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Detroit Pistons: 30-game Progress Report for every player

Cade Cunningham is the real deal and then there are many question marks

Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Here we are at the 30 game mark. I take it many of us in the Detroit Pistons fanbase are ready for the season to end and see some new blood. Or are anxious for the NBA trade deadline to infuse some fresh and needed talent. This is not to disparage anyone on this current team, but we keep it real as always here at DBB and what has been going on between the hoops has been more bad than good.

At this stage, progress reports on each player are about separating the difference between development and limitations. It is about trying to tell if a player is just going through some growing pains or if they’ve really hit a wall and this is who they are and they either need better players around them to help or that maybe this is it for them and they’ve shown all they can be as an NBA player. And I think it’s hard to be patient as a fanbase and especially a fan base who has seen so many bad teams for so many years that now has a big glimmer of hope in No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham.

So obviously for the young guys, we definitely need to practice patience. Conversely, it is fine to be frustrated by the play of the team’s few veterans. I’ll try and factor this in in each of the little reviews and breakdowns when we’ve run into a player that has definitely capped out their NBA development and being on this team is not helping that. I also am not going to do a grade for the coaching staff since Coach Casey has been dealing with personal issues that have caused him to miss two games, so it’s unfair to grade any staff in that context.

So again I’m gonna start by giving the team’s leaders in each different statistical category and then go into the individual breakdowns for each player and give them a letter grade based on my own evaluation. I will list them in ascending order according to minutes played. As always, I will try to contextualize and explain why I’m giving them the grade and everybody is graded on a different scale whereas someone like Trey Lyles obviously has a different criteria he needs to fulfill versus someone like Cade Cunningham. so with that being said let’s get started.

Team Leaders in the Following Statistical Categories:

  • Points: Jerami Grant (482)
  • Rebounds: Isaiah Stewart (235)
  • Assists: Cade Cunningham (129)
  • Blocks: Isaiah Stewart (31)
  • Steals: Cade Cunningham (35)
  • Free Throw Attempts: Jerami Grant (146)
  • Turnovers: Cade Cunningham (95)
  • Personal Fouls: Isaiah Stewart (78)
  • True Shooting Percentage: Hamidou Diallo (57.5%)
  • Free Throw Attempt Rate: Jerami Grant (38.2%)
  • Total Rebounding Percentage: Isaiah Stewart (17.5%)
  • Assist Percentage: Cade Cunningham (27.8%)
  • Turnover Percentage: Frank Jackson (8.3%)
  • Usage: Jerami Grant (26.8%)

Kelly Olynyk, Luka Garza, Rodney McGruder, Jamorko Pickett, Isaiah Livers: INCOMPLETE

Olynyk remains injured and Garza, Pickett, and Livers have yet to play more than 164 minutes. McGruder has had spot duty here and there, but I feel it is unfair to give him a grade because he shows up some games and then he’s gone for a couple, and even when he does get minutes we never really see a sustained amount to give a good idea of what his skills and role is specifically on this team. I do want to give him some love here as that vet that understands 100% that he is here to mentor and if he gets playing time that’s cool and if he doesn’t give playing time that’s cool also. Always unselfish always ready to play McGruder gets the highest compliments from me for being a consummate professional and somebody I would always want on my team.

Saben Lee: B+ (233 total minutes)

I feel like for many of you it’s a great day because we’ve finally gotten to see consistent minutes from Saben Lee against actual NBA competition. He played in seven of the 10 games in this stretch, and when I was looking over his stats the most impressive thing to me is he averaged 3 assists to 1 turnover per game. That is always what you want out of your point guard whether he’s starting or the backup or third-string. create as many easy opportunities for your teammates as you can, run the offense as it’s intended, and limit your turnovers. Saban Lee is doing that already in his young career. I think he’s also providing a nice change of pace. Sometimes he can get overaggressive and drive without a plan, but I think it’s still helpful for this kind of a spark plug player to come in and run and hit the defense with a different look to where they can’t just sit back they have to be ready as soon as that rebound comes down and the Pistons are on the break. I tweeted this out the other day, but it bears repeating, Saban Lee is definitely in the Shawn Marion Level of jump shooters whose form makes me believe their shot will never go in no matter what the percentages say. And right now the percentages say 22.2% so it is bad. It’s tough to see the percentages getting any better because that is not something that was ever in Saban Lee’s bag or in his scouting report coming out of Vanderbilt, but if he could even get to 33% from 3-point range I think it would definitely open up at least one more element to his game.

