The Detroit Pistons are in an odd position where it’s impossible to discuss their point guard rotation without talking about a lot of non-point guards. In a perfect world where Killian Hayes met his potential and the team still somehow managed to get Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, the Pistons would be relying on the one true point guard on the roster to lead the way. Killian is an adept passer and good defender. But he’s got no offense and so he is relegated to the bench.
That means instead of playing off ball, Cade Cunningham is living his heliocentric truth as the team’s starting point guard. Then there is Jaden Ivey, who was often called a point guard during draft evaluation season, but also struck me as an off guard prospect, and a pretty good one at that. And don’t forget Cory Joseph working better as a catch-and-shoot player than as an actual conductor of the offense.
Yes, the point guard situation in Detroit is a bit muddy, but it also has tons of upside and plenty of intrigue. Let’s cover some key questions about the Detroit Pistons’ point guard rotation going into the 2022-23 NBA season.
Question 1: Are the Pistons better at point guard today, than they were last season?
2021-22 point guards
Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham, Frank Jackson, Saben Lee, Cory Joseph.
2022-23 point guards
Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Jaden Ivey, Cory Joseph
IN: Jaden Ivey
OUT: Frank Jackson, Saben Lee
In the early days of a rebuilding situation, the Pistons were smart to take a flyer on prospects like Saben Lee and Frank Jackson to go with Hayes and Cunningham. But those bets didn’t pay off and now those players are fighting for their NBA futures elsewhere.
Cunningham, Hayes and Joseph return and the team adds some crucial playmaking, passing and, most importantly, elite athleticism in the form of Jaden Ivey. Ivey can play on- or off-ball and as long as his 3-point shot is falling enough to be respected by the defense he can complement any guard he shares the court with by running the floor, cutting as soon as he sees an opening and helping move the ball and create for others.
Question 2: What does the point guard depth chart look like?
Cunningham has a teammate who can take some of the ball-handling pressure off of him and also be a threat to score. But Ivey is also still a rookie so bumps in the road should be expected. Ivey will get a chance to start as a rookie, but I could imagine a world where Alec Burks takes that spot if Ivey struggles. Whether starting or coming off the bench, you can see that Casey wants to give a lot of point guard responsibilities to Ivey even if he’s not the actual point guard on the floor. Ivey can initiate offense and with his elite burst can create opportunities for himself and for others.
Hayes’ meanwhile, is probably experiencing his last chance to establish a future with the Pistons. He needs a reliable jump shot to succeed in the NBA, and he worked this offseason to build one. Did it work? It remains to be seen, but color me skeptical.
Even without that shot, however, he’s still a very good defender and is a talented enough facilitator that he can find open looks for teammates despite not being a threat to score on his own. He’ll get plenty of point guard minutes, but his impact on the game remains to be seen. And he could lose rotation minutes as the season goes on as Ivey gets more comfortable, the shooting guard position sorts itself out and Hayes makes it clear whether or not he’s part of the team’s future. And then there is the Cory Joseph security blanket that you know Dwane Casey loves.
Question 3: What is the outlook for the point guards?
Because so much of Detroit’s future involves guards who will be playing either point guard or facilitating off guard, there is no position group that is more exciting or intriguing than the point guard rotation. This rebuild will be defined by Cade Cunningham, and Jaden Ivey isn’t terribly far behind. Whether or not Killian Hayes is part of that future will be determined this season. I’m bullish on all three in some respects. Cunningham’s year 2 could be a significant step forward, especially if he can cut down on his turnovers. And the ability to play off the ball could help Ivey maximize his early potential while also having enough ability to run the show if and when asked. And it’s hard not to love Hayes’ defense and playmaking while also praying that he somehow someway figures out how to generate some freaking offense for himself.
And if none of the above pans out in a positive direction for Detroit, well, I guess that means the team is in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, because if all three young guards disappoint this season then the Pistons will be an awful team.