Is Monty Williams finally ready to remake the Detroit Pistons starting lineup? He didn’t say it outright, but the Pistons head coach did acknowledge the need to get the struggling Cade Cunningham on the floor operating in more space.
Speaking to reporters after practice, Williams said, “I have to do a better job of allowing him to play in more space. Think I gotta change up the combinations with him on the floor so the paint isn’t as crowded. I think that’s going to free him up to see a lot more clearly, if you will,” according to Omari Sankofa.
It is unclear those combos come via the starting five or if Williams is referring to more intentionally balancing the floor when Cade is in largely bench lineups.
What is not unclear is that the starting lineup as constituted is not working. The Pistons, currently on a nine-game losing streak, currently sport the worst starting unit in the NBA. The NBA’s worst overall offense belongs to the Portland Trail Blazers with a 104.2 offensive rating, per NBA.com. Detroit ranks 22nd at 110. However, Detroit’s starting 5 has an offensive rating of just 101.8 in 100 minutes on the floor.
That’s not just bad, that’s so bad that there is no reason not to be looking seriously at alternatives.
Where those alternatives might come from could be influence by the return of some previously healthy players. One such player, forward Isaiah Livers — a shooter who is also looked at as a young player with defensive upside — was a full participant at Pistons practice on Thursday.
There is no official word on Livers’ return from an ankle injury, but it appears to be inching closer. Monte Morris, also thought to be close to a return, did not participate in Monday’s practice.
When the team announced Morris was out with a quad strain on Oct. 24, they indicated he’d be reevaluated in three weeks. That was 23 days ago, so hopefully an update on his status is imminent.
Also injured are shooters Bojan Bogdanovic (a strong contender to enter the starting lineup) and Joe Harris (potential bench specialist), and there is similarly no word on their timetables to return. Jalen Duren also remains out with a bothersome ankle.
Remaking who shares the floor with Cade also doesn’t necessarily have to wait for some of those veteran pieces to return. Detroit could put Cade on the floor more often with Jaden Ivey (38% from 3) or Marcus Sasser (41%). The team could also look to give Isaiah Stewart increased minutes at the backup 5 spot if they feel like Livers could shoulder some of Beef Stew’s load at power forward.
The Pistons starting lineup features three non-shooters, at minimum, with Marvin Bagley (or Duren when healthy), Ausar Thompson, and Killian Hayes not presenting much of a perimeter threat. Thompson’s defense is so versatile (and prolific), it is hard to see Williams wanting him on the floor any less than the 30-plus minutes he’s getting as a rookie. That means that any lineup change could come at the expense of Killian Hayes, either in minutes or in role. Hayes is currently the starting shooting guard, and while he is still not an NBA shooting threat, he’s stringing together the strongest play of his career so far.
The Pistons next play Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.