The days of aging, mediocre athletes with average skills playing to a subpar record seems to be gone for the Detroit Pistons. This Pistons team is losing plenty, but using a roster full of young players who possess enough athleticism, skills and upside that they could reasonably develop into crucial contributors on a contending team. Saddiq Bey, Hamidou Diallo, Sekou Doumbouya, Frank Jackson, Josh Jackson, Saben Lee, Dennis Smith Jr., and Isaiah Stewart are the most obvious members of this group. But the list goes further; Killian Hayes might possess skills and basketball smarts that could allow him to play way above his muted athleticism.
We also need to keep in mind that Detroit currently has four picks in the coming draft. Taking into account Troy Weaver’s track record so far as the GM in Motown, this could mean another four young, athletic, skilled players with high upside. And there will be a possibility to acquire such players via trades and free agency, too.
Finally, there are two other young players on Pistons roster, Deividas Sirvydis and Tyler Cook, who we can’t include on the list at the moment – as they’re still only prospects to be prospects – but this doesn’t mean that they can’t make a run to get somehow on it in the near future.
There is such a thing as too much youth, however. You can only develop so many guys, and you need to decide which players are worth purchasing some long-term stock on. Without heavy investments in role and minutes on the floor into players with the highest upside, they won’t have an opportunity to reach their peak. And no team can provide a dozen or so young players everything their optimal development requires.
Although we don’t have a crystal ball, we can try to identify some factors that will contribute to Troy Weaver’s decision for this young crop of players. Here is a breakdown of this group as it stands today from youngest to oldest.
Killian looks to be the point guard best suited for Casey’s motion offense. He showed some good feel to play off the ball, even though his shot is a work in progress (to put it mildly). When playing with the ball, he’s a great facilitator and he can attack the rack. He needs to continue to be more aggressive on offense, and focus on getting stronger and more consistent with his jumper.
If it all pans out for him, he really can be a bigger Goran Dragić and one of the better defensive point guards in the NBA. And Casey has shown he can build point guards without premier athleticism in Kyle Lowry in Toronto. He’s in the first year of his rookie deal. Maybe the offense never comes and he busts out, but he’ll be in Detroit next year and beyond as the team tries to figure out what they have in Hayes.
Is there any prospect that screams Deee-troit Basketball more than Isaiah Stewart? I think that Troy just can’t imagine a future of Detroit basketball under his tenure without this kid as much as we just can’t imagine the past of Detroit basketball without Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace. The former Husky shows the same determination as those Pistons Legends to do everything to win every play.
And, in spite of his young age, he’s winning many plays, on both ends of the floor. On defense, he can be nightmare both when defending inside and on perimeter while switching; he can dismantle P&Rs in all kinds of way; and he can protect the rim and contests shots all over the field. And on offense, he’s good playing off of others, connecting on P&R lobs, dump offs and other dishes inside or outside in pick and pops. He can also create his own offense down low and create for others from high post.
He’s showing all this while being in first year of his rookie deal and is constantly improving. Someone possessing all those skills will fit with every roster there’ll be around. And his abovementioned determination is necessary to change any roster into a contender.
Sekou is the only player on the roster Troy Weaver did not acquire.
In his second year, he remains the third-youngest player on the team, and his game is still very immature. However, in his immaturity, he has shown good signs on both ends of the floor that you wonder who he can be when he finally will mature. After the season, Sekou has two more years on his rookie deal under the team’s control, plus the possibility of a qualifying offer for another season or a multi-year deal as a restricted free agent. And Troy showed to have some patience for the French youngster by keeping him through the deadline.
Part of keeping him was likely his age, and part of it was the likely minimal return in a player who has yet to show much. But Sekou has shown a few flashes that he could be a part of a core of up and coming team, and next year with the Pistons able to send players to the G League’s Motor City Cruise close by, Doumbouya could combine development, maturity, playing time and results.
Needless to say, next year is going to be huge for Sekou. The biggest question will be how much patience Weaver has left for the only player he had nothing to do with bringing to Detroit.
