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Pistons Midterm Reports Part 2: Veterans

Detroit Pistons v Denver Nuggets Photo by Ethan Mito/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images

In our previous mid-season analysis of the Detroit Pistons’ season, we looked at Guys in Danger of Playing Themselves Out of the League. Here we shift to Veterans who have established they can fill a role. Consider this the written companion piece to the Detroit Bad Boys Podcast entitled “Vet Week!” where Laz and Ben discuss the Veterans on this Pistons squad as the year 2022 begins.

While I do echo many sentiments expressed by Laz and Ben, I am going to add one more name to who should be considered a Veteran on this team. In addition, I am going to issue one major apology here and definitely give some love to guys doing a lot of the little things here in Detroit.

If you are wondering what qualifies someone as a “Veteran,” for me it is three things. No. 1, you must have complementary skills that do not demand the ball away from your star teammates. No. 2, you DO NOT waste your opportunities. No. 3, and most important for me, you have to be CONSISTENT.

Last time, I put Frank Jackson on the Danger group because he has not been consistent enough in his role to quite make this list yet. If he had been a good shooter across multiple seasons OR had any other kind of skills he used to complement and be consistent with as well, then he would have found his way on this list (Here’s hoping by season’s end he does get back to 40% or better from three!). But, as you will see with the guys on this list, they use their skills to fill a role that the team can count on every night and hopefully we can all use this post as an appreciation of those skills so far this season.

As always, we will start with the Pistons stats leaders at the halfway point and then get into discussing the Vets. Let’s get started!

Team Leaders (remember this is from the 41 game mark)

  • Points: Saddiq Bey (622)
  • Rebounds: Isaiah Stewart (265)
  • Assists: Cade Cunningham (171)
  • Blocks: Isaiah Stewart (44)
  • Steals: Hamidou Diallo (45)
  • Free Throw Attempts: Jerami Grant (146)
  • Turnovers: Cade Cunningham (120)
  • Personal Fouls: Isaiah Stewart (92)
  • True Shooting Percentage: Cory Joseph (58.8%)
  • Free Throw Attempt Rate: Jerami Grant (38.2%)
  • Total Rebounding Percentage: Isaiah Stewart (17.1%)
  • Assist Percentage: Cade Cunningham (28.4%)
  • Turnover Percentage: Frank Jackson (7.6%)
  • Usage: Jerami Grant (26.7%)
New Orleans Pelicans v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Veterans

Rodney McGruder (161 minutes played)

  • 41 per game statline: 17 games played, 0 games started, 9.5 minutes
  • 2.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.1 blocks, 0.5 turnovers
  • 50.0% on two-point shots, 23.8% on three-point attempts, 75.0% from the Free Throw line

George Blaha’s “Pros pro,” Mr. McGruder suits up for whatever the occasion calls for. Normally I would not include someone who has only played 161 minutes across 41 games, but McGruder needs to be acknowledged for his professionalism and focus to stay ready no matter the situation.

Whether it was being asked to play point guard last year, sit on the bench for most of this season, or having to come back after a trade to Denver did not go through, McGruder has suited up to fill whatever job and circumstance the NBA and the Pistons have thrown his way.

His play after returning from the failed trade should be an example to not just the Detroit youngsters, but to any guys on the fringes of making an NBA roster. Rather than getting upset over the whole situation, he stayed ready and came back to Detroit and dropped 19, 15, and 15 points in the three games after his return.

I know this all happened after the 41-game mark—and this is supposed to be the first half reviews—but I think it is worth noting because it shows McGruder stays ready and is why this front office has kept him around as a vet for the young guys on this team to learn from. I have been a fan of McGruder’s since his K State days and glad to see he still keep his intensity and love for the game no matter what it throws his way. He definitely deserves all the praise one can heap on a veteran as he is able to inhabit whatever role a team asks him to fill.

