After a long delay, we are back to give out some grades and get a glimpse into how this Pistons team has been doing this new year. The last time we checked in on the Detroit Pistons was at the halfway point of game 41, so the team has had 20 games, a trade deadline, and an All-Star Break since the last time we dove into these reports.
Speaking of that trade deadline, I just want to take a moment to say thanks to Trey Lyles and Josh Jackson. Both guys came in here and provided a spark to the team in their different ways. Lyles really stepped up in the absence of Kelly Olynyk and showed he could be a backup center and be much more physical than he has been given credit for (he still leads the team in Free Throw Attempt Rate at 45.8%!). And Josh Jackson proved he could be a bench scorer and focus on being a dependable wing defender who is a model professional. So, if you are reading this Trey and Josh, DBB wishes you well in your NBA careers and thanks for the hustle when you were here!
On to the guys who ARE on this roster, though. While there has been some lineup shuffle, the return of Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk, plus the addition of Marvin Bagley the pecking order still remains the same. The vets still remain steady, the foundational pieces continue to impress, and the guys that really need to step up are still in the process of doing that. While I will return to form here and list the individual players in ascending order according to minutes played, I will touch on the guys that need to step up more in particular as they are the ones under the microscope more as the rebuild continues.
Once again I will first give the team’s leaders in each statistical category and then go into the individual breakdowns for each player and give them a letter grade based on my own evaluation. I am not going to be handing out Fs to role players because they don’t take enough shots and I am not giving As to Cade just for being Cade, but will as always try my best to contextualize every grade based on that player’s role. And now, onto the stats!
- Pistons Statistical Leaders as of Game 62:
- Points: Saddiq Bey (988)
- Rebounds: Isaiah Stewart (459)
- Assists: Cade Cunningham (247)
- Blocks: Isaiah Stewart (62)
- Steals: Hamidou Diallo (68)
- Free Throw Attempts: Jerami Grant (202)
- Turnovers: Cade Cunningham (168)
- Personal Fouls: Isaiah Stewart (158)
- True Shooting Percentage: Cory Joseph (58.3%)
- Free Throw Attempt Rate: Jerami Grant (35.8%)
- Total Rebounding Percentage: Isaiah Stewart (17.6%)
- Assist Percentage: Cade Cunningham (27.7%)
- Turnover Percentage: Frank Jackson (7.4%)
- Usage: Cade Cunningham (26.8%)
NOT GRADED IN THIS REPORT: Marvin Bagley III, Saben Lee, Luka Garza
Bagley has seen action in 90 minutes across 4 total games so far (he is also currently out with an ankle injury). Lee appeared in 6 games during this stretch, and Garza in only 3 games. This is far too few games and minutes for these guys to be properly evaluated in my opinion. Hopefully, we will see these guys get more shine in the final 20 games and see G-League dudes Chris Smith and Isaiah Livers as well in those final 10.
Kelly Olynyk: B- (502 minutes)
Since coming back in game 44, Olynyk is shooting 42.8% from two, 31.1% from three and 90.5% from the foul line while scoring 7.5 points per game, pulling in 4.1 rebounds, and dishing out 3.1 assists. These are not fantastic numbers from the Pistons' second highest-paid player, but Olynyk is out there giving it his all. And, many have remarked that he looks hurt or slowed down by something. Whether it is illness or lingering effects from the injury that kept him out from mid-November until later January, it is clear Olynyk is not quite 100%. But his effort certainly is 100% whenever he steps on the court and he does quite a bit when he is out there. Dishing out 3.1 assists as a big man is a definite positive and it definitely helps his teammates as they know he will find them when open in a variety of situations. And, anytime you can drain free throws above 90% that is top-notch. Here’s hoping Kelly is playing himself back into shape and whatever may be bothering him clears up and he can start hitting more 3s too (he has shot 50% or better in his past 3 games).
Rodney McGruder: A+ (504 minutes)
Finally a member of the regular rotation, McGruder has played in every game during this span playing 17.2 minutes per game and put up the following per game stat line:
- 6.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 0.3 turnovers
- 50% from two, 46.0% from three, and 70.0% from the Free Throw line
If you disagree with giving this man an A+ after seeing that statline, I DO NOT know what to tell you. As I mentioned in the midterms, McGruder is a fantastic mentor and veteran as he has responded in the perfect way to any situation he is given—including ACTUALLY being traded. Now, he is putting up fantastically efficient numbers that you want out of your role players. He also locks in and focuses on defense and can play anywhere from the 1 to the 3 when called upon to do so. Every the Blaha “Pro’s Pro” I feel like Rodney McGruder has solidified himself in the Pistons vets I wish could retire here alongside the likes of Jason Maxiell and Tolliverse.
