It may not be anything close to the “Bad Boys” of the late 1980s or the Detroit Pistons of the mid-2000’s that made it to the Eastern Conference finals six years in a row, but the franchise has quickly built one of the best young foundations in the league and they’re ready to put on an entertaining show for the whole league to see.
It had been 51 years since the Pistons were awarded the first overall pick where they chose eventual Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier. However, in 2021 the “NBA God’s” blessed the Pistons with the first selection again, giving them a chance to change the direction of the franchise.
In a 2021 draft class that possessed talent that’s so rare to see, the Pistons decided to take Oklahoma State product Cade Cunnignham with the top pick.
The first overall pick concluded his rookie year averaging 17.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.2 steals a game. He shot 41% from the field and 31% from three, but there’s good reason to believe that those percentages will only get better with better teammates surrounding him.
Cunningham also finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting and demonstrated the playmaking and offensive versatility that has given Pistons fans the hope that he can become the franchise player they’ve been looking for since “Mr. Big Shot”.
In this year’s draft, Detroit elected to construct a formidable backcourt duo by drafting guard Jaden Ivey out of Purdue with the fifth pick. Ivey’s selection is a perfect compliment to Cunningham and the few deficiencies that he has. Ivey will automatically be one of the most athletic and shifty guards in the league, taking scoring and some playmaking pressure off Cunningham.
In the 37 minutes Ivey played in the NBA Summer League before he went down with an ankle injury, he scored 31 points, dished six assists, grabbed six rebounds, shot 12-of-12 from the free throw line and went 8-for-16 from the field.
Instead of being stagnant in this year’s draft, the Pistons traded for Memphis Tigers center Jalen Duren who was the 13th overall pick earlier that night. In the two games that Duren has played in the Summer League so far, he’s totaled 22 points, seven rebounds, four blocks on 8-of-11 shooting in 38 minutes. Duren projects to be the starting center of the future for the Pistons, but it may take some time.
Key Role Players
After a rookie year where Saddiq Bey finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, he improved his points per game from 12 to 16. In his two years in the league, Bey’s shot 40% from the field and 36% from three, but Bey will most likely lose some volume with the additions that the Pistons made, so he’ll need to make his opportunities count. If Bey can become a better defender and a more consistent shooter, then he could become an ideal 3-and-D player for this young Pistons team.
During this past trade deadline the Pistons made a low risk-high reward trade by giving away two future second-round picks, Josh Jackson and Trey Lyles for Marvin Bagley III. Bagley appeared in 18 games that were fairly meaningless to Detroit, but he still showed some promise that made him the second overall pick in the 2018 draft.
Bagley has routinely had trouble staying on the court in the four years he’s been in the league. However, the Pistons gave him a three-year, $37.5 million deal. It was more money than what was expected, but the Pistons have faith that Bagley will realize some of his potential in the next few years.
Another big man that looks to be a key contributor is Isaiah Stewart. At some point he’ll most likely move to a bench role after Duren is developed, but in the meantime, Stewart can provide the Pistons with meaningful starting minutes. In his second year in the league last season, Stewart averaged eight points, nine rebounds and one block a game on 51% shooting.
A Voice That Matters
With any young team, you need a coach and an environment that will allow young players to go through growing pains that are par for the course as a young NBA player. Pistons head coach Dwane Casey is one of the best coaches for a situation like that.
Casey was instrumental in building the Toronto Raptors in the mid-2010’s and played a part in the franchise’s first championship in 2019 even though he wasn’t with the organization.
In the seven years that he was with the Raptors, Casey took Toronto from 23 wins in his first season all the way to 59 wins in his last season, while also winning the Coach of the Year Award in that same year.
Now Casey hasn’t had an ideal head coaching record with the Pistons in the last three years, going 63-157, but his roster hasn’t exactly been ideal either. But, with the roster improvements that the Pistons have made in the last couple of years, the organization is ready to take the next leap.