Phoenix Suns v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Cory Joseph (670 minutes played)

  • 41 per game statline: 30 games played, 6 games started, 22.3 minutes
  • 7.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 1.4 turnovers
  • 48.6% on two point shots, 42.2% on three-point attempts, 84.9% from the Free Throw line

Dear Cory Joseph, if you are reading this, I am sorry I questioned your game as I can now see that you were asked to fill a role with the ball in your hands more, and now are more than happy to fill a different role supplementing the young guys. And really we as a fanbase should celebrate you more for being a steady veteran presence at the point guard spot who not only keeps it real with the young guys, but has an all-around game to back up whatever teaching points you may have for them.

Ladies and gentleman, Joseph deserves this apology from anyone like myself who did criticize his game a lot in this first half for a variety of reasons. First off, Joseph currently leads the Pistons in True Shooting percentage at 59.8% and really it has been hovering around 60% since he came back into the lineup on Jan. 8. He also leads the team in 3-point percentage at 43.0% as of Feb. 2. He is second on this team in assists (149) and assist percentage (25.1%). And what’s even more than that is he only has 52 turnovers currently so he is a few dimes away from a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Oh and he has consistently kept his two-point percentage above 45% and continues to bring it on defense every night.

The biggest difference since the last time we looked at Joseph’s offense in games 21 to 30 is his 3-point shooting. At game 30, Joseph posted a 32.6% from three on 1.8 attempts per game. But, at the 41 game mark he has an overall three-point percentage of 42.2% and currently he posts the aforementioned 44.3% from downtown—and he’s significantly increased his attempts to boot! From games 31-41 he averaged 4.5 attempts per game and from games 31 to the most recent victory against Cleveland he is attempting 3.5 per game.

Part of the reason an apology is warranted is because we now see THIS difference in his game is due mainly to now taking a supplementary role to Cade and Saddiq since they have proven they can and should run the show as often as possible. So, while Joseph does still handle the ball, just looking at his three-point attempts alone you can see his role has shifted to providing spacing for Cade and Saddiq in particular succeed.

Joseph has given us Pistons fans a window into what a Pistons team looks like when there are stable role players around Cade and specifically ones that play defense and make the opposition have to account for to give Cade space to operate. His usage is currently at 15.4% so he is taking a back seat, supplementary role and hopefully he keeps thriving in it!

Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Trey Lyles (725 minutes played)

  • 41 per game statline: 38 games played, 3 games started, 19.1 minutes
  • 9.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, 0.9 turnovers
  • 55.8% on two point shots, 28.8% on three-point attempts, 82.4% from the Free Throw line

I know many of us here at DBB have written about Lyles here as he has stepped up in ways many of us did not imagine he could, but I do think Bryce Simon of Motor City Hoops has been the one to hit the nail on the head with looking at Lyles as the small ball 5. As Bryce has pointed out, he may not be putting up gaudy stats, but he is certainly an, “effective small-ball 5 on a Pistons team missing first big off the bench Kelly Olynyk and has been forced to weather the occasional absence of starting center Isaiah Stewart.”

But let’s dive into his numbers more to see just how much he is contributing to the team in a few much needed areas. First off is his rebounding. While it is not completely fair to say he and Beef Stew are doing all of the rebounding for this team, it is also not a ridiculous statement if you wanted to make the argument. These two players are the only ones on the roster consistently keeping their total rebounding percentage over 13.0% and their defensive rebounding percentage over 20.0%. Kelly Olynyk will most likely be right here with these kinds of numbers too, but Lyles has done a great job crashing the glass as the backup center with Kelly’s absence.

But to me, the thing I keep coming back to for praising Lyles and making sure we as Pistons fans realize how much he is giving the team, is his physicality. As I have argued for before, this is manifest most in his Free Throw Attempt Rate which currently sits as 46.7% which makes Lyles the team leader in getting to the Free Throw Line. How good is this you might ask? Well, Lyles currently ranks 15th in Free Throw Attempt Rate in the entire NBA with that 46.7% (there are 245 players that qualify). Lyles is doing big man stuff and forcing the opposition to foul him due to not being afraid to mix it up down low.

