The Detroit Pistons’ 2-1 start may feel a bit abnormal, especially when you look closer at who the driving forces are in those wins.
Looking at the breakaway win against the Bulls, for example, Cade Cunningham and Jalen Duren each finished with over 20 points, adding 10 assists and 10 rebounds respectively.
Three of Cunningham’s assists went to Duren while three others came as a direct result of actions between the two, or even the mere gravity of their actions.
The two growing their rapport together will be especially vital for this core together because of how a reliable go-to halfcourt set like pick-and-roll opens up so much for teammates. It helps that they spent time this summer on the Team USA Select Team helping the World Cup squad prepare.
Per Synergy, nearly two-thirds of Cunningham’s usage has been P&R sets, though the Pistons haven’t been incredibly efficient in turning them into points. Pistons are shooting just 3-17 (17.6%) from three out of Cunningham P&Rs, but are much better from two, shooting 20-34 (58.8%).
Compare that with 30-73 (41.1%) shooting on all other threes and 73-142 (51.4%) on all other twos so far and you start to see where some of the weirdness comes in. Hopefully at some point, the threes normalize, but Cunningham being the second-best volume three-point shooter so far at 38.9% on 6.0 attempts per game will work against him in that respect.
Duren’s consistency through these first few games has been so clear, which should excite Pistons fans as well.
Still a few weeks away from turning 20 years old, Duren has started his second NBA season with three straight double-doubles, averaging 18 points (80% shooting), 15.3 rebounds (six offensive in each game), 4.0 assists (3.3 turnovers), and 2.7 blocks per game.
His production level and consistency at such a young age is a sign of things to come, as well as a potential star outcome in his future.
Looking at the center talent in the Eastern Conference, there’s not a ton of high-level talent behind Joel Embiid, so should this production and consistency continue, an All-Star appearance may be in line as soon as this season.
An unfortunate byproduct of this column is that I can’t just focus on the good work of young Pistons.
Ausar Thompson and Killian Hayes have been almost nothings from a scoring standpoint, and both have been inefficient in doing so as the only ones on the team with more than 10 shots and below 30% shooting.
They’ve both been playmaking and disrupting defensively, but it can’t be known for sure how much longer they’ll stay on the court with such poor shooting.
- Thompson: 14 assists (second-most) to seven turnovers; seven blocks
- Hayes: 10 assists (fourth-most) to five turnovers; five steals
Marcus Sasser is one of the players that may benefit from those two losing minutes if it ever comes to that. Coach Monty Williams said after the near-comeback loss to the Heat that he wanted to find more minutes for Sasser, but he hasn’t really done so since. Sasser is yet to surpass the 10 minutes vs. Miami where he shot 2-3 from three.
I was especially high on Sasser coming out of the draft, and everything he’s shown in Vegas and the regular season has confirmed those thoughts. He just needs a chance to show what he can do in real playing time.
All in all, there doesn’t feel like much to be upset about through three games based on many of the expectations coming in. Pistons look and feel like a play-in team, or maybe even more if Thompson and Hayes can turn around their shooting woes.