The abundance of five-men in Detroit Pistons uniforms has been a source for confusion amongst fans and media since early July, when the Pistons made several maneuvers leading to acquiring big men Nerlens Noel and Jalen Duren on NBA Draft night.
When Troy Weaver was hired, he made a series of trades involving big men, most of which never wore a Pistons uniform. But it created a meme, and now, it seems, Weaver is leaning in. While the league has shunned interior size for wing length for years, Detroit’s general manager has pushed against the tide, stocking this seasons roster with a quartet of big-men all capable of playing starter minutes.
While incumbent starter Isaiah Stewart remains on the team, the additional skillset brought on board since the start of last season is remarkable. The front office injected length, defense and athleticism by trading for and then re-signing interior scoring machine Marvin Bagley, shot-blocker Noel and the athletic mystery box Duren.
With a clear talent upgrade at the five position, Dwane Casey and staff have their work cut out trying to keep all parties content in their role.
Question 1: Are the Pistons better at the center position today, than they were last season?
Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley, Luka Garza, Kelly Olynyk
Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley, Nerlens Noel, Jalen Duren
IN: Jalen Duren, Nerlens Noel
OUT: Luka Garza, Kelly Olynyk
As previously highlighted, Detroit has made a clear leap in talent within their front-court. Prior to the arrival of Bagley at the trade deadline, the lack of a viable pick-and-roll partner for the teams young guards was paingstainkinly obvious.
With Kelly Olynyk suffering an early season knee injury, Luka Garza was asked to play minutes as the backup center. And for all the lovable characteristic of a player like Garza, his physical limitations were simply too much to bear on the defensive end. He, like Stewart, provided Cade Cunningham and co. with another sub-par option as a roll man.
Enter this season, and Detroit’s guards find themselves with a plethora of vertical spacing options at their disposal. The trio of Bagley, Noel and Duren are all capable of finishing with their head at the rim and stand to be on the receiving end of countless lobs from Detroit’s playmakers.
On the defensive end, the offseason additions further bolster the teams protection of the painted area. A season ago, Detroit ranked middle of the pack for opponent shooting within 6-feet of the basket (15th) and defensive rebounding (18th), per NBA.com. While there are a host of contributing factors to improving in these regions, the revamped front-court could push Detroit into the top third of the league.
Question 2: What does the big man depth chart look like?
Prior to a late-September trade that saw Detroit acquire the services of veteran forward Bojan Bogdanovic, many speculated a potential starting front-court of Saddiq Bey, Marvin Bagley and Isaiah Stewart.
Following a summer dedicated to working on his outside shot, both Stewart and the franchise indicated the former first round selection would play a portion of his minutes at the power forward position. Hence, the pairing of a springy Bagley and spacing Stewart offered a complementary front-court option for the remaining members of Detroit’s starting five (Cunningham-Ivey-Bey).
However, upon the arrival of Bogdanovic, it would appear the 33-year-old will get first crack at starting alongside Isaiah Stewart. The sweet-shooting Croatian started in two of the three preseason games this preseason. Now with a knee injury to Bagley, it would be shocking if Bogdanovic didn’t start to begin the season.
To open the 2022-23 campaign, Dwane Casey finds himself with Stewart and Duren as the only true five men at his disposal. Nerlens Noel missed all of training camp and preseason as he continues to recover from a foot injury:
Noel (foot) took part in pre-practice work during Sunday’s team session, Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press reports.
And as previously mentioned, Bagley will be absent for 4-6 weeks due to a right knee injury.
For now, the rotation seems simple, Stewart to start and Duren to provide back-up minutes. However, if Detroit are able to field a healthy quartet of bigs, there seems to be an odd man out between Noel and Duren. For better or worse, Stewart and Bagley seem locks to register minutes each night. Therefore, with a plethora of wings and guards requiring floor time, its hard to fathom each of Noel and Duren logging nightly minutes.
Question 3: What is the outlook for the big men?
The two main things to monitor for the upcoming season are how often Stewart is used at the four and whether Nerlens Noel find himself on a new team post trade deadline.
In four preseason games, Stewart has proven that the three-point shot is real:
Man, Stew has exceeded my expectations as a shooter thus far — In 4 preseason games he shot 38.8 3P% (7/18)✅— Jack Kelly (@jack_kelly_313) October 14, 2022
If we combine his last 8 games from 21-22, Summer League & preseason — he's shot 51.1 3P% (23/45)✅
The man has clearly worked his tail off — crazy results‼️ pic.twitter.com/TamT6Yb91V
On the flip-side, his struggles to convert around the rim remain, often clogging the paint when situated in the dunker’s spot. If Detroit struggle early with a Bogdanovic/Stewart pairing, could Dwane Casey elect to start him alongside Nerlens Noel or Jalen Duren?
For both on court and off court reasoning, Noel would seem the most likely to get the nod to start early on. While Duren is clearly the future of the franchise, Noel provides a more savvy defender, equipped with 8 years of NBA experience.
From an off court perspective, Noel’s $9.7 million 2023-2024 team option make him a potential trade target for contenders around the league. Following a 2021-2022 year that saw Noel play in only a quarter of games (25) due to injury, he will need playing time to build his value up around the association.
If Detroit aren’t in the hunt for a Play In spot, expect Noel’s name to be linked in trade talks.