I do really wish Lyles three-point shot could come around, however. He was sold to many of us as a stretch four and has yet to show he can also be stretch big. Maybe this is asking too much since he is already showing that he can do much more than just pop treys. And if there is a GLIMMER of hopes in regards to his shooting, then it is in the fact that he understands that he HAS TO shoot. He’s put up 136 attempts from long range this season (good for 4th on the team) so he is still taking them to get the defense to close out on him regardless what the percentages are. So he at least understands that taking the shot makes the defense do something versus not taking the shot at all. Plus his pump fake is awesome and he gets so many people to bite on it—I believe the fact he is a willing shooter has a lot to do with it.

And finally, defensively he gives all that he can. Sometimes he is outmatched by quicker guards, He can get moved by the biggest centers in the league. But he remains engaged and does not back down from a fight. Between he and Cory Joseph, this Pistons team really does have Veterans that understand the Dee-troit Basket-ball mentality of fighting and filling in whatever role helps the team.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

Hamidou Diallo (748 minutes played)

  • 41 per game statline: 34 games played, 17 games started, 22.0 minutes
  • 10.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks, 1.1 turnovers
  • 57.5% on two point shots, 26.9% on three-point attempts, 60.9% from the Free Throw line

This may seem like an odd inclusion as Hamidou is only 23 years old, yet this is his fourth year in the league and it is clear he already figured out what his skills are and how to inhabit a role. As I mentioned last time in Josh Jackson’s report, something as simple as figuring out that de-emphasizing his three-point shooting Hamidou is showing maturity to fill a role that best helps his team. Let’s take a look at Hamidou’s shot chart to get better idea of how he is already showing himself to be a Vet:

nba.com/stats

I know a lot of you are just going to see the red and immediately shake your head, but to me the more telling aspect of any shot chart are the number of attempts in each area. For Hamidou, shots at the rim are far and away the shot he attempts the most as well as the shot he is most successful at posting that 61.6%. For a guard that is an awesome percentage, and even more impressive when defenses know that is what Hamidou wants to do all the time.

And Hamidou is by no means a one-trick pony when it comes to getting to the rim. He can attack of the dribble and use his quick first step to blow by defenders. He can crash the offensive glass to tip in off target shots. And, he is a fantastic cutter who will get to the hoop when the defense is out of position. The Spurs game in Detroit this year is the best example of Hamidou utilizing his ability to get to the rim to help the team.

Hamidou does, however, still show signs of being a young guy sometimes. Defensively he does not always make the best decisions when it comes to fouling and he can still be caught out of position at times. He also plays sped up many nights which leads to him trying to make a play himself rather than letting one develop. This also can lead Hamidou to lose his handle and give the opposition an easy turnover. And for me, it drives me a little bananas that Hamidou does not get to the foul line that often for someone who attacks the rim so well. He’s only posting a 22.5% free throw attempt rate.

Despite his flaws and the fact he can develop more, Hamidou is a Veteran because he HAS already figured out that his role on this team is to get to the rim and finish—and he does this consistently. In addition, while he was not happy with his role to begin the season, he made the most of his opportunities and succeeded when given the chance. And now that more and more of the featured guys like Cade and Saddiq are stepping up even more, Hamidou has adjusted to keep filling his role as a supplement to these guys and is not demanding the ball more.

These are the kinds of basketball skill and IQ attributes that makes one look at a young guy like Hamidou, blink, and then they’re in the league for 10 plus years. So while the hope is that Hamidou can expand his game (please focus on drawing contact and getting to the free throw line more!), he has already established himself as a guard that can consistent get to the cup and finish.

Let us know what you think of this Veteran tier in the comments! Next time we will get our final tier of Foundational Pieces and try to contemplate the future of this franchise and I will argue for who I see as part of that foundation.

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