The 2021-22 NBA season was nearly a disaster for the Detroit Pistons. The team opened the season at 5-29 and everyone was struggling. However, things turned around at the All-Star break. The team finished the year winning 10 of their final 24 games. They played some of the best basketball the franchise had seen in years.
The team finished the season 23-59, but the final stretch of the season showed immense promise. The team enters this offseason with the best odds to land the top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft and loads of cap space for free agency. If things go their way, the team could look to turn a corner as soon as next season.
With the regular season in the books, now is a good time to look back at some of the brightest spots of the Pistons’ up-and-down season. Here are the Detroit Pistons season awards as determined by me.
Most Valuable Player: Cade Cunningham
Was there ever any other option? Cade Cunningham took the reigns from the moment the Pistons made him the number one pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. He had a rocky start out of the gates, but over the course of the season, Cunningham established himself as the face of the franchise for Detroit.
The Pistons held a 20-44 record with Cunningham in the lineup. It is nothing to write home about, but it stands in stark contrast to their 3-15 record without him.
Cunningham led the Pistons in usage percentage. 27.5 percent of Detroit’s plays utilized the 20-year-old when he was on the floor. Throughout the season, he was creating for both himself and his teammates. He led the team in assist percentage (29.1 percent). Cunningham generated 837 points off assists this season.
This year, Cunningham was the focal point for the Pistons’ offense. Plays went through him. No, he did not shoot at the greatest efficiency. He shot 41.6 percent from the floor and 31.4 percent from beyond the arc. But it was clear that the team’s success was directly connected to the presence of Cunningham.
In all honesty, this is an award Cunningham will likely hold in every season he spends with the Pistons. He is that guy.
Rookie of the Year: Cade Cunningham
Is there any ‘real’ reason Cade Cunningham shouldn’t be rookie of the year? #NBA75
Feels like he’s calling out those who aren’t watching… #Pistons pic.twitter.com/SoprtxQUMz
— Woodward Pistons (@WoodwardPistons) April 15, 2022
Well, obviously Cunningham is the rookie of the year for the Pistons. The 20-year-old stepped in and became the best player on Detroit’s roster in just his first season. For every reason that Cunningham was the Pistons’ MVP, he is their rookie of the year. More importantly, he has a chance to be the NBA Rookie of the Year.
Cunningham’s 17.4 points per game led all rookies. His 5.6 assists per game were good enough to rank him second among rookies, and his 5.5 rebounds per game ranked him fifth. He put up these numbers while being double-teamed far more than any other rookie this season. He also led rookies in clutch points and usage percentage.
It was announced Cunningham was a finalist for the NBA Rookie of the Year award. He is up against Cleveland’s Evan Mobley and Toronto’s Scottie Barnes. Mobley jumped out as the favorite early in the season. Since then, Cunningham and Barnes have closed the gap.
Cunningham sits at +1000 in the ROTY betting odds. Barnes (+155) and Mobley (-213) hold a considerable lead on him. Whether he ultimately wins the award or not, there is no question that Cunningham has established himself as a franchise player for Detroit for years to come.
Defensive Player of the Year: Isaiah Stewart
This award came down to Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart. Hayes is a solid perimeter defender. He uses his length to disrupt passing lanes and poke the ball free. He has the size to hold his own against bigger players and he is quick enough to not get blown by on drives. As good as Hayes has been for Detroit defensively, Stewart’s versatility gave him the edge for this award.
Stewart’s 1.1 blocks per game led the team among players who appeared in more than 10 games. His 112 defensive rating did not lead the team, but it is better than Detroit’s overall defensive rating of 113.8. His 1.8 defensive win shares trailed only Cunningham, who had 1.9.
The 20-year-old’s defensive impact goes well beyond any measurable statistic. Stewart offered switchability for the Pistons’ defense. The big man had the strength to defend in the post and the lateral quickness to stay in front of guards on the perimeter. Late in the season, both James Harden and Luka Dončić tried to take advantage of a switch onto Stewart. In both cases, the superstars found themselves facing up against a stout perimeter defender.
Entering year three, Stewart’s development will determine if he can be a long-term starter in Detroit. He has already established himself as a defensive anchor for the Pistons. If he can continue developing his offensive game, including his outside shot, there is no question Stewart will continue as Detroit’s starting center during his tenure.
Sixth Man of the Year: Hamidou Diallo
If he had a full season in Detroit, this award goes to Marvin Bagley III. The power forward who the Pistons acquired at the trade deadline made the most of his opportunity in 18 games with Detroit. His 14.6 points per game were behind only Cunningham, Saddiq Bey and Jerami Grant. Bagley was not with the Pistons long enough to be considered for the award this season, but if Detroit is able to bring him back, he is the frontrunner for next year.
Hamidou Diallo was fantastic off the bench for the Pistons. The 23-year-old scored 11 points and collected 4.8 rebounds per game this season. Yes, he did start 50 percent of his games played this season, but that was out of necessity. The Pistons went through a lot of injuries this year which brought Diallo into the starting lineup.
The 23-year-old was a sparkplug off the bench for Detroit. Early in the season, the Pistons struggled a lot with a stagnant offense. Diallo came off the bench and injected the team with energy. He ran the fast break and constantly pushed the issue in transition.
Most Improved Player: Saddiq Bey
In his rookie season, Saddiq Bey carved a role in Detroit’s starting lineup and played it extremely well. He was a three-point shooter through and through. 66 percent of his shot attempts in his rookie season were three-pointers. Entering his second season in the league, Bey could have continued playing that role and been just fine. But Bey took a jump this year, and he has established himself as more than just a perimeter shooting threat.
Bey averaged 16.1 points per game on 13.9 shots. The 23-year-old has no issue playing off the ball. He shot 38 percent on catch-and-shoot threes and 67.9 percent on cuts to the basket. This season, Bey has flashed skills as a serious on-ball scorer. He put the ball on the floor more and created for himself. No game personifies Bey’s improvement this season like his 50-point game against the Orlando Magic late in the season.
As he enters year three, Bey will likely take yet another jump in the 2022-23 season. Expect him to put the ball on the floor even more. Perhaps he could even be Detroit’s number two option next year. If Bey can improve his efficiency as his role expands in Detroit’s offense, he could easily be a candidate for the NBA Most Improved Player of the Year award.
(Featured Image Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports)
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