Previously on our offseason review series: Orlando Magic.
Despite finishing 23-59 last season, the third-worst record in the NBA and just above the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference standings, the vibes are decidedly good right now in Motown. Although he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, 2021 first overall pick Cade Cunningham looked the part of a future franchise player. After taking some time to adjust to the NBA game, in 20 games post-All Star break, Cunningham averaged 21.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.5 assists. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, he has excellent size and strength for a lead ball handler, and flashed well-honed feel and craftiness in the pick-and-roll game as the season progressed. If his three-point shot (31.4 percent as a rookie) progresses towards what a 40.0 percent mark in college and 84.5 percent free throw shooting in the pros might indicate, we could be looking at someone jumping into an elite tier sooner rather than later.
A potential future franchise player already in-house would be enough by itself to render a fan base optimistic, but the Pistons also brought some young, potential wingmen into the fold on draft night. First, Detroit selected Purdue guard Jaden Ivey with the fifth overall pick, considered one of the steals of the draft. Ivey was widely regarded as the fourth-best prospect in the draft, and many analysts made the argument to throw him in the mix in the top-three tier. However, the Sacramento Kings already had point guards De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell, so they somewhat surprisingly opted to stay put and select forward Keegan Murray with the fourth pick (who, to be fair, looked amazing this summer).
Not only did the Pistons catch a draft positioning break, but then they also shrewdly set themselves up as the beneficiary of the New York Knicks’ salary dump needs in their pursuit of Jalen Brunson. Detroit took on the contract of Kemba Walker (later buying out Walker) and sent a 2025 first-round pick (belonging to Milwaukee, more on this later) as part of a three-team deal with Charlotte, receiving the 13th overall pick in the draft which they used to select Jalen Duren, another top target of theirs. These dudes couldn’t believe their good fortune:
Gaze at the future in the Motor City:
Goddamn, this opening set from Detroit is an absolutely perfect usage of Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. Awesome. pic.twitter.com/3JdKRLt3Bo— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) July 8, 2022
Of course, that salary cap space and the Bucks’ 2025 first-round pick I mentioned earlier were only available because of a prior deal with Portland shipping out Jerami Grant. Grant is a good, not great, player who didn’t fit Detroit’s timeline. Portland was in kind of a desperate spot to please Damian Lillard, so the Pistons were able to once again seize an opportunity and ultimately ended up swapping Grant for Duren plus some second-round picks. It was definitely a good bit of business by the Pistons’ front office.
The Pistons weren’t even done taking advantage of New York’s asset mismanagement, also getting Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel, some cash, and a couple second-round picks in a separate deal. Burks should provide some veteran mentorship to the young guards and a stabilizing bench presence. Noel has settled in nicely at this stage of his career as a backup who focuses on rim protection and rim-running. Both players should help raise the floor for the Pistons and provide a better environment for the young guys to develop.
There’s young promise elsewhere on the roster, as well, most prominently in the form of former Villanova product Saddiq Bey. Bey has shot 36.1 percent from three across his first two NBA seasons, and has a 51-point game under his belt. He’s definitely an NBA rotation player, but whether that’s as a starter or a microwave bench scorer for a good team remains to be seen. The team also gave Marvin Bagley a three-year deal after the change of scenery appeared to treat him well following the deal from Sacramento. Bagley shot 55.5 percent from the field in his 18 games as a Piston. Isaiah Stewart is 21 years old and a good switchable defensive big man who has toyed with a three-point shot. Isaiah Livers shot over 42 percent from three in limited time as a rookie.
Slightly further down in the optimism spectrum, Killian Hayes is still just 21 years old; maybe something will click in his third season. 24-year-old Hamadou Diallo has had his moments. Veterans Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph are still viable contributors in their early thirties. Olynyk returning to the court in the second half of last season and providing his services as a stretch big definitely helped open the lane up for Cunningham, and should also benefit Ivey this season.
Now, are the Pistons going to be a playoff team this season? Doubtful. But they should be a super fun League Pass squad to watch, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to me if they were this year’s Cleveland: a young team with a bright future who surpass expectations and jump up into the Play-In tournament.
As far as worrying about them if you’re the Sixers or another contending hopeful in the East, that’s probably at least two years away. But I could definitely see Sixers fans wringing their hands about seeding sometime next April and saying, “Man, if only we hadn’t dropped those two games to Detroit. Cade killed us.”