The bench was the Pistons biggest weakness during a disastrous start to the season. Through their first seven games, Detroit’s bench only averaged 22 points per game. That was good enough for 30th in the NBA. The problem is, there’s 30 NBA teams.
Turnovers were not the big problem, but 36 percent shooting is difficult to overcome. That’s losing possessions in itself. If this team was going to get more competitive, it needed a second unit that could stay in games, and even expand leads. The odds of that happening in the first 10 games were slim.
Things are different now.
Since November 9th, the Detroit Pistons are the best bench scoring team in the league, averaging 46.3 points per game. What’s crazier, is that the bench’s minutes have decreased. What’s the secret?? How did Detroit’s bench go from dormant to the best in the league? There’s a multitude of factors, but one thing is clear: this second unit has a lot of potential.
Pistons saw immediate impact from Alec Burks and Marvin Bagley III
Through Detroit’s first 10 games, it was clear that they were missing key veterans Alec Burks and Marvin Bagley III. Burks, who was acquired via trade, was still ramping up through training camp from his fractured foot injury last season. And Marvin Bagley suffered a knee sprain in preseason action that held him out for three weeks as well. Once these two came into the lineup, it was clear that this bench was a step ahead of what they were last season. Burks is averaging 14 points per game shooting 45 percent from the field.
He has been a steady hand for the Pistons and has often been a go to guy down the stretch. Alec Burks is a professional scorer, and he can find a way to get a bucket from just about anywhere on the court. The perfect example was his 27-point performance in 26 minutes against the Hornets. Once Burks was subbed back in in overtime, the Hornets could not do anything to counter.
Marvin Bagley has also been able to be a creator for the second unit. And with Jalen Duren and Isaiah Stewart in the starting lineup, Bagley has more room to roam in the paint. His consistent scoring in the post combined with his rebounding has been a major addition to the second unit as well. Another player that has made Detroit a new home and is thriving is Kevin Knox. The former first round prospect signed in free agency has been an effective three point shooter and has earned a consistent spot in the rotation. Between these three players, they all were undervalued by their previous franchises. And they all are being given a chance to thrive in Detroit.
Saddiq Bey embracing the role as sixth man
When asking a player who was a consistent starter to come off the bench, it can often be seen as a demotion. However, Dwane Casey made it very clear that he still viewed Saddiq Bey as a starter level player. However, Casey sited the desire to move to a two big starting five, and hoped Bey would become the leader of the second unit. Over the past couple of weeks, not only has Saddiq Bey accepted that role, but he’s embraced the role. In the month of December, Bey is averaging 14 points a game, shooting 40 percent from the field. But more importantly, Saddiq’s three point shot is beginning to climb. Bey is shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc in December, and if like last season, that number will only continue to climb.
The Pistons made several additions this offseason. And those additions made opportunities in the starting lineup more sparse. So for Saddiq Bey to have the opportunity to be the number one option in his own lineup is a valuable one. And when in that span of time the second unit has been the best in the league, that’s a pretty good sign. In addition, the two big lineup has allowed Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren to spread their wings as well. The team as a whole is playing better, and have found a rotation that makes them more competitive. A rotation that would’ve been much more competitive if it included Cade Cunningham.
Pistons have solid foundation to build off of, could look way deeper quickly
Before the season started, the Pistons made a decision to acquire Jalen Duren. And in return, they would acquire the salary of Kemba Walker, Alec Burks, and Nerlens Noel. While Burks and Noel have contributed to the rotation, this decision meant pushing their salary cap space to next offseason. Therefore, they decided to not put as much resources into improving the current roster. So when your current second unit is already among the best in the league, up there with playoff teams, that’s a solid foundation. Throw in the fact that the Pistons will have upwards of 60-70 million dollars this offseason to improve the roster? This second unit could feature legitimate depth. In order to win playoff games in this league, you need a solid bench.
Even though the Pistons are still towards the bottom of the standings, having their bench amongst the best is a silver lining to build off of. Even if this second unit can’t keep up this rate of scoring, there’s a multitude of players who are playing well with team friendly deals. And they all could potentially be assets in trades if the Pistons were to make any significant transations. This bench gives the Pistons choices down the road, and keeps them competitive now. If Detroit wants to maintain a winning program moving forward, they will want to keep their second unit strong. And this year’s improvement has been a really good start.
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