Frank Jackson: F (983 minutes)
Dealing with an ankle injury during this span, Frank Jackson has only appeared in 11 since the midway point. While the F may seem like an overly harsh grade, I maintain that Jackson has ONE JOB here in Detroit he HAS to do well — shoot the 3. In these 11 games, he is shooting 27.3% from three on 5.0 attempts per game. That is inexcusable for the team’s supposed shooting specialist. Yes, maybe the ankle injury is affecting him as we saw with Cade earlier in the year. Ankle injuries notoriously mess with shooting and it can take a while to get back to form. Well, I am not giving Frank an F ONLY because he is not shooting the ball particularly well.
As I have mentioned on more than one occasion in these reports, Jackson has to show he can do something else other than shoot. While he has made more than one appearance on the leader board in turnover percentage, that is highly misleading as his assist percentage has been lower than his turnover percentage for a great portion of the season. Currently, his assist percentage sits at 7.0%. And as I keep saying, this is INEXCUSABLE for a guard and shows a complete lack of court vision. This is Frank’s fourth year in the league and he has NEVER posted an assist percentage higher than his turnover percentage and his career-high in assist percentage is 10.8%. He also remains a bad defender who cannot stay connected to point guards and is too small to cover wings. Point blank, Frank gets an F because he does not do enough beyond shooting threes.
The positives are that he is still able to score 10.8 points per game during these 11 games where he is struggling from three. And he is shooting 59.5% on his two-point shots…but it is on a mere 2.5 attempts per game. His true shooting percentage of 53.5% is below average but is also not a complete negative for someone who is struggling so much from three. Here’s hoping Frank’s ankle can heal up fast and he can get back to draining shots from 3 at a high rate. If he does not, I fear he will not be in a Pistons uniform much longer.
Jerami Grant: A- (1194 minutes)
As we crossover into the players who have crossed the 1000 minute mark, it is great to see Jerami Grant as the first player here. Coming back at game 50, Grant wasted no time in getting buckets and, more importantly, getting trips to the free throw line. Since he has been back, Jerami has dropped the following per game stat-line:
- 17.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.9 blocks, 1.7 turnovers
- 45.9% from two, 34.7% from three, and 83.9% from the Free Throw line
I think Grant has done a fantastic job of fitting back into this team and really hit the ground running. You can see a difference out there in how teams defend now that they have to account for the way Grant attacks the basket. And THANK YOU BASKETBALL GODS we finally have someone out here that gets to the line consistently (or actually gets calls from the refs depending on how you look at it). Grant STILL leads the team in Free Throw Attempt Rate AND total number of free throws at 202 despite missing 24 games. This is both a testament to Grant’s abilities as a scorer and the fact that guys like Cade, Saddiq, and Hamidou still have a lot to learn that Grant could impart onto them.
My only minor gripes remain Grant’s bad rebounding numbers and average passing. While schematically Grant is operating more the small forward role now that Saddiq has proven he can handle the rebounding and physicality of the power forward spot, it still never sets right with me that someone of Grant’s size and athleticism pulls in so few rebounds (and again I will briefly mention this is the area Coach Casey publicly challenged Jerami to improve). And for a guy that is a leading scorer on his team, his ability to create shots for others remains average at best. His assist percentage currently is 13.1% which I look for him to improve to around 16% by season’s end since he has shown improvements here—especially before he got hurt.
But Grant definitely is gelling more and more with his teammates and always keeps the opposition on its toes whenever he is out there.
Killian Hayes: C- (1224 minutes)
We keep it real here at DBB, and that remains tough to do with Killian Hayes. Let’s start with his true shooting percentage which as of right now is 44.5%. That is lowest of any Piston earning a grade and also the lowest of any player in the NBA for a player who has logged at least 600 minutes. During this span of games, Killian was also moved to the bench which theoretically should help his number as he is not forced out there to create offense against starters. This is his per game stat-line in this span of games:
- 5.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks, 1.9 turnovers
- 50.0% from two, 15.6% from three, 72.0% from the Free Throw line
These are very bad numbers no matter how you look at it. Killian started coming off the bench in game 46 and when you take his numbers since that game it gets worse in many respects (mainly three-point shooting). I don’t want to harp on this much as many have done that already, but all I can say is Killian is still trying to figure out what to do on offense right now. He has no go-to move or skills and cannot get any rhythm going in any aspect on the court.
The only reason he stays out of the D and F range for me is due to his D and his passing ability. Defensively, he remains mature and consistently dialed in on that end which is rare to find in a player so young. He also has the size, athleticism, and physicality to match up with any guard and even some wings which is a major match-up advantage for the Pistons. And, one of the few numbers that vastly improved once moving to the bench for Killian are his assist numbers. Since game 46 he is averaging 5.2 assists. He continues to show a high-level ability to get his teammates easy looks. And the silver lining in his offense is that he does not take many threes, but is shooting 52.4% from two since coming off the bench. Here’s hoping that continues and he can be even a 33.3% shooter from distance down the stretch.
