The Detroit Pistons are back for year 3 of Troy Weaver’s “restoration” of a franchise that has spent more than a decade in the NBA wilderness. If not expectations, there is at least excitement and intrigue surrounding these Pistons for the first time in a long time.
The franchise appears to have a building block with the talent, maturity and gravity with building around in Cade Cunningham and has surrounded him with a number of young players that exemplify the Weaver Brand of player — hard-working, no-drama grinders who have high basketball IQs and support each other on and off the floor.
Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart are entering year three as solid rotation players who might have a bit more upside to unearth. They supported those lunch-pail blue-color pieces with a couple of ultra athletic high flyers in last year’s draft, taking Purdue’s Jaden Ivey and Memphis’ Jalen Duren in the lottery.
Add a mix of solid veterans who can shoot or defend in Alec Burks, Bojan Bogdanovic, Nerlens Noel and Cory Joseph and it seems like you should have ... something.
But there are major question marks, which should be expected when you’re relying on as many as nine players 24 and younger to be a part of your rotation. Can undersized center Isaiah Stewart really work as a stretch power forward? Can Killian Hayes score enough to stay on the floor and utilize his passing and defensive skills? Can Jaden Ivey negotiate the smaller driving lanes and bigger, stronger bodies in the NBA? Can Cade Cunningham eliminate his sloppy turnover problems and be more efficient?
The Pistons don’t need to answer all these questions this season, but they should know enough about their team during this year that they will be well positioned to keep building, make important decisions on which young players are part of the long-term plans, add a key contributor or two and maybe, finally start talking playoffs. Next year, though ... next year.
What’s the ‘Best Case’ scenario for your team this season?
There are two ways to look at best-case scenarios. If Jaden Ivey’s elite speed can unlock the offensive potential of his more ground-bound teammates by spreading out and scrambling defenses, and Cade Cunningham can take a big Year 2 step, the Pistons could be sniffing the play-in game.
Alternatively, the Pistons could predictably struggle early, turns the keys over to even more youngsters and trade away some vets, find themselves near the bottom of the standings and be in prime positions for Victor Wembenyama, Scoot Henderson, one of the Thompson twins, Cam Whitmore, Dariq Whitehead, etc. Getting that one final high-lottery piece the year before Detroit has a large war chest to make trades and sign free agents would be a pretty good outcome.
What’s the ‘Worst Case’ scenario for your team this season?
The fear will be that Cade has the temperament to be “that guy” but not the athleticism or skills that will let him dominate as the No. 1 overall pick. That’s especially true when seeing how well his draft-mates Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Green have played. Combine that with Ivey being unable to translate his speed into NBA success, Stewart and Bey looking more like bench pieces than potential starters and some bad lottery luck, and this franchise will feel stuck in place with a long way to go.
What’s the ‘Most Likely’ scenario for your team this season?
The Pistons won just 23 games last season and traded away Jerami Grant to move up to take Jalen Duren. Their starting lineup looks like it will consist of players who are 20, 21, 21, and 23. I get the excitement, but I still see plenty of flaws and inexperience. This feels like a team that will marginally improve their record but be much more fun to watch.
What are you most excited for going into this season?
The Pistons have been one of the least athletic teams in the league for a while now. They took great strides in addressing that issue with the draft of Ivey and Duren. I want to see what a player with the elite burst of Ivey and the rim gravity of Duren can do to help Cade Cunningham build a dangerous offense.
Predict your team’s win/loss record for the season.
Predict your team’s conference seeding.
Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Kevin Knox
Jerami Grant, Kelly Olynyk, Frank Jackson, Saben Lee, Luka Garza
Last season’s team record
Last season’s conference ranking
Last season’s offensive and defensive rating