Hamidou Diallo: B+ (408 total minutes)

While he is only 23 years old, I am going to lump Hamidou Diallo into the veteran category when thinking about development versus limitations. Why? Well for one this is his fourth year in the league so this is the time when he needs to start figuring out who he is and how that can best help his team on the basketball court. And I think he is prime example of a guy on this team who is an NBA player who has figured out his limitations while also not letting that hinder his development or his teammates. Last time I looked at Hamidou he was leading the team in true shooting percentage with 58.5% and now 10 games later he still leads the team with 57.5% so only a small dip in production.

This is noteworthy because the last games Miami and the Knicks are the first times this season where Diallo has taken double-digit shot attempts. So, he is still continuing to not waste shots and not hurt his teammates in that regard even while his offensive load has gone up. He also remains a great defender the only real lob threat this team has and just one of those guys who provide those morale and energy boost plays that make everybody get up and get back into it. I’m sure we would have all loved for him to shoot more threes and be able to drain them at a higher percentage, but again I go back to development versus limitations he knows his limits he’s not a three-point shooter so he’s not gonna just fire away from 3 and waste those shot opportunities. He will take the open ones when they’re there and hopefully, in another season or two, we see him attempt around three a game and be able to hit them at least 33%. I think that is a reasonable outcome for Diallo.

Josh Jackson: F (427 total minutes)

I still find it hard to believe that Josh Jackson has played more total minutes than Hamidou Diallo at this point. Well yes, he has taken a backseat the last 10 games, even when he is in the game he has disappeared. In this 10-game stretch, he only took a total of 20 field goal attempts. He was also inactive for four of these last 10 games. Really, Jackson is the flip side of Diallo because he is also a veteran not having been in the league for five years and we are starting to see quite possibly the end of his development and his limitations are a major hindrance.

In three out of his five seasons, he has posted true shooting percentages under 50% and in four out of his five seasons he has posted an effective field goal percentage under 48%. He also does not get to the free-throw line very often with his career-high being 3.6 per game. And when he has gotten there he has struggled to shoot above 70% from the free-throw line only doing so in two out of his five seasons. And he has never shot above 32.4% from 3 point range.

This is what I’m talking about when I say limitations. I don’t want this just to be a dressing down of Josh Jackson and his game, because he has brought a lot of defensive focus and definitely can score in bunches. However, not being able to have a consistent jump shot, not being able to get easier points at the free-throw line, and not being able to create more easy shots for his teammates create so many limitations for his own game as well as for his team. While I hesitate to say he’s playing his way out of the league, I do think it’s hard for him to find minutes on this team now when his replacement in Diallo continues to do well and it is hard to see what Jackson can bring if he cannot overcome even one of these limitations he has displayed on the court.

Trey Lyles: B+ (498 total minutes)

I think Lyles in addition to Cory Joseph are easy targets for criticism because of the development versus limitations debate. Many of us were sold on him as the stretch four in a backup role on this team, and while it’s easy to say he has not lived up to that role he should also be commended for having to play in a much different role and many more minutes than what I assume was envisioned for him when he signed this past offseason in Detroit.

We’ve seen Lyles at backup center over this past 10 games with all the injuries piling up. And he’s had to become more of a rim protector, which is not something I’m sure he’s really done to this point in his career. So again, yes, he does have limitations but he’s also showing development in areas that we didn’t know he had.

I will continue to point to both his free-throw attempt rate and his rebounding in these progress reports because they continue to be toward the top of this team. He is second in free throw attempt rate and fourth in total rebounds. He’s also third in offensive rebounds. He is physical, which is something again I don’t think he gets enough credit for as he mixes it up down low, rebounds well, and he finds ways to contribute besides just being a stretch four.

