Pistons Mailbag - WEDNESDAY, March 29

With the season in its waning days, this week’s Pistons Mailbag looks at sorting out the frontcourt picture, draft scenarios and other bits of the future for the Pistons.

With the season in its waning days, this week’s Pistons Mailbag looks at sorting out the frontcourt picture, draft scenarios and other bits of the future for the Pistons.

@TrDetroit: What are your thoughts about our bigs? Do you think if we land on the second pick that our bigs will be enough for a playoff push next season?

Langlois: TBD. We don’t know what it’s going to look like with all four bigs at one time because it never happened. Marvin Bagley III was out at the time of the James Wiseman trade and by the time Bagley returned, Isaiah Stewart was out and Jalen Duren missed a chunk of games. We also don’t know what it’s going to look like with any two of those big men playing with Cade Cunningham, though I’d be comfortable betting on Cunningham to help clarify decisions for Dwane Casey and his coaching staff.

@sultanofschwing/IG: With our four young bigs all showing promise, will they secretly be hoping we don’t land the No. 1 pick?

Langlois: No. NO. N-O. Even if the Pistons aren’t in lockstep with the rest of the basketball world in the opinion that Victor Wembanyama is the clear-cut No. 1 pick in this draft (and almost any other) – and, to be clear, I have no reason to think the Pistons don’t view him the same way – there would still be tremendous benefit to landing that pick simply because of the value Wembanyama represents. If they wanted to trade the No. 1 pick, there would be suitors lined up around the block. But if Wembanyama is everything scouts think he can become, he’ll sort out the frontcourt logjam quickly if there becomes one. Just as the Pistons look for perimeter players who complement Cade Cunningham, they would look for frontcourt partners who best mesh with Wembanyama.

Langlois: I’d put the acquisition of another big man down under “unlikely” – unless, of course, the Pistons win the May 16 lottery. Then it becomes highly likely they’ll be adding Victor Wembanyama. I don’t think they’d really worry about a logjam at that point, though. With only Marvin Bagley III on something other than a rookie contract, and Bagley on something just a little north of the mid-level exception, they can afford to use next season to sort things out. Addressing the wing position will be a priority, for sure, whether that’s via trade, free agency or otherwise. Shooting will sort itself out in large measure with the return of Cade Cunningham, Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks plus  another year of player development for guys like Jaden Ivey, Killian Hayes and Isaiah Livers.

@Johnny_Junya83: Do you think the Pistons will move on from Casey and bring in an up-and-coming head coach like Jerry Stackhouse to grow with the team? Can the Pistons bring back the teal next year and beyond? Is Killian Hayes’ days as a Piston winding down? Are the Pistons guaranteed a top-three pick now?

Langlois: Answered Casey questions in recent Mailbags. My expectation is to see him back on the bench next season, but I would expect he sits down with Troy Weaver and likely with Pistons owner Tom Gores at the end of the season and they’ll have a meeting of the minds just to check on everyone’s vision of the future. No idea what the future holds for teal. Hayes will have next season to establish himself. He had his best moments as an NBA player in year three but couldn’t sustain it consistently. He’s still just 21 so there’s still a real chance it happens for him. The last year of his rookie contract would be the best time to prove it where his prospects to sink roots in Detroit are concerned. No, they’re not guaranteed a top-three pick and wouldn’t be even by finishing with the NBA’s worst record. They would be guaranteed the best odds at landing the No. 1 pick – the three worst records all have the same odds of landing anywhere in the top four – and, if they finish with the worst record, they could pick no lower than fifth. But, in fact, even by finishing with the worst record and securing the best possible odds, the most likely outcome would remain picking fifth at 48 percent. Finish with the second-worst record and they could pick no lower than sixth with the odds of picking fifth at 28 percent and sixth at 20 percent. Finish with the third-worst record and they could pick no lower than seventh with the odds of picking fifth at 15 percent, sixth 26 percent and seventh 7 percent. Houston and Detroit have already clinched bottom-three records and San Antonio is on the verge.

Darrell (Detroit): A lot of people want to criticize coach Casey, but no team – in any era – could lose its best player early in the season and be expected to perform better than the previous year. I don’t care how many games the team wins, this is my favorite Pistons team since the 2000s championship years. Weaver is a maestro and by July will have amassed at least six top-seven picks in three years. The team’s upside is off the charts.  Speaking of upside, who do you think has more of it – Jalen Duren or James Wiseman? Lastly, when the team drafted Jaden Ivey I thought the Pistons were set at shooting guard for years to come. But it appears Ivey is really a point guard and an exceptional one at that. The team has three point guards but no true shooting guards of the future. There are no true shooting guards expected to be drafted in the top five and there are no exceptional true shooting guards in free agency. How can the Pistons improve this area of need for next season?

