As the Detroit Pistons prepare for the regular season, many spectators are still trying to process what an 0-4 preseason means for the team.
While it was obvious players were working on certain parts of their game rather than playing to their strengths, some fans were left with a bad taste in their mouth. Preseason results ultimately don’t matter, but the games put a spotlight on glaring issues that need to be addressed.
I’ve identified the top three questions facing the team that go beyond “it’s just preseason.”
Jerami Grant Sized Hole On Defense…AND Offense
The loss of Jerami Grant will be felt, more than many fans seem to realize. There were many times this preseason when Grant could have been the answer to an offensive lull. Grant was labeled a ball stopper, but the preseason showed he was perhaps Detroit’s best option when they needed to score.
A good example is last year’s game against the Boston Celtics just before the All-Star break. The Pistons played tough all night but hit several dry spells on offense. Grant’s ability to score in isolation situations will be missed when the team is struggling to make threes.
What about Isaiah Livers and Saddiq Bey? I believe they are both capable of becoming the two-way player Jerami Grant was for the Pistons. They can provide outside shooting and isolation skills similar to Grant, but both must prove to be more consistent.
Grant may be missed even more on the defensive end.
During the summer Rod Beard of the Detroit News brought up the issue on the Woodward Pistons Podcast, and related it more to measurables than ability. Grant is 6 feet 8 inches tall, with a wingspan of 7 foot 3. Livers is 6 foot 6 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, and Bey stands 6 foot 7 with a wingspan of 6 foot 11.
These things do matter when defending some of the better forwards in the NBA like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant or even the incoming Victor Wembanyama.
Detroit Pistons Turnovers
Turnovers plagued the Pistons last season, and they remained an issue all preseason. Generally preseason is typified by teams and players working on things in preparation for the regular season. But we can’t write off the Pistons turnover woes as just typical sloppy preseason play.
Coach Casey attributed some of the the turnover issues to a sense of urgency and a better understanding of NBA defense.
“We had turnovers that were soft turnovers, lazy passes, and again, physical and aggressive defense that tells you exactly what we have to do,” said Casey.
He also noted the usage rate and NBA experience of the players that will primarily handle playmaking duties.
Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey combined for 36 turnovers. Good for 47% of the Pistons preseason turnovers.
Despite being high-IQ players, there is still a learning curve that takes physicality and knowledge of the NBA game into account.
Cunningham did not seem to be playing to his full strengths this preseason. It was obvious he was working on trying to back down opposing guards in the paint and finishing at the rim.
It looked rough at times, but it’s a necessary part of the process as he looks to upgrade his game. Cade eventually went to his bread and butter and attacked from mid range in the fourth preseason game. He began to look like the Cunningham fans saw after last year’s All Star break.
Cunningham isn’t oblivious of the need to take better care of the basketball. In speaking with Mike Curtis of the Detroit News about the turnover issues, Cunningham had this to say:
“It’s something that we all need to be focused on. Me being one of the primary creators, I need to make sure that I’m limiting my turnovers and keeping that number down, for sure. “
Coach Dwane Casey was displeased with the team’s struggles defending the perimeter throughout the preseason. Whether it was pick and rolls, dribble hand-offs or cuts, the Pistons had a difficult time keeping pace.
The overwhelming notion picked up is that this “switching” defense will be a work in progress.
Coach Casey commented about it after the final preseason game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
“You know, it’s learning, understanding,” Casey said. “We’re just reaching instead of moving our body. The game is really fast for our young guys. We’ll get it, I promise you. We’re working on it every day, the switching, whatever it is we’re doing.”
The good new here is effort isn’t an issue. The players are more than willing to play defense, but as Coach Casey pointed out, it may take time.
Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart believes everyone on the team can play defense if they gel as a unit.
“Being more connected, “Stewart said. “You can play great defense when everybody wants to play defense, and I know everybody on this team can play defense. As long we are connected out there, then it won’t be a problem.”
Fans can rest assured the Pistons players and coaches want to make defense their identity. It’s just not quite a polished gem yet.
Want More Detroit Pistons?
Check out all of our Pistons coverage with Woodward Pistons via YouTube
Follow Brandon Dent (Woodward Sports Network Pistons Beat Reporter) aka @DetroitKoolAid on Twitter and Instagram for more WSN Pistons Coverage.