He’s draining 80.6% of his free-throw attempts so he’s not wasting opportunities there and he’s shooting 52.4% from two-point range so he is making sure to use most of his opportunities inside the three-point line. His true shooting percentage is 54.6% so it’s by no means terrible, but this is definitely where you see his lack of a consistent 3-point shot is hurting himself and the team right now.

I definitely feel like a broken record but if he could even get to average from 3-point range this would make a big difference. He’s been in the league six years but yet he’s still showing ways he’s developing and improving in little areas here and there while taking a step back in three-point shooting. Defensively, he is taking on too much because the team is asking him to switch out onto smaller and quicker guys and guard people at the top of the three-point line, and he is just not that level of athlete. But I will end with again him being one of only three Pistons that has played every single game this season which in my book always counts for something and was the difference between a solid B and the B+ he ended up getting.

Cory Joseph: B- (553 total minutes)

I wish you could all see me when I’m trying to write about Cory Joseph. There’s always a long sigh and a blank stare into the computer screen because I'm just always torn. Keeping it real, the main reason I have an issue with him is the way he plays takes the ball out of Cade Cunningham’s hands way too much, and to a lesser extent, the same is true of Killian Hayes.

But it’s not like I’m calling for him to be an off-ball shooter or do something other than play to his strengths. Again, thinking about development versus limitations, I think it’s safe to say that Cory Joseph stopped developing long ago. While this sounds like criticism, I assure you it is not intended to be. We know what kind of player he is, he knows what kind of player he is, and the coaching staff knows what kind of player he is, so he is only going to play that way.

What kind of player is he, you ask? A point guard who drives to the basket, who wants to run pick and roll, and who needs the ball in his hands in order to score because he likes to try to get to the rim. He’s always been a … I don’t wanna say reluctant 3-point shooter because it’s not clear that he’s hesitant to shoot them, it just seems more like he’s a last resort 3-point shooter. His career-high in three-point attempts per game is 2.3 and his career-high in percentage is 36.4% from downtown. So this combination of a guard who needs the ball in his hands, who is not someone who will go to the three points shot very often just makes it incredibly hard to pair with two of your youngest prospects being guards who you would like to have with the ball in their hands.

I do wonder if the team is starting to experiment now without him in the lineup because he can’t really play off of Cunningham or Hayes. He only appeared in six out of the 10 games in this last 10-game stretch. And it just felt like the flow of the team was crisper and there was less of the ball getting stuck in Joseph’s hands. I can’t criticize his shot selection within the three-point line because I think it is good and he’s shooting 50.6% from there and his true shooting percentage is 55.6% so he is one of the more efficient guys on this inefficient team, It is hard to criticize someone who the numbers indicate is not a net negative when it comes to making sure he’s not wasting his shot attempts. Defensively, he continues to compete but his size will always be an issue and as a backup, I think really the most you can ask for is just to remain focused and continue to compete which Joseph always does because he is a consummate professional.

Killian Hayes: D (622 total minutes)

I feel a little bad giving Killian in this grade because he is continuing to fight through a thumb injury, and the coaching staff seems like they don’t really have a plan for him many nights. But something’s gotta give, and the lack of development in Hayes’ game has to fall squarely on his shoulders.

The positives are obviously his defense as he’s becoming a really good man-to-man defender. Just throw him out there on the opposing point guard and you know he’s gonna give you everything he’s got and frustrate the opposition. He’s second on the team in assists with 89 so he definitely has the ability to be a playmaker that this team needs.

Unfortunately, that is really where it ends for Killian. He is dead last on this team in true shooting percentage with 45.0%. That is inexcusable for any starter at any level. While people were praising his three-point abilities most of the season, in these past 10 games he shot 8 of 31 which translates to 25.8% which has sunk his overall percentage to 31.9%. And despite being a 92.0% free-throw shooter he is 12th on this team in terms of free-throw attempt rate at 15.7%. He has only gotten to the line 25 times in total this season.

