Pistons Season Rewind: Fontecchio proves a good fit from day one

It speaks to basketball’s globalization that seven players born outside the United States suited up for the Pistons in the 2023-24 season. On opening night of the 2023-24 NBA season, 125 players – roughly a quarter of the player pool – from 40 countries or territories populated NBA rosters.

There are players to be found everywhere, it seems, and NBA teams are expending more resources than ever before to find players outside the normal bins of the draft, trades or free agency. Simone Fontecchio was one of those players two years ago, a young EuroLeague veteran in his prime.

The Utah Jazz plucked Fontecchio from Spain’s ACB, considered the best of the domestic leagues, and gave him a two-year contract in 2022. With the Jazz mindful of a coming cap logjam and Fontecchio’s two-year deal nearing its completion, he became one of the most-discussed players as the February trade deadline neared.

In his debut with the Pistons, Fontecchio – without benefit of a practice – scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds off the bench. He assimilated seamlessly and became a fast fan favorite at Little Caesars Arena for his hustle and 3-point aplomb. He’s due to become a restricted free agent, which means the odds are heavily in favor of Fontecchio in a Pistons uniform on opening night in October.

Here’s a look at Fontecchio’s past, present and future:

PROFILE: 6-foot-8 forward, 28 years old, 2 NBA seasons

STATUS: Fontecchio is set to become a restricted free agent in July after completing the two-year contract he signed with the Utah Jazz prior to the 2022-23 NBA season

2023-24 STATS: Averaged 10.5 points and 3.7 rebounds in 25 minutes a game over 66 games including 43 starts. In 16 games with the Pistons, nine starts, Fontecchio averaged 15.4 points and 4.1 rebounds in 30 minutes a game while shooting .426 from the 3-point arc on 6.3 attempts per game.

DID YOU KNOW? In trading with Utah for Simone Fontecchio at the February trade deadline, the Pistons sent to the Jazz another player with roots in Italy. The Pistons sent a 2024 second-round pick plus the rights to their 2022 second-rounder, Gabriele Procida. Procida, 21, was the 36th pick in 2022. He’s played the past two seasons for Alba Berlin, where Fontecchio also played in the 2020-21 season before spending a season in Spain. 

A LOOK BACK: Fontecchio applied for the 2015 NBA draft but withdrew in mid-June. He became automatically eligible for the 2017 draft as a 21-year-old but went undrafted. Fontecchio played with Bologna, Milan and Reggio in the Italian league from 2012 through 2020 before joining Alba Berlin. Utah signed Fontecchio to a two-year deal in July 2022 after his first season in Spain when Fontecchio, then 26, was regarded as the top available forward on the international market. Fontecchio was one of Italy’s top players at the 2020 Olympic games in which the Italian side lost to silver medalist France in the quarterfinal round. Fontecchio debuted with the Jazz in October 2022 and appeared in 52 games as a rookie, making six starts and averaging 15 minutes a game. Fontecchio shot 33 percent from the 3-point line as a Jazz rookie, taking nearly two-thirds of his shot from three.

THE SEASON THAT WAS: Utah was 4-11 when the Jazz moved Fontecchio into the starting lineup on Nov. 25. From that point until dealing Fontecchio at the trade deadline to the Pistons, Utah went 22-15. Fontecchio, a strong 3-point shooter as he blossomed into an NBA rotation prospect in Europe, saw his 3-point accuracy improve from 33 percent as a rookie to 39.1 percent in his time with Utah in season two as his 3-point rate went from 61.2 percent as a rookie to 65.1 percent with the Jazz in 2023-24. Fontecchio’s 3-point rate after joining the Pistons become more moderated as 53.2 percent of his attempts after the trade were from the 3-point arc. Fontecchio suffered a toe injury when the Pistons lost to Miami on March 17 as Bam Adebayo hit a 3-point shot at the buzzer and that ended his season. Fontecchio scored in double figures in 13 of his 16 games after the trade, scoring a career-high 27 points and hitting 4 of 5 from the 3-point arc in a March 9 loss to Dallas. In Fontecchio’s final 10 games, he made a 3-point basket in all but one and hit 29 of 65, 44.6 percent.

A LOOK AHEAD: Fontecchio’s 3-point shooting and competitiveness at the defensive end helped the Pistons to their best stretch of basketball before his toe injury ended his season four weeks early. Though a restricted free agent, the full expectation is that Fontecchio will be back in Detroit for the 2024-25 season. Equally effective starting or coming off the bench, Fontecchio figures prominently in the rotation as a complementary player who fits well alongside Cade Cunningham or serving as an anchor for the bench unit. At 28 and with two NBA seasons now under his belt, Fontecchio figures to be primed for his best seasons. Though the 3-point shot figures to remain a prominent part of Fontecchio’s value, he showed after coming to the Pistons that there’s some real off-the-dribble potential worth mining.

MONEY QUOTE: “The last month wasn’t really easy with the injury. I would have loved to be on the court with the guys and help them fight these last 15 games, but as I said many times, I’m looking forward to the future. I loved my time here, loved Detroit, loved the Pistons organization and I think we’re going to work this summer. Everybody looks toward me staying here long term. That’s what I want, that’s what we want. I’m really excited for that.” – Simone Fontecchio as the season ended