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313 Thoughts: Detroit’s BIG experiment, Ivey’s passing brilliance, The Race for Vic

Toronto Raptors v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the latest installment of my 313 Thoughts, your weekly recap of all things Detroit Pistons. Each week Jack Kelly highlights all the relevant news, rumors and on-court play while embracing Detroit’s 313 identity. The formula is simple—I’ll detail; 3 Things to like, 1 Thing not to like and 3 Things to monitor.

We are back.

With only three games played the past two weeks, I didn’t feel the need (or have the will) to gather my thoughts on a blowout loss to the Boston Celtics and a stale All-Star Weekend. Hence, the one-week hiatus.

While only three games were played, there’s been plenty of change since the last 313 Thoughts dropped. This week, we’ll take a look at the early returns of Detroit’s desire to go big—with the addition of James Wiseman, encouraging play from the two Isaiahs (but not Isiah) — Stewart and Livers, the race to the bottom for Victor Wembanyama, and more.

3 Things to Like

LIKE: Glue guys excelling

Detroit’s roster composition was flipped on its head when Troy Weaver dealt Saddiq Bey for James Wiseman prior to the NBA’s Trade Deadline. Adding the 7-foot big man to a roster already consisting of four true bigs has had a ripple effect on each of the Pistons’ budding frontcourt members. Isaiah Stewart and Isaiah Livers are two of the young pieces thriving since the deadline acquisition.

Livers per game numbers won’t jump off the page—6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds in 28 minutes a night in Detroit’s last 5 games—but, the second-year forward has rediscovered his touch from range, converting on 47.4% of his three-point attempts during this span. When he’s knocking down triples at an efficient rate, Livers is the low-usage connecting piece this roster desperately needs between over-flowing guard and big-man stocks.

In theory, Stewart is the stretch big which enables a big-man rotation of Duren, Bagley, Stewart and Wiseman to work. Stewart’s shooting touch and ability to defend on the perimeter are essential in allowing the third-year forward to play alongside either of the aforementioned bigs. Without the outside shot, Detroit’s hopes of playing ‘big’ effectively, diminish considerably. Hence why Stewart’s 47.8% shooting on 4.6 three point attempts has been a welcomed sight since the Wiseman deal on Feb. 9.

LIKE: Jaden Ivey’s passing strides

Only last week I wrote a piece documenting Jaden Ivey’s improvements as a playmaker. However, after a pair promising performances (from a passing perspective) against the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors, I felt compelled to include Ivey in this week’s column.

Ivey’s dished out 14 assists in his past two, solid numbers for a rookie, but nothing to write home about. It’s the process behind these assists which has been most encouraging. Detroits prized rookie is doing an excellent job of toggling between speeds with hesitation dribbles to get the defense moving, which has opened up cutting lanes to the basket and corner three point looks:

  • Ivey finds Hayes for the open corner look after collapsing the Magic defense with his dribble penetration:
  • Here, Ivey blows-by the defender, drawing baseline help from OG Anunoby, in turn opening the cutting lane for Hamidou Diallo:

Per’ tracking date, Ivey has generated 22 potential assists from across his past two outings, many which have come via looks similar to those featured in the above clips.

LIKE: Pistons playing big and it’s working?

Before getting into the above, I wanted to share my thoughts on the Wiseman trade.

I wasn’t a big fan. Not because I think James Wiseman is a bust and can’t help Detroit now or in future. Not because I think Troy Weaver’s desire to add “some men and some size” is void. Not because I saw tremendous upside in Saddiq Bey long-term. Heck, the financial side of the trade didn’t bother me. My main gripe came from the fact Detroit now has four bigs all needing minutes. Four bigs, with the exception of Duren, who aren’t close to proving they can start on a playoff team. Four bigs that are yet to prove the can provide consistent spacing for Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and this year’s draft selection to attack and create offense.

