: The supposition to open your question is correct, though I suspect it’s not quite as absolute as it was three years ago or even going into last year’s draft. But the Pistons today have a number of building blocks in place. Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Killian Hayes – the version they’ve seen over the past month inching closer to validating his draft slot and Troy Weaver’s vision for what he could be – give the Pistons three guards to man the backcourt with enough positional versatility that at least two of them can guard at least three positions. Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Duren and Marvin Bagley III give them three big men. That leaves the obvious gap on the wing. Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Livers give them a couple of long-term candidates. Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks are two veterans who make them whole in the short term, but that’s the place where it makes sense for the Pistons to seek help if their draft slot aligns with talent available. It wouldn’t be enough for the Pistons to ignore an obvious talent gap if there was another guard Weaver projects to have All-Star potential, I don’t suspect. There are at least a handful of wing prospects who could be legitimate top-10 picks in the 2023 draft. If the Pistons wind up in the lottery and don’t pull a top-two pick – where the overwhelming favorites to go 1-2 are big man (Victor Wembanyama) and point guard (Scoot Henderson) – then there’s a decent chance they’ll add a wing. On paper, that makes the most sense. We’ll see how it turns out once the draft class comes more sharply into focus.
@ck2art/IG: Who’s the first Weaver-era first-rounder to be traded?
Langlois: Weaver’s had six first-round pick in three years, including three acquired picks at 13, 16 and 19 – pretty astounding work given what was surrendered to get them. He’s taken Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. If we employ the process of elimination, I think the least likely to be traded at this point is Cunningham. What we saw down the stretch last season and for the few weeks this season before he was sidelined by the shin injury validated the faith that Cunningham supporters had in him to be that guy. Who’d be second on that list is a lot murkier. The Pistons love Stewart’s character and his potential. They see him as a bedrock representative of all they want the franchise to be. I’d give him a narrow nod to be No. 2 on that list. They feel very strongly about Bey in the same way. They are over the moon with the athleticism that Ivey and Duren have added to the roster. It’s too early to tell how big the impact of either player will be, but they’ve shown enough promise that you wouldn’t rule out true stardom for either one. I think it’s fair to say that if we took a fan poll of your question, Killian Hayes would get the most votes. But Weaver and Dwane Casey have been in his corner every step of the way and Hayes – still only 21, remember – has had a month where he’s looked on track to be a legitimate starting-quality point guard. Given his already evident playmaking/vision and defensive chops, if Hayes can continue to knock down 3-pointers at an above-average clip and hit mid-range jump shots as he’s been doing, those constitute a valued skill set. I don’t think there is any logjam coming in the backcourt – Pistons fans of a certain vintage know how easy it is to find prominent roles for three superb guards – but if I had to submit an answer to your question, it would be one of Hayes or Ivey, I suppose, given that Cunningham isn’t going anywhere.
@husali26/IG: Will Cade play this season?
Langlois: I don’t know that anyone, Cade Cunningham included, knows the answer to that question at this point. Dwane Casey has answered questions about Cunningham cautiously, understandably. This is a decision that’s in Cunningham’s hands, shaped by the advice of experts. If the choice is to see if rest sufficiently addresses the left shin injury, possibly a stress fracture though not definitively that, as opposed to surgery, then that requires giving it enough time to examine the benefit of rest. Surgery, by credible accounts of experts speaking in general terms on stress fractures and without direct insight into Cunningham’s condition, would more than likely end his season. It also is considered the surest way to correct stress fractures in the long term. From a thousand yards, it looks like one of those 50-50 calls that requires time and information to best shape a response. What a reasonable period of time consists of to make that determination is anyone’s guess.
@LionsOverLambs: The Pistons should keep KillaHaze long term. Every year, I see a more dynamic player. I’d hate to see us send off another young player only to watch him come into his own somewhere else, i.e., Kris Middleton, Christian Wood, Spencer Dinwiddie.
Langlois: They picked up his fourth-year option, which effectively gives them control over Hayes’ destiny through the 2024-25 season. He’s not likely going anywhere in the near term. The Hayes we’ve seen over the last month – he went into Wednesday averaging 11.5 points and 6.2 assists while shooting 43 percent both overall and from the 3-point line and then had a 17-point, 12-assist outing at New Orleans – is fully on track to be the player Troy Weaver envisioned. Hayes doesn’t have to average 18 to 20 points to be a quality starting point guard. If he’s scoring efficiently, knocking down 3-pointers at or above league average, defending at a high level as he has and spreading the ball around effectively with his plus vision and passing skills, that’s a valuable player. Pretty much every franchise has seen players go on to success elsewhere, but I’d separate Wood from Middleton and Dinwiddie in your example. Weaver used Wood in the sign-and-trade deal in which the Pistons got the 16th pick he used to take Isaiah Stewart. Would you rather have Isaiah Stewart doing what he’s doing at 21 or Wood, 27? I suspect Weaver isn’t losing any sleep over that deal.