Pistons Mailbag – WEDNESDAY, Jan. 31

The great value of 3-point shooting, the silver lining of the Pistons season and the lesson to take away from a tough loss at Cleveland are on the docket in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Darrell (Detroit): I was high on the idea of signing Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby or Miles Bridges this off-season. But after seeing the Pistons nearly beat Milwaukee earlier this month by shooting lights-out from three, I’m now leaning toward signing as many floor spacers as money can buy. The Pistons can double Grayson Allen’s salary to $18 million and have a starting-caliber small forward to play alongside Bojan Bogdanovic. They can sign Malik Beasley for about $14 million, which is five times his current salary and more than $1 million above the mid-level exception. With roughly $30 million remaining in cap space, the team can possibly re-sign all of Burks, Muscala, Gallinari, Morris and Knox if they still show 3-point production.

Langlois: Your favorite team, whichever team it is, always looks better when shots – and especially 3-point shots – are falling. That Milwaukee game was particularly useful, though, in showing what happens when you can pull the other team’s big man away from the rim. That was the game Mike Muscala hit four triples in less than 14 minutes. We saw it again in the most recent outing, Wednesday at Cleveland when the Pistons led with three minutes to go before a 10-0 Cavs run, when Danilo Gallinari – employed at center when both Isaiah Stewart and Muscala were unavailable – scored 20 points in 23 minutes and hit all four of his 3-point attempts. Shooting is at an absolute premium across the league. Everybody wants players who not only shoot 3-pointers at or above the league average but who shoot them in volume. Teams don’t really alter their defensive coverages much for 40 percent 3-point shooters who take one or two a game; but a 35 percent 3-point shooter who shoots six or seven a game? That’s another story. I don’t think Troy Weaver is going to stray from his blueprint of wanting a top-10 defensive team, but when you look at the building blocks the Pistons have in place – Cade Cunningham, Jalen Duren, Jaden Ivey, Isaiah Stewart, Ausar Thompson – it’s clear how important it becomes to augment that group with shooting. Marcus Sasser is one of the young players who already counts 3-point shooting (40 percent) at significant volume (43.8 percent of attempts) in his repertoire. The Pistons project to have significant cap space over the summer and whether they use it to pursue free agents or, more likely, use it in trade, they’re going to prioritize 3-point shooting, almost certainly.

Langlois: Individually, there have been some triumphs, for sure. Cade Cunningham was hitting his stride before missing eight games with a knee injury earlier this month. In 13 December games, Cunningham averaged 25.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists while cutting his turnovers to less than three per game. He had six games in the month with double-digit assists and six with 30 or more points, including two with 40 or more. He's on track to be the star the Pistons need him to be. Jalen Duren, after enduring sprains to both ankles, is recapturing the awesome momentum he carried into the season when he was at the heart of the 2-1 start by dominating at both ends. His first 20-20 game came to start the week; it won’t be his last. Jaden Ivey is looking more like the player who finished his rookie season in a sprint and really starting to learn how to translate his elite athleticism into productivity. Isaiah Stewart has increased his value, already considerable for his toughness and work ethic, by becoming a much more versatile big man capable of winning mismatches at two positions. Rookies Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser look like they’ll have long, fruitful careers. “The silver lining in this is we still have that young core in place. I’ll take responsibility on putting the right guys around them so we can get those guys to become the players they can become,” Troy Weaver told me last week. “The veterans the first half of the year were injured and out and not playing as well, so we took a hard hit. Now we’ve regrouped and shuffled things around a little bit and those guys are getting more stabilized. At this point of the season, we’re getting our feet under us.”

@sbg.raphi/IG: I’m excited for Jaden and Jalen in the Rising Stars game.

Langlois: You can add that to the list of positives to come from the season. Duren is solidly averaging a double-double with 14.1 points and 11.9 rebounds and, let’s keep in mind, he didn’t turn 20 until a month into the season. The old saw about big men needing more time to develop? Duren still has so much room for growth – we’ve only seen him start to spread his wings on offense in recent weeks and he’s got more than one more gear to get to defensively, too – and Ivey is learning how to harness his breathtaking speed and athleticism. The 2022 draft is on course to be one of the very best in Pistons history.

@owenthehistorian/IG: How do you feel about the negative press the team receives?

