The No. 1 overall pick wasn’t interested in making headlines. And while there is burbling tension regarding vaccination status and regional guidelines and players throughout media day were answering or refusing to answer questions about their decision to not be vaccinated, Pistons players at media day made no waves and talked repeatedly about a few topics — the importance of defense, everyone working hard and getting along, and being embraced by the city of Detroit.
Media day served as the antithesis of clickbait with the boldest claim being made by head coach Dwane Casey who mentioned the San Francisco Giants surpassing expectations in baseball and said “why not us?”
At the same time, nobody was talking about playoffs, rookie of the year honors, or All-Star berths. Instead player after player said it was about attacking each day and working to get better. And while Detroit is one of only a handful of teams reportedly 100% vaccinated, all Waver would say is the team is “in good standing” regarding vaccination rates.
The focus remained on the development of a very young team and making sure they are supported as they work on their games.
As Cade Cunningham said, who, for whatever else you want to say about his potential, often sounds like a 10-year vet:
“We’re all going to come in, be consistent, play hard, play to win, make the right play. At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. The team who does that more every day is going to win.”
And while I’m sure everyone in the organization would like to improve on the team’s 20-win mark from a season ago, wins are not the only litmus test for Year 2 of Troy Weaver’s restoration of the franchise.
“We have competitive guys in a competitive environment,” Weaver said about a roster that has now been completely overhauled since taking over the franchise over a year ago and with the longest-tenured player now being his 20-year-old first-round draft pick Killian Hayes.
Of course, as much as people like debating Weaver’s trio of first-round picks from last year, it was his most recent pick — No. 1 overall selection Cade Cunningham — that is driving most of the interest.
But, again, Weaver wasn’t interested in any grand proclamations.
“He’s a smart young man who loves to compete; who loves to work,” Weaver said. “There will be whatever the expectations are [from the outside], but the expectations inside the building will be to work your tail off.”
When asked about his expectations of Cade, Casey deadpanned, “One thing I know. Cade won’t be a bust.”
“It’s the NBA. Nothing is given to you,” Cunningham said. “If you can be consistent every day and work hard then good things will come. I’m not really gonna press trying to force the issue early. I’m going to make sure everything is smooth with the squad and be patient.”
At the same time, Cunningham has high expectations for himself, and he said he doesn’t take being the first selection for granted.
“I just see it as an opportunity to show everybody that I am the No. 1 pick, and I was taken there for a reason.”
When asked about Cunningham, his new teammates repeatedly highlighted his natural maturity, high basketball IQ and unselfish nature. When asked how they would work together on the floor, more than one Pistons said it would be easy because Cunningham makes it easy.
“He’s an easy guy to play with because he’s always thinking team first,” said Hayes, who will likely split ball-handling duties with Cunningham as part of a starting backcourt.
For his part, Hayes also mentioned he spent the offseason working on his game to bring more intensity, elevated defense and work on his shot so he can play off the ball.
Asked about the young backcourt duo and any potential tension regarding two young, developing point guards, Casey was emphatic that he don’t think there will be an issue.
“You’ve got to have multiple ball handlers in today’s NBA game,” Casey said, while noting today’s game is practically positionless. “You’ve got to have multiple playmakers.”
He also noted that when Hayes came back from France in September, he seemed to be a different kind of player and noted his conditioning and intensity level.
Another playmaking addition that Casey highlighted is the team’s big free-agent acquisition Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk, The center position, Casey said, will have a big play-making role in his offense. He also noted he’d had a “man crush” on Olynyk going back to his days coaching the Toronto Raptors.
Olynyk, who replaces Mason Plumlee in the big man rotation, is a career 36.7% 3-point shooter. After being traded to the Houston Rockets, Olynyk’s game really opened up and he averaged 19 points on 39% from 3 and 4.1 assists and five free-throw attempts per game. It seems the Pistons have a similar playmaking role in mind while also utilizing his perimeter game to open up lanes for the team’s young guards.
Other highlights from media day:
- Weaver said he traded Sekou Doumbouya for two reasons: He wanted to replace some lost second-round picks and he wanted to trade Doumbouya to a place that would give him an opportunity to grow.
- Casey says that Jerami Grant is still the team’s No. 1 option and go-to scorer, and that they are looking for him to add more rebounding to his game as a team leader.
- While Casey said the team would utilize the Motor City Cruise quite a bit, Saben Lee said he has had no discussions with Casey about any potential plan to shuttle him back and forth between the Cruise and the Pistons.
- Jerami Grant said he worked on his ball handling, playmaking, rebounding and shooting in the offseason, and noted that he focused on building up his body so he could absorb the kind of blows that come with being the first option and attacking the paint.
- Chris Smith, a two-way player coming off an ACL injury, said he has “a couple more months” of rehab before he can play again.
- Isaiah Livers, another rookie coming off an injury, said his timetable is a Nov. 1 return and right now he’s learning NBA terminology and soaking up everything he can from the coaching staff.