The Detroit Pistons unveiled a new-look starting lineup Monday against the Toronto Raptors. After sending clear signals beginning in the offseason the team was interested in two big men sharing the floor, any plan were put on hold when Marvin Bagley III suffered a preseason injury. In just Bagley’s second game of the season, the Pistons pulled the trigger, making a shift that saw MBIII start at center, Isaiah Stewart and Bojan Bogdanovic slide down a position, and Saddiq Bey come off the bench.
The early returns were somewhat promising. At one point late in the second quarter, the Pistons were a plus-7 in rebounding with six offensive boards, and Bagley and Stewart were a combined 3-of-4 from three. Both bigs were making decisive decisions to either shoot, pass or drive, and the movement, some would say chaos, was a welcome site after too many lethargic performances.
Then with 3:20 remaining in the game, an errant Bogdanovic pass forced Isaiah Stewart to lurch toward the baseline and his momentum carried him into a stanchion behind the basket. The impact didn’t seem significant, but Stewart immediately came off the floor and ran into the locker room. Never a good sign. he was eventually announced out for the game with a right foot sprain and we are awaiting more information.
Stewart’s potential extended absence would be a huge blow to the Pistons. Pop quiz, what happens when the NBA’s worst defense loses its best defender? Answer: we’re about to find out with these Detroit Pistons.
Bonus question: What exactly does this do for Detroit’s plans surrounding a two-big lineup? You could say that they simply bring Bey back at small forward and replace Stewart at center with Bagley at center. But with the Stewart/Bogdanovic/Bey frontline already getting outmuscled, blown by and outrebounded on a consistent basis, swapping Bagley for Stewart means you have all those same problems only worse.
Then there is Jalen Duren. Could the league’s youngest player, who has shown tons of promise and a nearly equal measure of rookie mistakes, get thrust into the starting lineup so that the Pistons can play two bigs with Bagley at power forward?
While Stewart’s perimeter game was very much theoretical, it was already more reliable than what Bagley has shown as a 3-point shooter in his career, and Duren is restricted to doing his damage in the paint.
Putting Duren in the starting lineup puts Nerlens Noel as the backup center, which the team could likely get away with just fine, so that center depth is finally playing off. Of course, the Pistons could opt to put Noel in as a defense-only, limited-minutes starter at center to set a “defensive tone,” and then start rotating in Bey and Livers and playing plenty of Duren and Bagley at center that way.
If none of the above options sound terribly appealing, that is because there are no good answers to the conundrum the Pistons find themselves in.
Stewart had the best net rating of any of Detroit’s rotational players, but that’s scaling an extremely low bar. The Pistons ranked 24th in defensive rebounding and 30th in defensive rating, and that is with Stewart healthy. The Pistons offense owned the league’s worst effective field goal percentage, and they just lost one of their only efficient scorers.
Pistons assistant coach Jim Moran said after halftime that Stewart was the “heart and soul” of Detroit’s team. With the team already struggling, its two-big lineup plans in question, the schedule not getting any easier, and its depth being tested, it certainly sounds like Detroit has some soul searching to do.