Langlois: Comes with the territory. When you tie the NBA record for longest losing streak, you’re going to come under fire. The sheer volume of it was overwhelming, I’m sure, for the people on the receiving end of it, so best for mental health to stay away from it. I can’t imagine there was anything in those treatises that they hadn’t already considered. Dwelling on it wasn’t going to help them get out of it or do anything to aid in what had to be the enormously difficult task of maintaining perspective. A lot of the criticism either completely ignored or brushed off the impact of getting slammed by injuries to not only the key veteran players Troy Weaver had chosen to surround the young core but also the fact that those veterans also represented the bulk of the 3-point threats he’d sought for the roster. For the first quarter of the season, the Pistons were No. 1 in the NBA in man-games lost to injury and a young team just doesn’t have the margin for error to withstand that hit. Bojan Bogdanovic missed the first 19 games and Monte Morris the first 43. Alec Burks started the season on a tear, a big part of the 2-1 start, got hurt in the season’s fourth game, missed the next six and then was well out of rhythm for a month or so before hitting his stride again. I don’t know what the record would have looked like if Morris and Bogdanovic had been ready to roll from day one, but we wouldn’t be talking about a record losing streak, for certain. And I saw very little of that reflected in the critiques, never mind the multiple ankle injuries that stalled Jalen Duren’s meteoric rise.

@mayen_shine/IG: Would you be willing to move Isaiah Stewart to the bench if the Pistons get Alex Saar?

Langlois: Getting a little ahead of ourselves here with draft talk, especially since the 2024 draft is wide open at the top. Not every draft has an overwhelming No. 1 consensus prospect, as was the case a year ago with Victor Wembanyama, but usually by this point you could limit the possibilities for No. 1 to a list of less than five prospects. I’m not sure you wouldn’t get nearly double five names if you polled the 30 NBA front offices on which player(s) they think have the potential to go first in June. Saar is one of them. At 7-foot-1 and less than 220 pounds, he’s got some of the same appeal as Wembanyama – a long, mobile athlete who’s comfortable on the perimeter offensively yet projects as a rim protector defensively. If you draft him in the top five, of course you expect he’ll be an NBA starter, though it’s not realistic to expect many 19-year-olds to start from day one and be ready to contribute to winning.

@GaryPer97322392: Will Troy Weaver be fired if he doesn’t make a deal by the trade deadline?

Langlois: Without any knowledge of the specifics of Weaver’s conversations with Pistons owner Tom Gores, I think it’s pretty safe to say that it would be imprudent to issue a “make a trade or else” edict when the logical outcome of that would be to make an ill-advised trade just to satisfy an ultimatum. Weaver’s already made one deal, one largely about creating more cap space for the off-season but one that also gave Monty Williams the chance to field lineups with more 3-point shooting given the skill sets of Mike Muscala and Danilo Gallinari. Amid the immense firestorm of pressure that came with the extended losing streak is a bad time to be trying to negotiate a favorable deal with peers around the league. Now that the Pistons have won a few games, gotten Monte Morris back to help solve the glaring turnover issue and have started to put together longer stretches of winning basketball within games, the pressure to get a deal done to alter the mojo has waned considerably. I would be only mildly surprised if the Pistons stood pat at the trade deadline. If that happens, I’ll assume the opportunity to add any meaningful assets wasn’t there. Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.

@kingjames313/IG: We are not better without Cade. We are just getting better as a team in general.

Langlois: Don’t take anyone seriously who suggests the Pistons are a better team without Cade Cunningham. Just … don’t.

@skinsbeatdown: Need an All-Star to close out games like Mitchell. We don’t have a player that can close out games, which is why we lose all those games in the last five minutes.

Langlois: An All-Star having an MVP night is what the Pistons got a dose of from Mitchell, who scored 45 about as efficiently as it gets: 14 of 25 shooting, 6 of 13 from three, 11 of 12 at the line, two turnovers. The Pistons, who were sublimely efficient themselves on offense for a 33-minute stretch that began with the start of the second quarter, went five straight possessions without scoring and that was all it took. The first three of those were a missed Cade Cunningham mid-range jump shot that was about an inch too long and 3-point misses from veterans Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks, the latter of which was halfway down and spun out. There’s no arguing your point that it helps to have a dynamic offensive force to create his own scoring chances in crunch time – or any time, for that matter. Great players greatly aid in the quest of winning games. But you want to know another way the Pistons win Wednesday’s game even in the face of Mitchell’s greatness? Turn it over only 15 times instead of 19. Until Cunningham gets a little more under his belt to become the level of force Mitchell and a few handfuls, maybe, of others are across the league, the Pistons don’t have the same margin for error as teams who have guys like that enjoy. They can’t turn it over 19 times, on the road, against a playoff team and expect they can overcome their largesse.