Yes, Killian’s numbers are bad and he still doesn’t have clear-cut scoring skills on offense, but we should still practice patience with him as he works on his shot and continues to set up his teammates with open looks.
Hamidou Diallo: B+ (1226 minutes)
In Jerami Grant’s absence, there were three Pistons you could look up at the end of every game and see the impact they made in the box score: Cade, Saddiq, and Hamidou Diallo. While his 11.1 points per game may not seem like a lot, he is a consistent scorer off the bench and a constant dunk threat who can swing the momentum of a game. To this point in the season, Diallo has taken 299 shots at the rim and he has drained 187 of them good for 62.5%. He may not do much else, but as explained in the midterm reports, as a veteran all he needs to do is fill this role—which he does incredibly well. And for a team that is lacking depth, Diallo has been the only consistent threat off the bench as guys like Josh Jackson, Frank Jackson, and now Killian fail to score double figures and keep the pressure on the opposition when the starters go to the bench.
I did keep Hamidou out of A range because I think he needs to improve his free throw shooting and his passing if he wants to continue to improve. Free throw shooting should be priority above all else as he can get so many more extra buckets if he could get his free throw percentage around 75%. Right now it sits at 65.4%. For a guy that has gotten 130 trips to the line so far, that is too many extra points left out there on the floor. I also would love to see Diallo get more of a chance to play make and expand his role as a lead ball-handler, but with Killian and he sharing more court time I doubt this will happen.
Still, I expect Hamidou to keep rattling rims, drawing foul calls, and getting some easy looks from Killian and Cade off running cuts over the final 20 games.
Cory Joseph: B+ (1242 minutes)
Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Cory Joseph has been a steady hand. His 8.9 points per game and 3.9 assists per game since game 42 may not be much to write home about, his 43.6% from three and his 1.3 turnovers certainly are. While I do not see many fans complaining about Cory Joseph as much anymore, it has gotten to the point for me that if you do, I question if you even watch these games anymore. Sure he is not getting loads of buckets, sure he is not dropping dime after dime, but you know what he is doing? Providing space and support to his teammates.
He remains the point guard defender so Cade doesn’t always have to chase around the quickest guy on the court. He provides consistent spacing for Grant, Saddiq, and Cade to find as an outlet when they drive and draw extra attention. And he continues to use his court vision to find open shots for guys in the starting lineup. He is a veteran meant to mentor and play a role on the team that supplements his younger teammates. He has played it as well as anyone is his role can as displayed in his team leading 58.3% True Shooting percentage.
He remains out of A range because he does not provide top-notch spacing and his lack of scoring does bring down the offense at times. It is rare you will see Joseph take more the three attempts from long range in a game and he is only managing to sink 1.0 three per game. That is not exactly going to draw extra attention or be a point of emphasis in the scouting report. He also has only managed to notch double figures in points in 7 of the last 20 games so his scoring impact is far less than someone like Hamidou Diallo who managed to reach double digits in points 12 times in this same span of games.
But these are knit picks and Joseph has more than proven why he has been in the league for 10 years and is not leaving any time soon.
Isaiah Stewart: B- (1404 minutes)
Continuing to lead the team in all rebounding categories and blocks, Beef Stew has quite possibly been the most consistent player on this Pistons team all year as his role is clearly defined and he has stuck to it. Whether or not he has delivered on that role varies, however. Most concerning is his shooting percentage at the rim which currently sits at 55.1%. That is way below average for a center—especially one that has yet to display any kind of a perimeter game. But, in Beef Stew’s defense, it is not like the coaching staff has put him in a place to succeed a lot of nights. He has only had 7 games where he managed double-digit shot attempts. Contrast this with another limited big man in Jakob Poeltl who has had 27 games where he’s had double digits in shots attempted and you can begin to see how de-emphasized Isaiah Stewart is in this offense.
I understand if you want to make the argument that Poeltl and Stewart has different roles or they work in different offenses, but the point for me is that they both play the same position and have similar limitations on offense, but I also drop this comparison because it took a while for Poeltl to get where he is while still having these limitations. Oh, and he has never shot above 59.4% from the free-throw line in his career or is a much more limited athlete than Beef Stew. The point is, patience is definitely key with big men who are not perimeter skilled players at the beginning of their careers.
Yes Stewart is struggling to finish, and yes he is not seven-foot one-inches tall like Poeltl, but he is still getting out there on switches in this aggressive defense. He is still the guy cleaning up misses and making the most of his post touches when he gets them. And he still carries a heavy load of the rebounding and rim protection for this team. 55% at the rim earns him that B- by itself in my opinion as we have seen him play better than this. But again, he is still developing and is not getting his number called that often so we cannot fault him a lot for being limited when the plays being called for him are limited.