Troy had Saben valued as a first-round pick. He took him in the second round, signed him to two-way contract, only for the former Commodore to confirm that he belongs in the NBA at the point guard position.
The young kid is a very good defender and growing playmaker. He’s got the Weaver-approved character and work ethic. The question is how much he’ll be able to contribute off the ball on a team already developing a young point guard. The offense that is based on ball movement with as many points of attack as possible can’t have too many on-ball players that are not a perimeter threat. Saben showed some good signs as cutter and spot-up shooter. In college, he also showed a lot as a two-guard scorer. Can he take this skill to the next level? He’ll probably need to become a much more prolific three-point marksman.
He also will be a restricted free agent after the season. He was taken in the same draft as Killian for a reason, but depending on how this upcoming draft shakes out, Lee could be on the outside looking in.
Saddiq seems like the epitome of a Troy Weaver player. The Pistons GM gave up quite a bit in Luke Kennard and four second-round picks in order to secure the No. 19 pick, and the gamble paid off with a two-way, high-skill, high-character player.
Bey is already a staple in the rotation as a defender and 3-point shooter, and he continues to aggressively develop his game. He’s gone from stand-still shooter to some opportune bully ball to drives with a handsome dribble and Wayne Ellington-esque off-the-dribble triples. It all shows that he’s growing into a versatile player who could be a positive contributor as either a focal point or an ancillary piece of a team’s offense. And his defense remains excellent for a 22-year-old player. He’s so good with so many years of team control left, he’s not going anywhere.
Hami has the Troy Weaver connection stretching back to his Oklahoma City days. As a Piston, the Kentucky alum had a great start, but lately he’s been a bit lost in the shuffle. He flourished as a creator from the weak side, but he often struggles when asked to initiate the offense.
Hami is also in the last year of his rookie deal. Is he worth further investment? No doubt. The kid seems to have the character and defensive skills to be a Piston, and his cap-hold is barely over $2 million. That low cap hold is one of the reasons the Pistons traded for him. They will be able to use the cap mechanics to sign a $8 million(?) player using only $2 million in cap space this offseason. But if you want to invest in him, you need to put him on the floor with players allowing him to play to his advantages so he can be a positive contributor on offense to go with his quality, though a bit inconsistent, defense.
As we suggested when it was first rumored, Frank came to the right place at the right time when he signed with Detroit. Dawne Casey designed a great role for him. The two-way hooper has become one of the most prolific bench gunners in the league. You can use one of those no matter who else you’re sharing a roster with. But owing to this, next year he won’t be as cheap as he is now.
Despite a good effort level, he doesn’t play Detroit brand of defense, and doesn’t have Weaver-like measurables as an undersized two-guard, though he does have a decent 6-foot-7 wingspan. Jackson’s 3-point proficiency is proving invaluable on a team without many high-level perimeter players, and at just 22 years old, he looks like he has an immediate future in Detroit.
Dennis Smith Jr.
Dennis had an all-too-brief renaissance with the Pistons before injuries derailed his season. Maybe he can use his attacking style with his developing defense and grow into a poor man’s Kyle Lowry with greater athleticism. But as with Saben, the big question is how productive can he be without the ball in his hands.
Another question: Won’t a qualifying offer to his rookie deal or eventual post rookie deal be too expensive to find out whether he can be an athletic version of Lowry that can contribute much off the ball? The truth is, Smith has a large cap hold this offseason, and Detroit is likely to renounce his rights in order to create some cap space. Smith is sure to sign a lesser deal to stay in the NBA, but it probably won’t be with Detroit. It looks almost certain Smith’s stay in Detroit will be brief.
Josh is a Detroit kid, and it’d be a great story to keep building a local product. He’s still working on playing under control on both ends, and he’s ending the season strong in this regard. The version of Josh Jackson who controls his game can definitely be an important piece of a contender. The only question is if he can go from long stretches of strong play and turn it into an entire season of playing effectively and under control.
If he can, he has a long career in front of him. He’s got one year left for $5 million for the team to find out. That low salary profile makes him easy enough to retain, but also an extremely easy piece to throw into a potential trade as Troy looks to continue remaking his roster.