This week’s Pistons Mailbag includes talk of the last two lottery picks, Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham, and some speculation about what the Pistons might be looking for with their 2022 lottery pick.
Duran (Detroit): Will Cade Cunningham win Rookie of the Year and what do you expect from him realistically in year two?
Langlois: It’s probably a long shot at this point on Rookie of the Year. I’m with Dwane Casey in that I would bet on Cunningham over the field if the question is which player you’d rather have going forward, but Evan Mobley built an early lead and has the critical factor of team success working in his favor. The fact the Cavaliers have so significantly beat expectations – and, yes, Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen taking leaps to All-Stars are as important as Mobley’s contributions – will give voters otherwise uncertain about which way to go a valid reason to side with Mobley. What I expect from Cunningham in year two is building off what he’s been able to do since he gained his footing after an understandably wobbly start based on missing all of training camp and the early going of the regular season. Given good health, I expect Cunningham can get in the mix for All-Star consideration next season because I think the Pistons are in line to take a jump as Cleveland did this season. Cunningham will play all of his second season as a 21-year-old and having a player that young establishing himself as an All-Star candidate as a team’s primary playmaker is of monumental value for the Pistons over the next decade.
Langlois: Not many is the easy answer. The Pistons have an unusually large number of players under team control for next season, a function of how many players are on rookie deals. Under contract for next season, some with team options, are Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Hamidou Diallo, Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Jerami Grant, Frank Jackson, Kelly Olynyk, Saben Lee, Luka Garza and Isaiah Livers. That’s 11 players for 15 roster spots. Cory Joseph has a player option that I will assume for the time being he’s picking up. And Marvin Bagley III is a restricted free agent that the Pistons have signaled they intend to keep. That’s 13. The lottery pick coming is a lock to be on the roster. So unless there are trades coming – and, of course, you have to figure there’s a trade or two coming – it would appear there’s only one other roster spot open at present. And the Pistons project to have significant cap space, so free agency figures to produce at least one player and possibly more. I don’t think the roster will be as static as all of that suggests, but it’s not going to be a roster that carries a handful of rookies, either. We haven’t even mentioned two-way players Jamorko Pickett and Chris Smith, who could return, as well.
@adam_peterss/IG: Would Killian Hayes’ season be seen as a success for him personally?
Langlois: I wouldn’t frame it as a yes or no proposition. I’m sure it didn’t hit the heights that he or Pistons administration might have hoped, but on balance he’s shown enough to give everyone invested in him reasons to continue to expect him to grow into the player he holds the potential to become. His defense and his playmaking are his strengths. His shot-making is the swing skill that will determine whether he gets pigeon-holed as a role player or can blossom into a player worthy of a mid-lottery pick. He’s shown progress as this season has unfolded as a penetrator who can finish in the paint and I think he’s going to continue down that path. His size and strength give him a strong foundation to be an effective scorer around the rim as a point guard. As he gains a better feel for how to use those even more to his advantage, he’ll become a more efficient scorer in that area. He obviously needs to become a better 3-point shooter and I think that will come, too. A young point guard has a lot to process and shooting is first and foremost about confidence. When the game slows down, the shot follows. It’s a process that happens quickly for some and over a longer timeline for others. Hayes is still 20 and he played his 82nd game – a full season – only this week. Bottom line, I don’t think we’ve come close to seeing what Hayes will yet become.
@Jamara23732: If the Pistons draft in the top three, who would be a great fit?
Langlois: There’s been a consistent consensus top three since at least the midway point of the college season that consists of Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith. They’re not the same player by any means, but all three are either power forwards or power forward/centers who are anywhere from comfortable to proficient facing the basket. So in that sense, all three are easy fits for a Pistons roster that doesn’t really limit them in any way as they weigh what to do with the lottery pick they’ll hold for the June draft. It remains to be seen whether those three will, in fact, be the first three off the board.
@johnburkschi/IG: Which college player is the best fit for next year’s team?
