The Detroit Pistons begin NBA preseason tonight against the New York Knicks, but the first look we got at the young squad in Motown was Sunday during an open practice and scrimmage.
I was in attendance at Little Caesars Arena and did my best to not overreact too much despite the palpable excitement in the crowd and my own excitement at seeing all the guys on the floor. While much of the practice was taken up by casual drills, the 48-minute scrimmage was played at full speed and there were definitely things that stood out.
Dwayne Casey addressed the crowd before the practice and seemed to be very confident with how things are projecting for this squad. Here is a video of the head coach’s brief introduction, courtesy of James Edwards III:
Dwane Casey speaks to the crowd at Pistons open practice about expectations this season pic.twitter.com/xwZPWoXtk0— James L. Edwards III (@JLEdwardsIII) October 2, 2022
“Jump on the bandwagon now... there’s a big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” Casey said. Defining what that pot of gold is, that would be left up to interpretation.
Sure, it was just a casual practice for fan consumption, but there were also some intriguing things worth noticing. While we don’t want to overreact, well, ... let’s overreact!
1. Lineup comparisons
Blue team starters:
Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Saddiq Bey, Bojan Bogdanovic, Marvin Bagley III
White Team starters:
Killian Hayes, Isaiah Livers, Hamidou Diallo, Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Duren
DNP: Alec Burks, Kevin Knox, Nerlens Noel
It seems pretty clear that Casey divided the teams by what looks to be most of the first unit and the second unit, but perhaps with an eye toward forcing Isaiah Stewart into playing the power forward role alongside a center-only player like Jalen Duren. Cunningham and Bey are locks as starters and you’d have to think Ivey and Bogdanovic are nearly locks as well.
Stewart started every game he played last year and has improved his shooting this offseason. But with Bagley’s new 3-year/$35.5 million contract (which makes him easily the highest paid big man on the team), we’ll see what kind of role they have in store for the 23-year-old.
There is also a good sense of the increased depth and versatility of this team compared to last season. Alec Burks has become the forgotten man as he recovers from injury, but he will be at least a rotation guy on this young team. Weaver has done well at acquiring depth at each position at a very modest price while they transition to being a more competitive team. There seems to be an emphasis on developing the young players first, but it doesn’t hurt to have the added experience on the bench.
2. Overall, this team has size
If there’s one thing you can say for sure coming from the practice, this team is big. Jaden Ivey is an easy 6-foot-4 and looked like a freshman sneaking into the varsity practice (of course he doesn't play like a freshman).
Stewart and Bagley provide solid rim protection, and we’ll see how much they find the court together. Duren may be the most physically imposing player on the team already, and he comes in as the youngest player in the NBA. Glimpses of his athleticism and finishing ability were on display during the practice.
Defense at the guard position should be solid, and they’ll need to be with the likes of Donovan Mitchell entering the division. Cunningham and Hayes have proven to be good defenders, while Ivey is long and uses every inch of that wingspan to disrupt passing lanes. The size at guard and wing should give the team opportunities to play small ball lineups often.
Cunningham’s defensive potential is not talked about enough. Considering his pure size, instincts and effort on that end, I don't think it’s even a reach anymore to think he can be an All-Defense player down the line. Just watch the guy play on that end. His added weight over the offseason is well documented and the difference is apparent in person. He’ll be a nightmare for smaller guards.
3. Bojan will have the green light
The newest addition to the Pistons wasted no time showing fans why they brought him in. Bojan Bogdanovic shot early and often from beyond the arc Saturday, splashing through a healthy amount of threes. His skillset will give Detroit the ability to play smaller lineups emphasized with shooting.
We’ll see if the move to acquire the Croatian was a short-term play, but the team needed to address the floor spacing and they acquired one of the better ones. If Cunningham and Ivey turn out to be the dynamic backcourt they hope them to be, it should create a healthy amount of open looks for Bogdanovic.
As one of the poorer-shooting teams in the league over the last few seasons, Bogdanovic adds a much needed element to what is turning out to be a well-rounded roster. He is a career 39% shooter from three and will certainty have the green light every game.
4. Killian Hayes’ jump shot looks better
The third-year guard enters a pivotal year with an underwhelming start to his career and team option looming. The main gripe against Hayes’ game has been his jump shot, which was a concern coming in and has struggled finding consistency with.
There’s only so much we can talk about how someone’s improved in the offseason before you have to see it in action. However, I will say Hayes looked much more comfortable with pull-up shots during the scrimmage and the jumper itself looks fluid. His elbow now sits straight with his body and he gets more elevation off the ground.
All too often in his first two years, he would look disjointed and indecisive taking routine jump shots. He knocked down two pull-up mid-range shots in the half court that would make you think he’s never struggled in his life.
A confident, improved Hayes could raise the ceiling of this team’s second unit. He may not be the player he was drafted to be, but there’s still an opportunity for the Frenchman to make an impact.