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Pistons Point Guards: Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes lead a young unit with plenty to prove

We examine the depth, rotation, and roles of the point guards on the Detroit Pistons roster

NBA: Miami Heat at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons didn’t make many changes to the roster this offseason, but the point guard room does look significantly different. Is different better? How will the point guard rotation look? How does this unit stack up against the other units (wings and bigs) on the team?

Let’s dive in.

Question 1: Are the Pistons better at point guard today, than they were last season?

Let’s review the players who played point guard for the Pistons last season vs the players who are slated to be on the team on opening day.

2020-21 point guards

Killian Hayes, Dennis Smith, Derrick Rose, Frank Jackson, Saben Lee, Cory Joseph.

2021-22 point guards

Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham, Frank Jackson, Saben Lee, Cory Joseph.

IN: Cade Cunningham
OUT: Dennis Smith, Derrick Rose

Is Cade Cunningham > than Dennis Smith and Derrick Rose?

Dennis Smith played only 23 games for the Pistons last season (in a trade that reunited Derrick Rose with Tom Thibodeau in New York). Smith’s run with the Pistons was fairly uneventful. He averaged under 20 minutes a game, and scored 7 points, 3.7 assists, and 2.7 rebounds.

Rose only played 15 games for the Pistons last season, but was effective in his time with the team. With the Pistons, Rose averaged 14 points, 4 assists, and almost 2 rebounds on 50/40/88 shooting splits.

Considering neither player played much for the Pistons last season, it’s hard to say that the Pistons won’t get more output and value from Cade Cunningham over the course of an 82 game season. So yes, Cade > than Dennis Smith and Derrick Rose, as far as impact to the team goes.

Looking at the residual point guards from last season’s roster, Killian Hayes, Frank Jackson, Saben Lee, Cory Joseph, expectations are obviously the highest for Hayes. Hayes missed significant time with a hip injury last season, and his lack of shooting has certainly made fans’ confidence in him wane.

I think Hayes, for me at least, met expectations. Going into the draft, Hayes projected as an above-average passer, solid defender, and a below-average shooter. There were questions about his athleticism, particularly his speed and leaping ability, but many felt like his size would give him a nice defensive floor for the position.

Do we feel any different about any of the above, today? I think Hayes will be a really solid player for the Pistons this season. Of course, his ability to shoot the ball with consistency will dictate how high the ceiling is for this group.

With the addition of Cade and the projected growth of Hayes, this unit does look better today, than it did opening day 2020-21.

Detroit Pistons Open Practice Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Question 2: What does the point guard depth chart look like?

I think it’s pretty clear the opening day depth chart will look like this:

1A Killian Hayes, 1B Cade Cunningham, 2. Cory Joseph, 3. Frank Jackson, 4. Saben Lee.

While Hayes is the “starting” point guard, both Hayes and Cunningham figure to share point guard responsibilities. Cory Joseph is the lone veteran in the group and is someone the Pistons trust, as evident by the team re-signing him to a two-year deal this offseason. Troy Weaver has consciously infused veterans into his young roster. As “boring” as fans might find someone like Joseph, his presence on and off the court makes a lot of sense, especially in this positional group which has a combined five season of NBA experience compared to Joseph’s 11.

While Joseph figures to be the first point guard off the bench, my gut tells me the Pistons are hoping for Frank Jackson to take another step forward this season. Like Joseph, Jackson was re-signed to a two-year deal this offseason. Jackson played particularly well with the Pistons last season. In a limited role, he averaged 50/40/80 splits and nearly 10 points per game.

The Pistons also like Saben Lee—so much so that they gave him a three-year deal. If you are keeping track, that’s one more year than Frank Jackson and Cory Joseph got. However, it’s hard to see Lee over taking either Joseph or Jackson for as long as either player are on the roster. Jackson and Joseph offer more consistency, both in shooting and in overall play.

Lee does have a few paths to playing time. If anyone above him on the depth chart gets injured, he would obviously command more playing time. Additionally, if the Pistons are not in the conversation for a play-in tournament opportunity, Dwayne Casey will probably lean on his younger players late in the season. Lastly, if the Pistons end up trading Joseph or Jackson, Lee would once again be first in line to absorb those minutes.

Question 3: What is the outlook for the point guards?

Overall, the point guard position figures to be one of the deeper positional groups on the team. It is certainly one of the most exciting. However, the ceiling of this group definitely rides on the shoulders of Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham. There’s not much NBA experience between those two players, which means that consistent production from this unit could be hard to come by. Still, it’s hard to look at this roster and think that this isn’t one of the best units on the team.

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