The Jaden Ivey situation, how injuries have muddied the waters and more on the phenomenon of Ausar Thompson’s rebounding prowess in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.
@fantasybbmonster: How can Monty justify what he is doing to Ivey? While letting Cade the turnover machine run wild?
@staeworkn/IG: Why start Hayes over Ivey? Real question, no judgment.
Langlois: I picked two random samples from the many more questions that arrived in the Mailbag inbox this week about Jaden Ivey’s situation and Killian Hayes starting. First, let’s keep in mind Ivey missed a week with a viral infection that he admitted wiped him out and he’s only just returned from that, so most recent box scores shouldn’t be leaned on to discern any pattern for the future. Monty Williams addressed this when asked why he’d chosen to bring Ivey off the bench before Ivey’s illness sidelined him. Some of it has to do with giving Ivey more chances as a primary playmaker than he might get while playing alongside Cade Cunningham. Williams isn’t going to be completely transparent about why he does everything he does with playing time, lineup combinations and decisions on where the cutoff line is for his rotation. No coach is ever going to be that blunt and for utterly sensible reasons. There are egos involved and players at various stages of development who need to be nurtured carefully. I think it’s possible to infer – given everything Williams said to make evident that defense was his priority – that he wants Ivey to clear certain hurdles as a defender and (quite possibly) as a decision-maker before expanding his role. He’s talked about Ivey’s potential as a defender and a rebounder to go along with the offensive sparks he showed as a rookie. Williams wants to see the fully realized version of Ivey, the same thing Ivey wants. Let’s give it some oxygen. As for Cunningham, Williams said this week that he spoke to him recently about turnovers and the need to cut down on them. Cunningham has been the alpha of ultra-talented teams at Montverde Academy – where he was one of four first-round picks from the 2021 draft – and USA Basketball before coming to the NBA and he understands the responsibilities that come with that role. I think Williams senses Cunningham knows where the pathway is for him to grow into the player and leader the Pistons need him to be and is doing what he feels is best to keep him on that course. He must sense that Ivey needs a little bit different approach in order to harness what Williams sees as his potential. Good coaches treat every player fairly, but not all players equally – because different personalities require different approaches. Coaches ultimately are judged by how well they keep a lot of different balls in the air and manage them all without crashing.
Langlois: I think what’s missing is Bojan Bogdanovic, Monte Morris, Isaiah Livers, Joe Harris and – until Sunday in Chicago, at least, Jaden Ivey and Alec Burks. Oh, and Jalen Duren hobbling around on an ankle he sprained in the fourth game after looking like a revelation in the first three where the Pistons were 2-1. I know nobody wants to lean on injuries and all teams are affected at various points of an 82-game season, but what the Pistons have had to navigate in the first three weeks of the season is highly unusual. They lead the league by a healthy margin in man-games lost to injury at 50. They’ve played games where fully half of their 14-man roster was unavailable. That whole “next man up” thing only goes so far. Bogdanovic would be Cade Cunningham’s ideal sidekick, Morris the antidote to the turnover issues that have plagued the Pistons and Livers a reliable 3-point shooter and defender. The Pistons were 2-2 when Burks went down. Troy Weaver said his plan was to build a roster that would win with depth and defense, but the depth was thoroughly gutted before the Pistons even got to the starting blocks for the season. Let’s see what they look like by mid-December when, hopefully, they’ll have the team they expected to have.
@Mr_Shourite: Do you think Killian Hayes will still hold on to his starting spot once players return from injury? Better yet, do you think he’ll still have his spot in the rotation once Monte Morris returns?
Langlois: It’s going to be driven by performance. If Hayes continues his upward trajectory as a shooter – over the last six games before Tuesday’s tough loss to Atlanta, he’d hit 48.5 percent overall and 39.1 percent from three – then, yes, he’s going to stick in the rotation and likely as a starter because of his defense and the way his size allows Monty Williams free reign to employ whatever scheme he prefers. Williams likes the way Hayes complements Cade Cunningham as someone who can bring the ball up, share playmaking duties and handle a tougher defensive matchup to allow Cunningham to funnel more of his focus into the other end. The battle for minutes in the backcourt will be keen if Williams ever has all six of Hayes, Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Alec Burks, Marcus Sasser and Morris available. Sasser has thrust his hat into the ring for sure with his varied scoring abilities and pizzazz as a rookie.
Mark (Macomb Twp., Mich.): Was “Theme Night” taken off the Detroit Pistons app? This is how we knew what uniform and giveaway was for each night.
Langlois: No, it was not removed. Just go to the “Fan Zone” section and you’ll find “Theme Nights and Giveaways” prominently displayed.
@viotto.illustra/IG: Does it make sense to play Cade so many minutes? He seems affected by fatigue.
Langlois: Cunningham is sixth in minutes per game at 36.2 and leads in total minutes by 38 played because the Pistons are one of only two teams to have played 12 games through 21 days for the Pistons since their season started Oct. 25. They had three back-to-back sets in the season’s first 13 days, which didn’t help matters while they were also dealing with a catastrophic injury situation. The Pistons are not going to give Cunningham a workload that in their estimation would increase his injury exposure – those things remain at least as much art as science despite the explosion in technology to monitor a player’s biometrics and everything else – but, yeah, I’m sure they’d like to be able to play him a little less. Getting Jaden Ivey back helps. Getting Monte Morris back will help even more when that happens.
@marcus.lavence/IG: Opinion on Alex Saar?
Langlois: Don’t really have one. Big guy who seems to cover a lot of ground defensively. I think the Pistons feel very strongly that Jalen Duren is their center of the future, but if Saar is the best guy on the board next June when the Pistons are on the clock, I would expect Troy Weaver to lean toward best player available if he sees any discernible gap between Saar and whoever is next on his board. In a perfect world, I think the Pistons would like another athletic wing and preferably one with the 3-point tool in his arsenal. Those guys are pretty few and far between, alas.
@lfetz93/IG: How does Ausar Thompson get so many rebounds?
Langlois: Good question, wish I had a better answer than the obvious – he’s exceptionally quick for his size and has the instincts that tell his body to go get the ball. That combination – the physical gifts, the processing ability – combined with a flat-out desire to grab the basketball before anyone else make him a uniquely talented rebounder. It’s remarkable that someone who spends the bulk of his time playing on the perimeter can rank among the top rebounders in the league. The only players with more total rebounds than Thompson are Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert. The only player with more offensive rebounds is Mitchell Robinson. You might notice a trend there – they’re all 7-foot centers.