Langlois: As I wrote to the previous question, the Pistons aren’t yet boxed in to any significant degree from a roster-building standpoint. They’ve got a primary playmaker in Cade Cunningham, but if he had a twin brother available where the Pistons wind up picking in the lottery and you’re Troy Weaver, you take Cade’s twin. If one 6-foot-7 playmaker is a problem for other teams, two are a geometrically bigger problem. Isaiah Stewart might be a center, but he’s not playing 48 minutes a night so if you think the best player at your spot is a center, you take him. Of all the usual suspects considered top-10 picks in the coming draft, I don’t think there’s one that the Pistons would disqualify because of roster fit issues. They’re going to size those guys up for what they believe they can become in the NBA two, three, four and five years down the road and act accordingly.
@sweepybuns: Do you think a whole bunch of movement helps or hurts this team as it stands?
Langlois: If it’s movement that helps the talent base, then it helps the Pistons. I would expect less than a third of the roster to turn over this season, so a relatively quiet off-season by NBA standards. There is something to be said for continuity, to be certain, but continuity won’t be the primary motivating factor in the Pistons having a relatively quiet off-season. It’s more about young players on rookie contracts with potential to unlock being more valuable to the Pistons right now than they might be in trade.
@DeeeWhirl: I read online that a lot of Pistons fans wants them to go after Deandre Ayton, Mo Bamba or Miles Bridges in free agency. All three are restricted free agents and their teams have the option to match any offer. Do you think the Pistons will pursue one of these players?
Langlois: The history of restricted free agency would suggest they won’t. The fact the Pistons made the trade for Marvin Bagley III ahead of his free agency might be a clue they’re not banking on that, either. They’ll have to address the Bagley situation early in free agency in order to not have his onerous cap hold on their books and that might conflict with their window to make a move for a restricted free agent. In general, any off-season plan that hinges on the pursuit of a restricted free agent had better be backed by a solid Plan B.
@ObdulioGarcia: It’s being reported that the Pistons might be drafting two top-10 picks via Portland. Let’s say the Portland pick stays at nine. Who would you be interested in drafting there?
Langlois: The report you’re referencing contended the Trail Blazers were offering not their pick but one they control from New Orleans, which is protected 1-4 and 15-30. There seems a pretty realistic chance the pick is going to be conveyed this season. That report seemed unusually specific, which makes me a little wary of the motivation of whomever might have passed it along. But let’s play along. With a top-10 pick – with any pick, really, but especially a premium pick – the overwhelming mission is to get the best player you can find and worry about roster fit later. I’d say if the Pistons were to draft a big man with their first pick, then they might shy away from another big man with their second in your scenario. I’m not sure I’d say the same about drafting two guards or two wings, but maybe that would be a tiebreaker if you had two prospects ranked equally. Who you’d take at nine is obviously dependent on who goes one through eight. I could give you a handful of names now – Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith, Jaden Ivy foremost – that would be assumed out of play at nine. After that, it gets a little murky. One guy possibly in that range who had to catch your eye over the weekend was Arizona’s Ben Mathurin.
@AdamBanks1988: Do you think it’s true we’ll be getting the teal jerseys next season or do you think it’s still just a rumor?
Langlois: It’s more than a rumor. It’s been reported by a credible media outlet, the Detroit Free Press, though neither confirmed nor denied by the Pistons. So stay tuned.
@bgj1: With the Pistons having and not needing wings, do you think they will look to better the team more at point guard or a big man?
Langlois: I think NBA teams now look at wings – athletic wings with size, at least – the way Major League Baseball teams look at pitching: You can never have too much. Some of it has been by necessity, granted, but the Pistons have played lineups the last few games that have featured four players in the 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-8 range – Jerami Grant, Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Livers – along with a big man. That said, with Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Stewart, Kelly Olynyk and Luka Garza all under contract for next season, I’d put point guard as a pretty clear choice over big man if it comes down to that as a decision.