Langlois: Duren and Wiseman both have the stuff to be top-10 centers in the NBA someday. Different players. Wiseman can be a high-level scorer and do so in a variety of ways. The potential is there for a guy who shoots a handful of threes a game and does it at or above league average, can score in the mid-range efficiently even in an era where that’s not easy and be a highly efficient scorer around the rim. Duren’s explosive power around the rim gives him the toolkit to be a force as a lob dunker and offensive rebounder and we’ve also seen flashes of real playmaking chops with Duren. I think he can be dynamite in dribble handoffs and rolling to the rim. As for Ivey and whether he’s a point guard or a shooting guard, I wouldn’t worry about labels. I think he and Cade Cunningham can form a terrific backcourt and together blur the lines between distinct roles for point guard and shooting guard. If they can combine to shoot at somewhere close to or at the league average from the 3-point arc on reasonable volume, the worry about not having a true “shooting guard” will be forgotten.

@DowCord: We have seen two-big lineups throughout the year even with the team healthy. Should we expect two non-stretch bigs to play together moving forward? This brings up another question: How do those lineups affect the production of the team with a clogged paint?

Langlois: I think we can say Isaiah Stewart showed enough this year to consider him likely to provide enough of a 3-point threat to force defenses to honor his presence there. If no one among the other three gets there by the start of next season and the Pistons carry all four on the roster, then, yeah, I think we can anticipate seeing lineups that include two big men who are unlikely to be legitimate 3-point threats. Troy Weaver pointed to Cleveland’s success with Jarrett Allen-Evan Mobley lineups by way of saying there are ways to cover up any one particular lineup inefficiency if you have corresponding advantages in other areas. It was on the Pistons, he said, to scheme ways to ensure that happens, in addition to player development rounding out their skill sets.

@jimTHEsim24: The Pistons are on pace for the worst team in their history. When do we get to start questioning Troy? Is next year the year they are going to try and win some games?

Langlois: Fans are free to question whenever they want. I don’t think it’s reasonable in year three of a bottoms-up rebuilding – one that didn’t benefit from having a highly marketable trade asset a la Donovan Mitchell, James Harden or Paul George to kick start it – that was further complicated by the loss of Cade Cunningham for all but 12 games to cast doubt on the prospects for success. There’s a lot of road to travel before we can start assessing next season, but if things break right – a little lottery luck, better fortune on the injury front, the right trade to present itself – then, sure, there’s a real chance that winning games becomes the benchmark to measure success next season.

@remy_varik/IG: When will Cade Cunningham return?

Langlois: Two answers to that. The expectation is that he’ll be ready to resume an off-season workout program without limitation as any other season. As for when we’ll see him in uniform again, the 2023-24 season is the answer. Cunningham said in January, a little more than a month after undergoing surgery to correct the stress fracture of his shin, that everything went as hoped and he was relieved that his decision to undergo the operation had been vindicated. The Pistons expect that with that nagging issue behind him, he’ll be an even better version of himself to start next season.

@djtocoo_11_3/IG: Is Killian Hayes a starter next season?

Langlois: The ball’s in his court. It looked like Hayes had turned a very big corner in December when his mid-range and 3-point shot suddenly started to click, but things flipped on him again in January. His size, playmaking and defense make him a useful player even if he’s not scoring at a high level, but he’ll need to outperform somebody in training camp to lock down a starting spot. The Pistons could conceivably start two big men and three guards if those guards have the size of Hayes, Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, but the better bet at this point is Hayes comes off the bench as point guard with the second unit.

@chuckbrower: How many new players do you think will be on the Pistons roster at the start of next season?

Langlois: Good question. Tough question. Let’s start with players under team control: Jalen Duren, Jaden Ivey, Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Livers, Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes, James Wiseman, Marvin Bagley III, Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks. That’s 10. Add a lottery pick. We’re at 11. It’s certainly possible one or two or three of those players are involved in trade, but I think the likelier trade scenarios for the Pistons are ones like last summer’s deal that netted Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel to accommodate the wishes of trade partners to create cap space for free-agent pursuits. So I’m going to say five new players – at least one via the draft, two if the Pistons wind up keeping their second-round pick and spend it on a player they intend to roster. They also have Gabriele Procida, last year’s second-rounder, playing in Germany. They might want to take a look at him or might choose to let him develop more overseas for another season. There will be room for at least two and as many as four veteran additions via trade or free agency, though the Pistons could choose to bring back one or more of their own free agents from among Hamidou Diallo, Cory Joseph, Rodney McGruder and R.J. Hampton. Eugene Omoruyi is now on a standard contract, so throw him into the mix, as well. Decisions on some or all of those players are likely to be shaped by what the Pistons are able to do in free agency and the trade market first, so we might not hear anything about their fates until into the second or third waves of free agency.