However, my thoughts mean absolutely nothing. What matters is Troy Weaver’s thoughts and his vision. A vision which bears tremendous size on the interior and to Weaver’s credit, since adding Wiseman, Detroit have had considerable improvements defending the painted area:

The effects of playing BIG

Type Season averages Last 3 games with Wiseman
Type Season averages Last 3 games with Wiseman
Rebounds (NBA Rank) 42.6 (21st) 47.3 (10th)
Opponent FG% within 5ft (NBA Rank) 66.6% (5th) 58.3% (22nd)
Opponent FG% 5-9ft (NBA Rank) 43.8% (9th) 28.6% (29th)
Stats via | 2.27.2023

Detroit are 0-3 during this stretch, however, the improved rebounding and reduction in opponent scoring efficiency in the painted area are direct results of Detroit deploying three legit bigs. So I guess it’s fair to say Detroit’s effort wall off the paint is working?

DISLIKE: Bigs not named Isaiah Stewart shooting jumpers

Marvin Bagley and James Wiseman, I’m looking at you.

Look, I understand that in order for Bagley and Wiseman to work alongside Duren long-term a reliable jumpshot is key. However, there’s certain instances where it feels like each of Wiseman or Bagley completely bail the defense out with a mid-range jumper, take the below instances against the Raptors on Saturday:

In each of the above instances Wiseman and Bagley received the pass with 10 or more seconds on the shot clock and ample space to either back their opponent down in the post or face up and attack. Instead, they settled for the worst shot in basketball. To their credit, each big realized their mistake and attacked the painted area with a nifty post spin the ensuing possession.

With the way the season has played out and only development left to play for, there’s certainly some room within the offense for Bagley or Wiseman catch and shoot threes. Detroit needs to figure out if there’s a chance of these bigs co-existing on the floor in future. However, these 15-17 foot jumpers are probably best kept to the practice court.

MONITOR: Tank Race

Boulogne-Levallois v JDA Dijon - LNB Pro A Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

We are now well and truly on the home stretch in the race for Victor Wembenyama. As it currently stands, there are four true contenders battling it out for the NBA worst record. With roughly 20 games left in the season, the below franchises are currently best placed for the first overall selection come Draft night:

  1. Houston Rockets: 13-47 (wins-losses)
  2. San Antonio Spurs: 14-47
  3. Detroit Pistons: 15-46
  4. Charlotte Hornets: 19-43

Per, Detroit have the 27th ranked remaining schedule strength, the easiest of the aforementioned quartet. The Pistons still have a pair of games against the Hornets, one of which is tonight, as well as a road match-up with the lowly Rockets. I can’t wait to see the lineups Detroit trots out in these clashes, particularly the Rockets outing on April 1. Sounds like a game only a fool would be willing to watch (aka, me and a bunch of you fine readers).

MONITOR: Bogi due for some rest?

It’s fitting that we discuss Bojan Bogdanovic’s potential availability mere sentences after outlining the remaining key matchups in Detroits tankapalooza. However, even with the desire to loose games in mind, it appears the 33-year-old Bogdanovic is due for some time on the sidelines.

The Croatian has been rock solid for the Pistons all season, powering the offense with his efficient scoring each and every night. In season number nine, the wily veteran has been absent from only 3 games, but in his last two games, Bogdanovic appears to be out of gas. He’s had arguably his worst performances of the season, averaging only 9 points (33% FG) and committing 3 turnovers.

As previously mentioned, there’s really not a lot to play for aside development in the final stretch of the season. And with Bogdanovic projected to play a major role next year as Detroit hopes to compete, it makes sense to provide him ample rest. Bogdanovic’s absence also opens up additional opportunity for Isaiah Livers to showcase his value.

MONITOR: Ivey drawing free throws on leaning jumpers

In recent weeks you’ve probably noticed Jaden Ivey employee a new foul drawing tactic. I call it a leaning jumper, but it could also be classified as a floating or drifting shot. It feels like Ivey is drawing free throws on the below shot type at least one time per game:

In each of the above instances, Ivey drives forcefully with his preferred left, maintaining contact with his defender. Once he approaches the mid-range area, he swiftly raises up to shoot with his favored right hand, drawing contact with the defender on the way through., earning himself two free throws.

He’s gotten increasingly comfortable with this manuever, so much so that he’s no draining these awkward looking jumpers??

I’m sure there’s film of Ivey attempting similar shots earlier in the year and not being rewarded with free throws. However, I can’t help but think the influence of the Foul Drawing King, Alec Burks, has rubbed off on the rookie’s attacks of the basket.

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