The numbers are not good and they are trending in the wrong direction for Killian. Again, I’m not taking the blame away from Killian because I think a lot of his issues stem from just being passive many times and he disappears too often in games where he’ll start off taking two or three shot attempts and then disappears for a couple of quarters before he shows up again.

Part of it is the ball will swing to him and then he lets it go to somebody else, and part of it is coaching in the scheme moving the ball away from him so I think it really is 50/50 at this point.

It would be great to see the coaching staff implement more drive and kick opportunities for Killian, but it would also be nice to see Killian let those three-pointers fly a little bit more when the ball is swung to him and he’s open. Last but not least, we do have to consider whether he really is more hurt than he and the team are letting on and if it might be time to sit him as a result. I know most of us don’t want to think about another injury issue to this team, but with his numbers really dipping these past 10 games and him having to sit out this past game against the Knicks the team really should start to reevaluate his thumb and sit him down to get him fully healthy if it really is bothering him that much because his offense is not helping the team at all in his almost nonexistent at this point in the season.

Frank Jackson: B+ (663 total minutes)

Our second of three Pistons who’ve been able to play all 30 games, Jackson is right on the edge of this discussion about development versus limitations. Like Hamidou Diallo, Jackson is 23 years old and is in his fourth year in the league. It’s clear he understands his role as a shooter above everything else with a 3-point attempt rate of 62.5% which is first on the team. He has attempted 167 threes versus 100 twos. And while he’s shooting 32.9%, he is most likely the team’s best three-point option many nights.

I think it is actually reasonable for him to approach 40% from 3 by the end of the season because he is incrementally increasing that percentage as the season wears on. Over his past 10 games, he averaged 6 three-point attempts per game and was able to convert 36.7% of them.

But, has he developed anything else other than three-point shooting? So far it seems he has added very little to his game. While I commend his ability to attack close-outs and his efficiency with his two-point attempts (54.0% inside the three-point line), everything hinges on his gravity as a 3-point shooter. So kudos to him for being able to pump fake guys or pull the ball back down when his defender closes out too hard, but he’s not creating anything outside of that kind of opportunity.

I want to pause here and say this isn’t a bad thing, I’m just saying that from a development standpoint everything in his offensive game is based on him being a 3-point shooter and that he understands his role and his limitations at this point. He clearly buys into his role and if he is going to show more he’s not going to force it on the court to where it will affect his teammates negatively or where it will affect his potential as this difference-making three-point shooter off the bench.

Case in point being Dec. 12 against Brooklyn where he went 6-for-13 from downtown. Unfortunately, he will stay out of the A range as long as he remains a nonfactor as a passer and a sieve as a defender. If you look back at that leaderboard, while he leads the team with the lowest turnover percentage at 8.3%, he is also dead last on the team in assists percentage at 7.0%. Even as a 3-point shooter off the bench this is inexcusable, in my opinion, and it’s definitely something he has to work on because teams will start to force him into situations where they run him off the line, he cannot get to the rim and then he has to make a pass. And defensively he’s just not good. The effort comes and goes, he doesn’t always get in a stance, and I’m not sure what his level of commitment is to that side of the ball. I still think he’ll be a productive 3-point shooter for a long time, but not being able to pass and being a bad defender will definitely determine how many minutes he’ll be able to get on a nightly basis.

Isaiah Stewart: C- (729 total minutes)

Beef Stew remains in a position similar to Killian in that it seems to be half on the coaching staff not deploying him as well as some of his other teammates, and the other half on him being too passive. On defense, I think he remains pretty good, but he’s not a rim protector. And he’s not a vertical pop athlete so that hinders him there to contest shots since he is 6-foot-8 inches, and that obviously hurts him as a vertical spacer on offense as well. But I think I’m more critical of Stewart because there are plenty of instances on film now where he gets the ball and nobody is around him, and you can see him just kind of looking around for somebody to pass the ball to or ready for whatever the next action is in the play. It would be great if he could shoot it in these instances whether it’s from 16 feet or whether it’s from behind the three-point line.

