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Pistons Midterm Reports Part 3: Foundational Pieces

New Orleans Pelicans v Detroit Pistons Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

Finally! We find our way to the Detroit Pistons I am sure everyone wants to talk about. These are the players with the most potential for a mid- and long-term future with the franchise — the Foundational Pieces.

But, what is a “Foundational Piece?” These are the guys I feel are the foundation upon which the rest of the roster is going to be built. While it’s obvious by now that this tier is Beef Stew, Saddiq, and Cade, they all fill in different parts of the foundation for the Pistons.

I want to be clear that I am not saying all these guys are going to be stars, much less perennial All-Stars or all-NBA guys. I am also not saying that these are going to be three of the Pistons starting 5 for the next several years. What I am saying is these three players are going to be integral to what the team is trying to build long term.

If we dive back into Pistons’ lore and the year 2000, Joe Dumars took the reins and quickly pivoted away from the Grant Hill era. Trading away Hill for Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace ushered in a new direction for Dee-troit Basket-ball. One year after that trade, the roster had managed to win just 32 games, but some guys clearly showed they could help Detroit become a winning team again.

Jerry Stackhouse #42

Jerry Stackhouse was a clear bucket-getter who had major potential. Ben Wallace rebounded everything in sight and looked to be a real defensive force down low. And although he came in at the trade deadline and only played 27 games for the Pistons, Corliss Williamson proved he could score and rebound at high-level when being placed in the right role coming off the bench.

While Cade, Saddiq, and Isaiah Stewart are much different players than Stack, Ben Wallace, and Corliss, I do think we have the groundwork for another great Pistons team with three core players the way Joe D did at the end of his first year as president of basketball operations.

I also think like this group of three guys in the year 2000, Cade, Saddiq, and Beef Stew do not have to necessarily be with the team long term or be a for sure starter to be absolutely integral to helping the team improve. Let me be clear, I DO NOT want Cade to end of being like Stack and offloaded at some point. If anything, he is the Ben Wallace of the group — the clear foundation upon which the rest of the structure will be built.

I do bring up Stack and Corliss in particular because they were both very important to the most recent title team here in Motown but in very different ways. Stack became a piece valuable enough to move in order to get the perfect off-ball shooter in Rip Hamilton. And Corliss ended up playing in Detroit for four season as Detroit’s sixth man including the title season in 2004.

While we hope Saddiq and Beef Stew work their way into permanent starting roles and put up big numbers, just remember last time the Pistons started a rebuild the three guys at the Foundation all helped to bring that third title to Detroit but in unique ways — star, sixth man, trade.

So, let’s take a look at how Cade, Saddiq, and Beef Stew have contributed thus far this season and take a peek into what kind of foundation each has laid so far.

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%)
Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Foundational Pieces

Isaiah Stewart (834 minutes played)

  • 41 per game stat line: 33 games played, 33 games started, 25.3 minutes
  • 7.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.3 blocks, 1.3 turnovers
  • 55.3% on two-point shots, 10.5% on three-point attempts, 66.7% from the Free Throw Line

Beef Stew could be the Corliss Williams of this group—which is VERY high praise. I have read and heard that Stewart can be the First Big Off the Bench. While the jury is still out on his long-term potential as a starter, I think he already has proven that he can be an integral bench force for a decade-plus.

I think of guys like Dale Davis, Nazr Mohammed, and Nerlens Noel when I think of Beef Stew in this role. Now, before anyone goes all boo-boo face on these comps, No. 1, don’t let Dale Davis hear you, and No. 2, look at these guys’ basketball reference pages. Davis played 16 years in the league, Mohamed 18, and Nerlens has been at it for 7. Davis played AT LEAST 1300 minutes in every season until he was 36. Mohamed ALWAYS found a role on whatever team he ended up on—even providing third big man minutes for Thibs’ Bulls teams from 2012-15. And Nerlens continues to make an impact with his rebounding, defense, and finishing ability.

