In 2002, the Detroit Pistons drafted Tayshaun Prince. Prince would play 11 seasons with the franchise, win a championship in 2004, carve his name in history for Detroit, and become the best wing player the Motor City has seen in the 2000s.
Immediately after 2002, the Pistons awful luck with wings began.
It started in 2003, when then General Manager Joe Dumars drafted Darko Milicic over future Hall-of-Famer Carmelo Anthony. Subsequent draft picks on the wing either fizzled out or left town before they could succeed (Carlos Delfino, Austin Daye, Khris Middleton, Arron Afflalo). Dumars made sure to make one last swing at filling this hole in Detroit before stepping down from the position in 2014.
Let’s just say, Josh Smith being pigeonholed into playing wing on a roster with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond didn’t exactly go very well.
And so, the wing issues went on. This is not to say the Pistons have not tried to address this issue. Stan Van Gundy drafted Stanley Johnson in 2015 and many thought he was the wing of the future in Detroit. During Johnson’s fourth season in Detroit, however, he was shipped off to Milwaukee and is hanging on by a thread in the NBA.
The Pistons have had plenty of issues elsewhere, as would be expected on a team with only two playoff appearances and zero playoff wins in 12 years. However, the lack of production from the wing position has been a constant, glaring flaw the entire time.
Detroit has witnessed production, no matter how short the time was, at every other position since 2010. Whether it was Reggie Jackson before the injuries, Drummond throughout the decade, Blake Griffin most recently, or players like Luke Kennard, every position in Detroit has seen some level of success.
Besides a wing.
This has been a core reason Detroit has been mostly awful since getting rid of Chauncey Billups in 2008. Since 2009, the Pistons have ranked in the top-20 in shooting percentage at the rim only three times. Of course, this cannot be blamed entirely on the lack of athletic wings, but it sure as hell takes up a large chunk of the load.
This past year serves no better example of why this position should be number one on the Pistons needs and has been for a decade.
The Pistons ranked 16th last season in total amount of possessions that ended with a cut to the basket. Players like Bruce Brown and Sekou Doumbouya have shown the willingness to cut to the basket when off-ball.
That’s great! However, the conversion rate on these cuts is just flat out awful.
Detroit ranked DEAD LAST in efficiency on these cuts, scoring only 1.14 points per possession. This would be the second straight year the Pistons ranked dead last in the NBA in this category.
Just imagine how much better this team would’ve been during Griffin’s year in 2018-19 if they simply had a wing who could’ve converted the looks Griffin created for others at the rim. I mean, they’ve finished DEAD LAST for the past two seasons.
It’s not just cutting and finishing these cuts that the Pistons need, however, this is just the most glaring way of showing just how bad Detroit is at finishing at the rim.
Dwane Casey and the front office can prioritize finding a point guard all they want, they have good reason to. However, nothing will ever materialize in Detroit until this franchise can find themselves an athletic wing who is not only willing to cut and run in transition, but can actually finish these easy looks.
Doumbouya could be that guy down the road, but his rookie season gave you a mixed bag of what to believe.
As far as cutting the rim, Doumbouya was OK his rookie season. He scored 1.22 points per possession on his cuts to the rim, which would rank in the 42nd percentile across the league. I made a video a few weeks ago talking about the biggest bright spot from Doumbouya’s rookie season was his willingness to cut and his IQ of how to play off-ball.
This isn’t great, but Synergy would call his ranking “average” which is exactly what it is.
However, another area that many Pistons fans and writers thought Doumbouya would find immediate success in was transition.
This could not have been further from the truth during his rookie season.
The Pistons scored 1.10 points per possession in transition, which would rank 15th in the NBA. This was in large part due to the arrival of Derrick Rose and his ability to get easy baskets for himself and others with his electrifying athleticism.
Doumbouya, however, was the worst player for Detroit in transition by a WIDE margin. Every other player on the roster (outside of Brandon Knight who only has 15 possessions) scored at least 1.0 points per possession in transition. Doumbouya, though, scored a putrid .759 points per possession; this would rank in the 6th percentile across the NBA.
The point of this is not to destroy the 19-year-old and assume he’ll never reach the potential the Pistons and their fans think he has. The point is that, as of right now, the Pistons don’t have a single wing on their roster who can cut or run in transition and also convert these (or any!) looks at the rim.
And they haven’t for over a decade.
To be fair, the Pistons desperately need anyone who can finish looks at the rim. This past season, Detroit scored 1.14 points per possession on all baskets around the rim that were not post-ups; this ranked 24th in the entire NBA.
Finding an athletic wing who can finish above the rim, however, simply would make life so much easier for these Pistons.
Maybe Detroit won’t focus on this issue this summer, as the Pistons very likely could be hitting full rebuild. Getting good players who can fix this problem may not be in the teams vision right now.
This must be number one in their long-term vision, though. Detroit has been missing an athletic wing who can contribute since the days of the Palace Prince.
It’s great to see that Brown and Doumbouya have the off-ball IQ to cut to the rim when the defense is giving it to them. At some point in Detroit, this cannot be good enough. At some point, Troy Weaver and this team will need to find an athletic wing who can finish above the basket.
Weaver cannot follow in his predecessors footsteps and fail repeatedly at finding that player.
But, don’t worry Pistons fans. It’s only been over a decade.
No way it could go last another decade...