He doesn’t even need to shoot it in those instances either if he’s that wide open, he can drive it into the lane and make somebody try to stop him. Draw some contact, get some momentum, try for a dunk. To me, these are things that can only help the team because this is something that the defense is not going to expect. Back to the coaching staff, I don’t know why they’re not implementing something in these instances that are popping up more and more where Stewart will get the ball and nobody is guarding him. On the positive side of things, Isaiah Stewart’s rebounding percentage went up from the last 10-game progress report (16.3% last time). And while I said it that he’s not a rim protector, he’s still leads the team in with 31 blocks. He’s also second on the team in true shooting percentage posting 56.2%. And he remains the only Piston starter to consistently post a true shooting percentage over 55% all season. So unlike Killian, while he is being passive at times he is also not wasting his shot opportunities.

And he’s the one who I think development needs to be talked about more because it’s clear he’s still developing a lot of his skills, and it is up to the coaching staff to determine what his role is supposed to be. Maybe he gets better as a screener. Maybe the coaching staff developed some kind of mid-post package for him. Hopefully, they let him operate more in the short role where he can develop as a passer and a scoring threat. Until we get a better idea of what the coaching staff wants out of him and we see a consistent offensive role, I will definitely air on the side of he’s still developing and he’ll at least remain in this C range because again he’s not wasting his shot opportunities and he continues to be a high effort defender while developing his defensive IQ.

Jerami Grant B+ (797 total minutes)

I almost put Grant under incomplete but he did play five out of these past 10 games and he’s not gonna be on this progress report for a while due to the injury so I wanted to at least give him some shine here.

I do understand the fit questions a lot of people are having with Grant and Cade Cunningham, for me it remains difficult to give Jerami Grant anything less than a B-plus because of his consistent scoring, his defensive versatility, and the fact he remains the only piston to be able to consistently get to the free-throw line.

Despite missing these past five games with a thumb injury, he still leads the team in two-point shot attempts, points, and free-throw attempts. He also remains second on the team in blocks with 27. His ability to get to the free-throw line remains his best asset as he’s gotten to the line 146 times and the next closest guy on the Pistons is Saddiq Bey at 70. This is both good for Grant and bad for the Pistons as a whole.

Grant’s ability to get to the stripe is a big reason the Pistons are able to hang around and get back into games. His inconsistent 3-point shot is hurting him the most on offense, as in the five games before he got injured he was shooting 31.6% from 3 and that knocked his overall percentage down to 33.1%. But I will continue to criticize his lack of playmaking the most as he’s only posting a 14.1% assist percentage. That places him at 6th place on the Pistons and 102nd place overall in the NBA. but as we’re all aware and as we thought about a light here at DBB, Grant perhaps has played his last game as a Piston seeing as he is in many trade rumors and is quite possibly the best available player out there on the trade market. I do hope he stays a Piston if I’m being quite honest because I see how it can work but it just hasn’t quite been ironed out yet between him Cade Cunningham, Saddiq, and whoever else will remain on this team in the long term.

Cade Cunningham: A- (809 total minutes)

Over these past 10 games, Cade Cunningham has finally started to hit his stride it would seem. He has averaged the following per game stat line in these past 10 games:

18.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.9 blocks

45.0% from two-point range, 44.1% from 3 point distance, and 82.6% from the free throw line

These are definitely No. 1 overall pick type numbers and show just the vast array of skills that Cade possesses on a basketball court. It is not a stretch to say he is doing almost everything on the court for the team.

In the win against Miami, we even saw him at power forward in a lineup that featured Cory Joseph, Saben Lee, Frank Jackson, and Trey Lyles. While I personally hope to never see that lineup again, this just goes to show how versatile and how unselfish Cade is despite being a player with heliocentric offensive ability.

This does not mean he is a perfect basketball player. My main gripes with Cade, as I’m sure many of you share, are that he does not get to the free-throw line as often as someone with his ballhandling ability should, and he continues to make some very bad decisions that lead to sloppy turnovers.

Bryce Simon mentioned on a recent Motor City Hoops podcast that he’s gonna do a breakdown of how Cade gets to the rim and the different kinds of shots he utilizes on his way there, so I don’t want to step on his toes or give away too much there, but what I will say is I think Cade drives perpendicular to the rim a lot of times instead of driving straight at the rim, and this does not always lead to drawing contact from the defense.