I would argue this represents Beef Stew’s floor as he has attributes of all these guys. He has Davis’ enforcer mentality. He is stout and relentless on the glass like Mohammed. And he is always active and mobile on defense like Noel. We’ve seen all these in refusing to back down from LeBron James, being the team’s leading rebounder from the jump, and in the most recent game against the Pelicans, we saw him make Brandon Ingram work for every single point.

BUT we all would like to see some form of growth for Beef Stew on the offensive side of the ball. Personally, I want him to work on setting screens and operating as more of a roll man. Others want him to have at least a mid-range jumpshot since he is often left wide open when he is positioned away from the basket. And I have even seen some demand Stewart have a reliable hook shot to help open up his up-an-under when he goes to work in the post.

I find it hard to see him doing anything significantly different than what he has done in the first half of this season since it is almost non-existent for a player mid-season to just bust out an area of their game they have yet to display. Still, as long as Beef Stew remains on the menu for the Detroit Pistons, I envision him being a fan favorite even if he is mainly a hustle and fight player only.

New Orleans Pelicans v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Cade Cunningham (1036 minutes played)

  • 41 per game stat line: 32 games played, 32 games started, 32.4 minutes
  • 15.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.6 blocks, 3.8 turnovers
  • 45.0% on two-point shots, 32.1% on three-point attempts, 84.8% from the Free Throw Line

Foundational Piece goes without saying right? No. 1 overall pick. Started off slow working back from an ankle injury. Up and down play as he is the primary focus of opposing defenses night-in and night-out. Yet, he shows the ability to read defenses to get his teammates open shots, will take over on offense when need be to get a bucket, and not afraid to go at the NBA’s best defenders. He is also consistently cool, calm, and has a desire to do whatever he can to make his team better. More than stats, I have been impressed with Cade’s ability to not care so much about being perfect and keep his focus on getting live game reps to hone his skills.

Cade has what I call the Giannis-gene. I define this as the ability to not care what people think, or to not be afraid to have an absolute stinker of a performance in service of developing your game. Giannis has done this in so many different aspects, but the best example is his free throw shooting. Just think of this past season when people were clowning on him for air-balling free throws only to have that experience in live game situation be practice for his eventual domination at the line in the Bucks series clenching in game 6 of the NBA Finals. As Charles Barkley once said, Giannis does not care if he goes out and misses all those free throws, he just simply is not afraid.

Well Detroit, we can say the same thing about Cade. He does not care if he looks cool. He does not care if his shots are not falling. He does not care if he doesn’t get the foul call (although I care very much NBA REFS!). He does not care if he just stank the court out one night. He will remain aggressive. He will step up in all moments big or small. And he continues to try and be great in all aspects of the game of basketball whenever he steps out on the court. The recent win against Cleveland is a great example of this!

I will leave you all with a couple shot charts splitting his field goal attempts in half. In his first 300-plus attempts, he wasn’t effective much of anywhere. In the second 300 attempts, there is still a lot of red but he’s getting better in most zones of the floor, and, most importantly, he isn’t afraid to create from anywhere on the court. He is NOT slowing down, and he is improving.

Finally Detroit has a player that can create a shot from anywhere on the court and is already using his gravity as a scorer to manipulate the defense. Here’s hoping more and more of this current Pistons roster can step it up around him to have a better idea what this team will look like with guys who have skills that take advantage of Cade’s awesome abilities.

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

Saddiq Bey (1386 minutes played)

  • 41 per game stat line: 41 games played, 41 games started, 33.8 minutes
  • 15.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 1.5 turnovers
  • 43.3% on two-point shots, 33.1% on three-point attempts, 82.8% from the Free Throw Line

Well ladies and gentleman, I start Saddiq’s post in these reports the same every single time, and I hope to start it this way for a very long time: Here is the ONLY Detroit Piston this season to suit up for every single game and start every single one of those games to boot. The Ironman of the Motor City so far, Saddiq has done way more heavy lifting than what many expected he would be doing in the NBA—especially in only his second season!

