The Detroit Pistons 1-3 start to the 2022-23 NBA season has many supporters uneasy in year three of Troy Weaver’s restoration. The organization’s rebranded rebuild still has many fans aboard the bandwagon, but wanting to see more.
Coming into the season the organization stated they were ready to compete every night. But so far the team hasn’t met that challenge.
Observers have pondered why the team hasn’t looked as expected. Even head coach Dwane Casey has questioned some differences. In the press conference following Tuesday’s 120-99 loss to the Washington Wizards, coach Casey shared his concern for Killian Hayes:
“He’s not playing at the level he did in exhibition,” Casey said. “We have to find out why. He’s putting pressure on himself. He doesn’t need to. This is time to grow.” (via James L Edwards / Twitter)
I found it interesting Hayes was mentioned for not looking the part, as that’s been the middle ground between supporters and detractors. Killian Hayes must be better, there is no argument on that.
The team defense is another legitimate concern. Many fans have questioned the team’s effort and desire on that end of the court. Defense is how the great Pistons teams of the past made their name. Again, no argument on that front.
But some of the other issues that have fans up in arms may be due to three factors that can’t be fixed on a game-by-game basis.
Injuries Affecting the Lineup
The Pistons 1-3 start has fan complaints mounting. They’ve ranged from the team insisting on a small-ball lineup, to Cade Cunningham not looking the same as last year.
Were the injuries to Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, and Marvin Bagley III underestimated coming into the season?
The Pistons offense hasn’t looked cohesive, and the lineups seem to keep Jalen Duren and Isaiah Stewart from playing together. This is to limit the amount of small ball the team has to play while they are thin in the front court.
Duren and Stewart are the only bigs on the team, which makes playing them together that much tougher. Whether resting, or in foul trouble, the lack of bigs has left this team struggling to defend or rebound.
The Pistons are currently 28th in rebounds allowed, and are a bottom 10 team at allowing opponent points in the paint per game. Without Bagley and Noel there just aren’t enough to bodies on the roster to make more than a marginal improvement to those numbers.
Thing get even more interesting on offense. When the Pistons acquired Marvin Bagley last year it seemed to coincide with Cade Cunningham and the team taking a big leap.
“It’s his athleticism,” Casey said. “He gives our guys (a lob option). That’s a great threat, which is going to open up a lot of other things. It’s going to shrink the defense where you have the kick-outs or the ball-handlers are going to be able to score.” – Dwane Casey on Marvin Bagley via Rod Beard (Detroit News)
Expect the offense to look more fluid when Bagley and Burks return from injury. Burks has shot over 40% from three on roughly five attempts a game over the last two seasons. That will be a nice help to a team currently shooting 34% from three, which ranks 19th in the NBA.
Front Office Fix
Sometimes it helps to take a broader view. When fans zoom out and try to look at the season like a general manager, rather than react to every game, it’s easier to gain perspective. The Detroit Pistons struggles so far aren’t necessarily a result of bad decisions. They are a reflection of the job still ahead of the front office.
General manager Troy Weaver hasn’t been shy about stacking talent. The salary cap sheet was so mangled, and the cupboard of talent so bare when Weaver first arrived, that taking a guard with the first pick of the last three drafts didn’t raise any alarms.
First Hayes, then Cunningham, and then Jaden Ivey, who is now starting. Killian Hayes was a starter last year, but during the season the coaching staff decided he was no longer on an arc to start for this team. The front office then did its part by identifying and drafting a better backcourt mate for Cunningham.
The organization should have the opportunity to make the same kind of assessments and adjustments this season.
This is What a Rebuild Looks Like
Troy Weaver has turned over this entire roster, and has ushered in six first-round draft picks in three years. They also lost veteran players Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk, who helped their teams to better than expected starts.
Olynyk’s three-point shooting (78%) has helped the Utah Jazz to a 3-1 record. Meanwhile, Weaver’s first big signing of the restoration era, Jerami Grant, has helped the Portland Trailblazers to a record of 4-0.
Isn’t this what fans have wanted for years? A complete tear-down-to-the-studs, youth-movement rebuild? This is where the Detroit Pistons are now.
They’re no longer relying on veterans, but instead on young players like Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Jalen Duren and Jaden Ivey.
Growing pains and mistakes, though not all excusable, should be expected as this team seeks to improve.
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