We are a quarter through the NBA season, which means we’ve seen enough of the Pistons to know what is working, and what needs some calibration. In this post, we will take a look at what the Pistons are doing well, what needs tweaking, and what likely can’t be fixed until the offseason.
Let’s jump in.
Killian and Cade can work
I know some of you are skeptical about the fit between Cade and Killian, at least offensively, but I think the two players are a near-perfect fit. Defensively there’s not much to dislike. Both players’ engines run hot, and both have shown the potential to be above average NBA defenders with above-average length and size. In fact, Killian’s typically drawing the more difficult backcourt assignment, which takes some pressure off of Cade.
It’s not just defensively, where Cade has benefited from Killian. The area Cade has struggled the most offensively is in the turnover department, where he is turning the ball over almost 4 times per game. Simply put, at this stage in their careers neither player needs to be solely responsible for bringing the ball up, and both have shown that they can knock down feeds from the other.
It’s clear that Killian needs to be more assertive offensively. We’ve seen glimpses of that at times, most recently in the first half of the Suns game, but it’s got to be happening more consistently. If Killian can be more assertive this backcourt can work long-term.
Saddiq Bey is at his best when he’s a 3 & D player
Bey has not played well offensively this season. He is shooting 34% from the floor, 29% from three, a decline of 6% and almost 10% from his rookie season. Part of the reason for that is shot selection.
Bey is shooting more than 12 shots per game this season. Breaking his shot selection down further, he is taking 4.5 shots per game on catch and shoot situations, 3.6 pull-ups, and 4.5 shots 10 feet or less from the basket. In Bey’s rookie season he took about 10 shots per game, 5 of which were catch and shoot 3’s, 1.9 pull-up jumpers per game, and 2.4 shots at the rim. The biggest difference in Bey’s shooting from a season ago is the pull-up jumper—he’s shooting more of them per game, and he wasn’t particularly good in that area as a rookie, making only 28.4%.
It is true that Bey was somewhat of a specialist from behind the line last season (on high volume no less) so naturally, teams are running Bey off the three-point line. When teams close out hard on Bey, he needs to swing the ball instead of taking dribble pull-ups.
Cade needs to get the ball in the post more frequently
Whereas Bey needs to get back to his rookie form by taking more catch and shoot 3s, Cade needs to get the ball near the rim. Despite “average NBA athleticism”, Cade has been very good near the basket this season. That’s no surprise, Cade operated well out of post-ups in his only college season.
In the NBA, Cade is shooting 5.3 shots per game 10 feet or less at the rim, and he is making 49% of those attempts. In watching the Pistons this season, most of those attempts have come off of drives. That’s great, but there’s still some meat on the bone in terms of maximizing Cade’s skill around the rim.
In the few instances where he’s gotten the ball in the post, Cade has shown effectiveness with left- and right-hand floaters. He’s also passed well out of the post, and I think it’s apparent to all who watch the Pistons that the team could benefit from easier looks at the basket. Part of being an effective scorer in the NBA is getting shots at the rim and at the free-throw line, especially when your shot isn’t falling. By getting Cunningham the ball in the post, the Pistons can create more opportunities for Cade to do just that.
When Jerami Grant comes back, he needs to pass more
Jerami Grant is currently sidelined for six weeks. Shortly after his return is the NBA trade deadline. If he is still wearing a Pistons uniform, he’ll need to figure out how to better integrate himself around others’ games — particularly Cunningham. It’s weird. Grant is averaging almost the exact same numbers from a season ago, but it feels like he is playing much worse. Seriously, Jerami is taking about 16 shots per game vs. 17 from a season ago. He is shooting about 41% from the field vs. 42% last year. His three-point percentage is nearly identical too at 33% this year vs. 35% last year. Heck, even if you get really into the weeds on Grant’s shooting splits (catch and shoot, pull-ups, etc) he is averaging nearly the same type of shot per game as he did last year.
So why does it feel like Grant has regressed?
My answer, Cade Cunningham.
Now that the Pistons have Cade, fans are more aware that Grant is taking 22% of his shots at or near the end of the shot clock—something Grant did last season too—because they want Cade making that decision to pass or shoot in those situations. Further, fans are watching cade stand wide open in a corner when Grant takes a contested mid-range pull-up as the shot clock expires.
These were bad shots last year, and they remain bad shots a year later. The biggest difference is that it’s more noticeable because the alternative options (Cade) are preferable (at least in fans' minds) to last year’s options.
I’ll admit, I am shocked to see how similar Grant’s performance has been this year compared to last. I fully expected to see a significant dip in his shot selection and shooting splits with as many times as I’ve watched him take a contested shot off of multiple dribbles as the shot clock winds down in favor of swinging the ball to a teammate. Yet it is clear from reviewing his stats that the only thing that has changed, at least for me, is that Grant is no longer the “best” or “only” option on offense.
The Pistons need athletic bigs in the worst way
Who would have thought that Kelly Olynyk, Luka Garza, Isaiah Stewart, and Trey Lyles wouldn’t provide enough rim protection on defense, and easy lop opportunities on offense? Ok, that was rhetorical. The Pistons' lack of athleticism in the frontcourt is painfully obvious and it is hurting the team on both ends of the floor. The Pistons are the worst rebounding team in the NBA, and allow the 18th most points in the paint. The Pistons are also 14th in the NBA in blocks per game, with a lot of that coming from Grant.
It isn’t sexy drafting big men near the top of the draft, which is likely where the Pistons will be selecting this offseason. However, a lengthy big man who can block shots, rebound, and convert lobs in the post to easy dunk attempts would make the biggest difference in the on-court performance for the Pistons. Fortunately, this upcoming rookie class has a few players that could fill this void for the Pistons, headlined by Chet Holmgren, who is averaging 5.5 blocks and 11 rebounds, per 40 minutes. Oh, he checks the length box too standing 7’0 tall with a reported 7’6 wingspan.