And while I mentioned Stack, Ben Wallace, and Corliss earlier, Saddiq doesn’t fit great in this analogy. Detroit again seems to have three players which they can use to build something great, but Saddiq is something different. He definitely COULD be a great 3-and-D player if that is what the team wants to develop him as, but he also could be something like Khris Middleton if his ball handling and shot creation develops the way Middleton’s did.

And while you may believe the Middleton comp is a bit out there for Saddiq, Middleton didn’t show any kind of creation ability until his fourth year in the league. Before that he was mainly known as a shooter who could pass a little. Saddiq already has Middleton beat in terms of the load he has to carry as a three-point shooter AND he is on pace to beat Middleton’s passing numbers in year 2 and year 3. I know development is different for everyone, but it is highly encouraging that Saddiq is in a role as a secondary creator already where he has to handle a big scoring load while also proving to be a reliable playmaker.

And in his playmaking, I think the fact that he DOES NOT TURN THE BALL OVER really does not get enough focus and praise. Saddiq currently posts an 8.4% turnover rate while playing a total of 1674 minutes and posting a usage of 21.1%. That 8.4% currently places him at 25th in the entire NBA out of the 183 players that qualify for measuring turnover percentage. And of that top 25, Saddiq is only one of TWO players who have played 1600 or more minutes (his Villanova brethren Mikal Bridges being the other. Something about those Nova guys!).

Saddiq has also shown to be a good rebounder and MAYBE the team’s power forward of the future. He stepped up in many different ways when Jerami Grant went down with the injury, but the area he has already proven to be far ahead of Grant in is rebounding. How much better you ask? Well Saddiq currently sits at 53rd in total rebounds ahead of a few notable names: LeBron James, Bam Adebayo, Kristaps Porzingis, and Draymond Green just to name a few. If anyone heard Coach Casey desire to be a better rebounding team and actually did something about it in his development, it is Saddiq.

I also end with Saddiq’s shot chart here to give a indication of the heavy lifting he is doing as well as for all of us to salivate over the future of he and Cade continuing to develop their games while Troy Weaver brings in more reinforcements

nba.com/stats

I really, really, REALLY hope Cade, Saddiq, and Beef Stew remain Pistons for their entire career if I can be real. Really I want to end with what I think all three guys share and why I am so bullish on them being the foundation to this team going forward. They contribute in multiple facets of the game every night. I am writing this after a disappointing loss to the Pelicans where not one of these three players scored in double figures…but Saddiq dished out 4 dimes and ZERO assists…and Cade pulled in 5 rebounds and got 2 steals…and Isaiah pulled in 11 boards and got 1 block. And all three guys consistently work and communicate to become better defenders to boot!

I think it is incredibly rare to see young teammates like this that look to make an impact in all facets of the game. Cade could easily be demanding for more touches and then just try to take over night after night—and he would be justified to do so, but he doesn’t. Saddiq could just coast back into his role as just a floor spacer, but he continues to try out different things and displays better and better court vision to get his teammates easy shots. And Beef Stew has not ONCE complained about touches, his role in the offense, or looked anything other than focused and active.

Yes, like we all have been saying here at DBB, this IS a season of development where it ain’t gonna be pretty. What it is, though, is very exciting to see guys in their first and second year actually embracing that development and all the pain and work that comes with getting better. Stand tall Detroit fans and breathe easier because this season is not going to be fill full of wins, but it is already filled with work that is starting to pay off as the Pistons grind.

Thank you as always for taking the time to read our work here at DBB. Let us know what you think of the team here at the halfway point and what you think about this team’s Foundational Pieces. I will continue to post these progress reports, but the schedule is going to be different the rest of the way. Instead of every 10 games, I am going to break up the reports as follows: from game 42 until the All-Star break; then splitting the 24 game post All-star break in half so 12 post All-star and then the final 12 games of the season. I look forward to your comments and to see where this Pistons team goes next!

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