And on the plus side, Stewart is shooting 50.0% from two and 72.4% from the free-throw line while scoring 9.5 points per game and pulling in 9.2 rebounds per game in this stretch so his numbers are trending in the right direction.
Cade Cunningham: B (1523 minutes)
While I DO want to give him an A for just having actual gravity and respect of opposing defenses to send extra help his way, Cade is by no means without fault. While scoring well on a night-to-night basis, Cade has been pretty inefficient during this span of games. He posted the following per-game stat-line:
- 17.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks, 3.0 turnovers
- 45.8% from two, 30.0% from three, and 82.6% from the Free Throw line
And I cannot criticize Killian’s terrible True Shooting percentage while also not pointing to the same terrible stat for Cade. 49.2% is bad no matter how you contextualize it. SURE many nights the coaching staff rolls out the ball and says, “make something happen kid,” but Cade is also struggling to get into a rhythm on a lot of nights. His three-point attempt rate is really not that high at 39.1% and my feeling is he is jacking up a lot of contested twos in an attempt to attack the rim and draw extra attention away from his shooters and cutters. So yes he is the foundation of the system and being inefficient is just going to come with the territory at this point in the rebuild.
What knocks Cade down into the B range, however, is a lot of dumb fouls and turnovers on his part. As brought up in Episode 1 of the Pistons Pulse, Cade is getting too handsy at times and really needs to stop getting into guys like this because it is taking him out of games at times. And similarly, yeah I know he’s a rookie guard and as such will be turnover prone trying to make things happen, but being Cade I do hold him to a higher standard. He HAS the vision to see passes but has yet to really know which ones he consistently SHOULD NOT attempt. Going back to Oklahoma State last year he is averaging a turnover percentage over 17%. That is not good and in my opinion, is what Cade has to work on correcting immediately to take the next step in his development.
Looking at someone like a Shar Gilgeous-Alexander, he had his career high of 15.0% as a rookie and has kept it under 13.7% every year ever since while keeping his assist percentage around 30% this season and last. I give the SGA stats here cuz Cade can be in a similar 1-3 incredibly versatile creator role on offense and will separate himself from a Scottie Barnes and Evan Mobley once he cuts down these turnovers. Posting a team-high 27.7% assist percentage it is incredible to know this is only going to get better as Cade gets more talent around him, but whether or not he keeps forcing the issue will be what I look at most in his game going forward.
Saddiq Bey: A (2077 minutes)
It is getting to the point that it is hard to think of new superlatives for Saddiq, but I will definitely try. The Ironman of the Motor City this season, Saddiq is the first Piston to cross the 2000 minute mark as he is the ONLY Piston to appear in every single game this season—oh and he’s started every single one of those games too! In these 20 games since the halfway point he has posted the following per game stat-line:
- 17.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 1.0 turnovers
- 47.7% from two, 36.6% from three, 86.2% from the Free Throw line
And really since the calendar turned to 2022 Saddiq has been great. He three-point percentage steadily climbs and he continues to show he should be a secondary playmaker on this Pistons team going forward as he is 4th on the team in assists with 173. Oh he also leads the team in points, three-point attempts, and field goal attempts. Anyone still giving Saddiq the “eh he’s better as a role player” treatment, please understand he has had to pick up the slack for EVERYONE on this team.
Grant and Olynyk get hurt? Saddiq takes on their rebounding. Cade is out and Grant still isn’t recovered? Saddiq takes the scoring and playmaking load. Frank Jackson and Killian Hayes are not shooting the three well? Saddiq continues to be the primary floor spacer while his three-point percentage improves as the year wears on. This season has shown Saddiq improve as a scorer, passer, and most impressively as a rebounder. He and Beef Stew have held it down on the glass as Saddiq is second in every total rebounds, defensive rebounds, and offensive rebounds.
And really the recent wins against Charlotte and Boston are fantastic displays of how far he has come in just his second season as he came up clutch in a bunch of different ways. My main concern is that Casey pulls a Thibs and overplays Saddiq down the stretch in late March and April. Long-term health should be a concern at this point and by mid-March, I HOPE the coaching staff starts thinking about giving the G-League guys some shine to see what they can do and preserve Saddiq for next year.
Thank you as always for taking time out of your day to read, listen, and watch all of our content here at DBB! Please let us know what you think of the grades here for the Pistons in this mid-year block of games and drop your own grades in the comments. Next time we will check in on the team after their game on March 21st against the Trailblazers and hopefully get a look at some of the guys on the Cruise who have yet to make an appearance on the main roster.