When the Detroit Pistons and the Orlando Magic hit the floor tonight, the results will count for real.
The 7 p.m. matchup at Little Caesars Arena will feature the two most recent number one overall draft picks in Cade Cunningham and Paolo Banchero. The Orlando Magic enter the game with a starting frontcourt trio who all stand at least 6-foot-10. Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr. and Banchero will test the Pistons’ defense with their size, length and versatility.
Teams: Orlando Magic (0-0) @ Detroit Pistons (0-0) (Regular Season)
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI
When/Watch: Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, Bally Sports Detroit
Big Roles For Pistons Rookies
The Detroit Pistons start the season seeking to build chemistry and establish an identity. But that may be tough to accomplish with several rotation players injured to begin the year. Marvin Bagley III (right knee), Isaiah Livers (right hip soreness), and Alec Burks (left navicular fracture) will all miss time.
Bagley’s injury shifts the focus in the paint to Isaiah Stewart and Pistons rookie Jalen Duren. On draft night there was speculation Duren might spend some time in the G-League. But his solid preseason results, mixed with the injuries, now put the spotlight on the University of Memphis product.
Look for Duren to rebound well and show extreme effort on defense, but foul trouble could be an issue as he continues to learn the NBA game. If Duren can pass the big-man triage — active defense, good pick and roll offense, and rebounding — he will provide Pistons fans with what they once begged for from Andre Drummond.
Another rookie who will have to learn on the job is Jaden Ivey. The Purdue guard has an opportunity to be the team leader in free throw attempts, dunks, fast break points and just about anything else dealing with speed and athleticism.
For Ivey, composure when speeding is key. The Ja Morant comparisons for Ivey are apt, but Dwyane Wade is another player to consider. Wade’s ability to play composed in the half court allowed him to slice through defenses and finish at the rim.
Bread and Butter
Fans will have their eyes on the rookies, but Troy Weaver’s earlier draft picks are bigger keys to success, and they will all be expected to show growth.
Hayes stated he is seeking to be confident and aggressive, but he also wants to be a defensive leader. In addition to his defensive ambition, look for Hayes to continue being one of the team’s best playmakers. He led the Pistons with 6.0 assists per game during the preseason, and he possesses the ability to deliver passes right in the shooter’s pocket.
Stewart had a very interesting preseason. Between taking more threes on offense and manning the paint on defense, Stewart has shown flashes of taking the next step as a player. The final preseason game saw Stewart start slow from behind the arc (0-for-4), but finish 40% from three for the game. He made four of his final six three-point attempts, showing he has the ability. Consistency will be key.
Coach Dwane Casey has suggested Saddiq Bey may be ready to showcase more versatility. Bey has slimmed down and worked on his strength, ball-handling and aggression in the paint.
Though he’s a volume three-point shooter, his value on offense this season will come when he does more than shoot. Bey has increasingly shown the ability to score in different ways, but it remains to be seen what type of rebounder and defender he will be.
Bey will be asked to replace at least some of what Jerami Grant did the last two seasons. The Pistons will sorely miss Grant’s defense this year, so Bey needs to take steps forward in this department.
According to Omari Sankofa of the Detroit Free Press, Cunningham expects to ramp things up now that the regular season has arrived. He spoke of being too passive and working on specific things, rather than playing to his strengths. That affected his preseason results.
In the case of Cunningham, fans simply need to relax. He will be fine. Look for him to get back to more of his bread-and-butter game as the regular season begins.
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Photo Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports