I've been a pretty big naysayer of the Piston's rebuild for quite some time. I think the win-loss record gives me ample reason to feel the way I do. Of course, I always have my fingers crossed that I'm wrong. That something will prove that we're on the right track and on the way back. I really do have that lingering sense of hope.
I decided to do a little historical research to see how our young Pistons compare to the current stars of the game, not based on today's stats, but on the basis of how each of their careers have started. That is truly a better or more reasonable comparison. So, what did Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and James Harden look like when they were in their first few years of their careers?
I also wanted to be able to compare Jalen Duren to another big young player that in his prime was pretty well regarded, at least in Detroit, so I chose Andre Drummond as a comparison for young Detroit center.
I'm not going to do a really, really deep dive and say what their strengths and weaknesses to their game were. Heck, I'm not even going to do an extremely extensive dive into all of the stats that you could use. I am simply going to look at points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, and field goal percentage, over how many games played when they began their careers. I'll note that I left out free throw percentage because for the most part this is not the biggest or most important aspect of their games, with the possible exception that Drummond rivaled Ben Wallace as a historically poor free throw shooter.
The Pistons I wanted to examine or compare to these top players besides Jalen Duren are Jaden Ivey, Cade Cunningham, Ausar Thompson, and Isaiah Stewart. These players are the core of today's young team. I think everyone is counting on them to be a force in the not too distant future. There may be some other hopefuls that could emerge, but I think it is probably prudent to wait to see them a bit more. However, I am hopeful that Marcus Sasser, Quentin Grimes and Simone Fontecchio prove to be solid or stellar contributors too.
Let me start off by providing data about James Harden. His first season was 2009-10. He played 76 games and averaged 9.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, and had a .403 fg%. He followed that up the next year by playing 82 games and averaging 12.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, with a .436 fg%. His third campaign was limited to 62 games but his averages improved to 16.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.7 apg, and a .491 fp%. His 6-1 stature and guard position seems to offer some comparability to Jaden Ivey and perhaps Cade Cunningham, although I think Cunningham likely warrants closer comparison to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Jaden Ivey only has two seasons worth of stats to compare to Harden. In his rookie season he played 74 games and averaged 16.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 5.2 apg, and had a .416 fg%. In his second year, after 47 games to date, he has averaged 15.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.7 apg, with a .462 fg%. He is ahead of Harden in every stat category so far. So, far so good!
I'll jump to reviewing Kawhi Leonard next. In his rookie season in 2011-12 he played in 64 games and averaged 7.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.1 apg, with a .493 fg%. In his second season, he played 58 games and averaged 11.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.6 apg, with a .494 fg%. In his third year, he played 66 games and averaged 12.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.0 apg, and had a .522 fg% to show consistent, although not remarkable improvement.
Paul George is another one of my favorite players. In his rookie season in 2010-11 he played in 61 games and averaged 7.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.1 apg, and had a .453 fg%. In his year two, he played in 66 games and averaged 12.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.4 apg, with a .440 fg%. His third season production included playing in 79 games while averaging 17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, with a .419 fg%.
I'm inclined to compare four Pistons to these three current stars: Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Stewart, Ausar Thompson, but would ask you to also to refer back to Jaden Ivey's stats as well. I know there is some positional difference since Leonard and George have proven to have remarkable position flexibility, but I'm hopeful we may see that aspect emerge from our young Pistons, too.
Cade Cunningham began his career in 2021-22 and played in 64 games and averaged 17.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.6 apg, with a .416 fg%. His second year was cut short due to a shin injury so he was limited to just 12 games while averaging 19.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 6.0 apg, and a .415 fg%. This season while playing in 41 games to date, he has averaged 22.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 7.4 apg, and has a .448 fg%.
Ausar Thompson is in his rookie campaign. Thus far he has played in 51 games and averaged 8.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, and has a .478 fg%. He seems to have already shown the position versatility that is so admired and appreciated in today's NBA, and also seems to be catching his second wind and earning more minutes of play.
Isaiah Stewart is just 22 years old, yet he feels like the grizzled veteran at times while still being tasked to become more versatile by develop his long range shooting and being asked to guard a variety of players. Stewart, already in his 4th season, began his career in 2020-21. He played in 68 games and average 7.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 0.9 apg, and had .553 fg%. in 2021-22 he played in 71 games and averaged 8.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, with a .510 fg%. in his third season he was limited to 50 games and averaged 11.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, with a .442 fg% - as he was asked to add three point shooting. This year he has played in 35 games and is averaging 11.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, with a .470 fg%.
Across the board I think it can be said that this group of young Pistons is performing as well, if not much better, than how the current stars played in their early careers. This has to give us some level of hope that things will get better if our players continue to grow and improve their game. A lot of that hope has to be placed on being groomed the right way by our coach or coaches, but I also believe that their DNA or inner drive will ultimately be the top factor.
I mentioned that I wanted to also compare Jalen Duren, even though he is just in his second year and only 20 years old. Andre Drummond in many ways seems to be a rational and readily comparable player to Duren, in terms of his beginning his career at a very young age and the physical attributes both possess. Drummond also became a star, so this is a comparison worthy of making.
Andre Drummond was a teenager too when he began his rookie season in 2012-13. In 60 games he averaged 7.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 0.5 apg, and had a .608 fg%. In year two, he played in 81 games and averaged 13.5 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 0.4 apg, with a .623 fg%. I'll limit the review to these first two seasons, since Duren is just in his second season.
Jalen Duren was just an 18 year old last year. He played in 67 games and averaged 9.1 ppg, 8,9 rpg, 1.1 apg, and had a .648 fg%. This season he has played in 36 games and averaged 14.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 2.6 apg, with a .649 fg%. In one of the most recent games Duren led the team in scoring so just what's on tap for this youngster is hard to predict. Yet, in this short and limited review between him and Drummond, there seems to be considerable potential and reason for hope for Duren to emerge as a future star.
In summary, the Pistons' young core of players are extremely promising. There's still much to be done. Will Coach Williams really serve to develop their talents to the highest potential? How much will losing affect them? Could losing prove to be an impetus to being even better than an easier go would provide? Can Detroit afford to retain them if they all reach super stardom? These and many other questions can be asked. The stats though provide some reason to wonder and hope that these types of questions are relevant and even worth raising.
What's more, there's one more lottery pick in our foreseeable future. Will that pick be another #1 overall or a somewhat disappointing lower pick? No one knows. Still if a #5 pick is the end result, the level of talent and potential that could be delivered seems to be just one more reason to have improving expectations for success.
James Harden, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Andre Drummond in their primes playing together would be an outstanding team nucleus in my opinion. Having six such talents would likely see Detroit's fortunes catapult to the heights of success in the league.
Come on Pistons! Please keep developing and become all that you can be!