When the holiday season arrives, I’m often reminded of Santa Claus’ list.
Growing up, if you you believe in Santa, you believe that you will land in one of two columns on that never-ending list — naughty or nice. It’s one of those things that keeps you, as a kid, in line. The idea that someone is watching you and judging whether you’re good or bad.
There’s something to that with us, as Pistons fans, in the instant-reaction era we live in.
We judge the team and its players on a nightly basis.
So, here, on Christmas Eve, I’m going to play the role of Santa. The Pistons, definitively naughty as a rotten basketball team with the worst record in the league, will play the role of the kids awaiting their placement on the naughty or nice list.
Saddiq Bey’s Shooting: I’ve spent a lot of time looking into this already, but Bey’s shooting struggles have really hindered his growth in his third year. He’s doing a lot of things well and has adjusted to a demotion to the bench admirably, but until he finds his touch from 3-point range, this team isn’t going to get any better.
Cory Joseph, Generally: I know he’s Dwane Casey’s pet player, and has been reasonably useful over the past few seasons, but he ain’t this year. Father Time has gotten the best of CoJo, who has fallen out of the rotation due to some naughty defense. He just can’t keep up and watching him navigate screens on the perimeter is like watching toddlers run into funhouse mirrors.
Bojan Bogdanovic Late in Games: I love Bogey and think he’s the best pure shooter the Pistons have had in years. This wouldn’t even be a conversation if Cade Cunningham were healthy, but it is hard to watch Bogdanovic isolate over and over again late in games. It’s a common thing for Casey’s teams to lean on their best scorer late in gams, but Bogdanovic is miscast for that solo-shot-creation role. He devolves into a turnover machine. Hopefully, more of that responsibility falls to Jaden Ivey and Killian Hayes in 2023.
Team Defense... Collectively: It’s just so bad. The Pistons allow 118 points per game, second worst in the NBA, and they’ve been brutal in the third quarter where teams just slice through them like a warm knife through butter. They’re 1-1 in games where their opponents score fewer than 100 points — a loss in LA to the Clippers and a road win over the Heat. What’s impressive... in a bad way, is that they’ve only held TWO TEAMS under 100 in 35 games! I understand they’re young, and their best scorer is also a bad defender, but this team is nipping at the heels of the 1967-68 squad that gave up a franchise-worst 120 points per game.
Killian Hayes Finding His Way, Finally: I’ve detailed this elsewhere, but Killian going from worst pull-up shooter in the league to one of the best has really saved the Pistons from being unwatchable. He’s finding his way by hitting tough shots. I don’t know if it’s sustainable because there’s no past evidence of it, but then again, there isn’t a metric that measures “tough shot making” like there is everything else. Scoring, even at a slightly below-average level, unlocks more playmaking opportunities for him. Detroit needs that without Cade.
Jaden Ivey Succeeding Without A Defined Role: Ivey’s physical talents are obvious, but I’m still not convinced the Pistons really have a set role for him. He’s just kind of out there, and he’s doing good stuff despite not having that structure.His shooting has been inconsistent, but not bad. His playmaking is better than expected and the highlights are just as fun here as they were at Purdue. You can still see him trying to figure out when he needs to be a role player and when he needs to be an alpha, but with the season lost, this is as good a time as any for him to figure it out. He’s a better all-around player than I expected coming in.
Jalen Duren, Man He’s Good: This is more just an observation than anything specific. I had zero expectations for Duren entering the year. He was young. He was raw. He came from a dysfunctional situation in college. I just hoped he would eventually see the floor. Whether he’s dominating the boards or blocking a shot, he’s been ready to freakin’ roll. He still struggles in traffic around the basket and needs to get better as a post defender, but he and Ivey are on a crash course for the All-Rookie First and Second Teams.
Isaiah Stewart Looking Like A Wing: I’ve been a champion of Stew since he was drafted, but while I thought he would eventually figure out his 3-point stroke, I never thought we’d see him successfully taking guys off the dribble because of it. Stewart’s growth as a shooter has unlocked a lot of skills that, frankly, he never had a chance to showcase. He’s hitting threes, flashing a solid handle and his finishing off the bounce. Back when he was drafted, I thought he would end up like Derrick Favors. Now, I’m not sure who to compare him to due to the growth turn he’s taken. That’s a good problem to have.
That’s my naughty and nice list, I’m sure I missed plenty. Who is on yours? Let us know in the comments and, no matter how you celebrate, happy holidays!