He has a running hook shot where it looks like he’s just driving straight to the baseline just a little bit to the left or the right of the basket, but he’ll put it up and hook it so the defender has to reach across his body and he bounces it off the glass and the ball will go in the hoop. That kind of shot will be great when he keeps being able to consistently knock it down, but it seems like the refs are unwilling to call a foul on anybody that contests that shot because the defender is not necessarily hindering his progress as the rules state when calling a foul on a shot attempt.

So, I personally would like to see him drive more straight at the rim to try and initiate contact. But, this rolls over into the turnover issues that I think this is just a development thing that for someone with capabilities you feel safe that it’s only going to get better because of his IQ and his ability to gain skills in areas where people were uncertain he was going to be any good at—most notably is 3 point shooting which going into his freshman year at Oklahoma State was a big question mark.

Revel in his greatness and I only look forward to seeing more Cade and hope next time around at the halfway point I can give him that a plus because I can see him only getting better from this point.

Saddiq Bey: B (970 total minutes)

Please do not let it be lost on you that Saddiq is the Iron Man of the Pistons having played all 30 of their games, starting all 30 of their games, and is the only one to eclipse 900 minutes so far.

if you’ve been following DBB for a while, you know I am pretty high on Saddiq, but again we keep it real here and I’m not going to sugarcoat that he has been bad for a large portion of the season.

His percentages for the whole year currently stand at 42.0% from 2-point range, 30.6% from 3-point distance, and 80% from the free-throw line. This all translates into a terrible 47.3% true shooting percentage. Again, this is inexcusable for a starter in the NBA.

But again we need to look at all the context for Sadiq who is in the most difficult situation of any Piston because he is good enough to be a starter, but it is still undetermined the level of his skills on offense and whether or not he can be a primary option. He also remains the only Piston outside of Cade Cunningham and Jerami Grant who possesses any creation ability for himself and others.

Saddiq currently is 4th on the team in total assists with 74 which is good enough for a 12.7% assist percentage and he continues to post a sub 10% turnover percentage which currently sits at 8.6%. Further contextualizing this, his usage rate is 20.6%, that is third in the starting lineup on the team behind Cade Cunningham and Jerami Grant.

We’ll see if this trend continues but it is clear that Saddiq is not part of this turnover machine that hinders the Pistons a lot of times and he should be commended for taking care of the ball incredibly well.

Defensively he’s also really versatile, and he can cover some shooting guards in addition to his responsibilities lining up against small forwards and power forwards. His 3-point shot is slowly starting to come back as well. Unfortunately, a recent 3-for-13 performance against the Knicks really hurt his overall percentage in this 10-game stretch which is 32.8% and before this game it was 35.2%.

This highlights the difficult position Saddiq is in because he has to take those 13 three-point attempts on a night when the offense is stagnant and needs to come from somebody willing to step up.

I think when it comes to Saddiq, Beef Stew, and Killian we all should think about development, and that this a year when developing new skills means it is worth the lack of production and success on the floor. Simply put, they need the reps and either they get better and it becomes part of their game, or they never figure it out and it gets abandoned.

For Saddiq, however, he is the one at the forefront of this development because the team entrusts him with the most responsibility on both ends of the court. He is forced to step up with Grant, and Olynyk injured and Cunningham sidelined temporarily.

My plea is more than anything else we should learn our lesson as a fan base when we look back at guys like Khris Middleton and Spencer Dinwiddie. when the guys exhibit major potential even in a role player position please practice patience.

Thank you again so much for reading and supporting us here at Detroit Bad Boys. Let us know what you think in the comments give us your own grades for each of the players at the 30 game mark here. And definitely let me know what you think of my grades if I’m being too harsh if I’m being too easy, I definitely read all the comments even if I’m not able to respond to them all and I always appreciate the feedback positive or negative. For the next progress report I’m going to do it at the 41 game mark because that typically is the exact halfway point in an 82 game season so check back in at that point and I’ll probably do something a little bit different since we’ll have a better idea of who’s turned it around and who we might need to worry about.