Detroit Pistons Writer
Training camp is in full swing for the Detroit Pistons. Tomorrow, Oct. 4, the team faces off against the New York Knicks in the first of their four preseason games.
In the midst of a lengthy restoration, Pistons’ GM Troy Weaver has spent his first three seasons acquiring young talent. The Pistons boast one of the youngest rosters in the NBA with 11 players aged 24 or younger.
This season is going to be another year of development for Detroit’s young core. The team is not ready to turn a corner into a playoff contender quite yet. If all goes well this season, the Pistons are a play-in tournament team at best. At worst, this team could be in for another bottom-five finish.
No matter which way the season goes, all of Detroit’s young players have room for development. Some players have a few holes in their games, others have plenty of room for growth.
Of the 11 Pistons aged 24 or younger, four of them are projected starters. Here is one area of improvement for each of Detroit’s young starters.
Cade Cunningham: Overall scoring efficiency
The biggest area of improvement for Cade Cunningham came down to improving his scoring efficiency and cutting down on turnovers.
Cunningham averaged 3.7 turnovers per game as a rookie. Most rookie point guards struggle with turnover issues, so it is no surprise that Cunningham faced the same struggles. With experience, these issues should go away.
Scoring efficiency is the main area of improvement for Cunningham. The 21-year-old shot 41.6 percent from the floor and 31.4 percent from beyond the arc. By no means was that an efficient scoring season for the young star.
Cunningham’s shooting efficiency woes can be attributed to how heavily he was utilized in Detroit’s offense and how much attention he garnered from opposing defenses. As a rookie, the point guard had a usage rate of 27.5 percent, the highest of any Piston. Cunningham was also one of the most double-teamed players in the entire NBA this past season. It is no surprise the rookie struggled with efficiency with how heavy of an offensive load he had to carry.
This season, Cunningham will have every opportunity to improve his scoring efficiency. The additions of Jaden Ivey and Bojan Bogdanovic should go a long way toward taking some of the offensive load off Cunningham’s shoulders. Bogdanovic and Alec Burks provide ample floor spacing. These acquisitions should open up the floor for Cunningham, and help him improve his scoring efficiency.
Jaden Ivey: Three-point shooting
Three-point shooting has been an issue for the Pistons over the past few seasons. In 2021-22, Detroit ranked 29th in three-point shooting percentage. In an attempt to remedy the team’s shooting woes, the front office acquired Burks and Bogdanovic. Jaden Ivey could ultimately be another positive three-point shooter for the Pistons, but he has plenty of room for improvement as a shooter.
In his freshman season at Purdue, Ivey shot 25.8 percent on 4.2 three-point attempts per game. In his sophomore season, Ivey improved his efficiency to 35.8 percent on five attempts from beyond the arc. He showed a marked improvement between year one and year two, but Ivey still struggled with consistency as a shooter.
In Summer League, Ivey shot two-for-five from beyond the arc in Detroit’s first matchup. His shot was not always pretty, but he got the ball to fall through the hoop.
Continuing to improve as a three-point shooter will go a long way toward determining Ivey’s success as Cunningham’s backcourt partner in the long term. Improving his shot from beyond the arc will be instrumental to Ivey’s development as an off-ball player as well.
Saddiq Bey: Becoming a plus defender
Saddiq Bey took a major step forward as an offensive player this past season. The 23-year-old forward averaged 16.1 points per game and led the team in total points in 2021-22. He flashed the potential as a second or third option on a playoff team. By far, the highlight of his season was his 50-point game against the Orlando Magic.
Defensively, Bey leaves a lot to be desired. The forward posted a 116 defensive rating and -1.2 defensive box plus/minus this past season. Bey does not draw big defensive assignments. He lacks the agility to guard elite perimeter players in an on-ball situation. Off-ball, Bey does not provide much as a help-side defender.
Do not expect Bey to simply improve his lateral quickness and become a dominant help-side shot blocker. However, in the right role, the 23-year-old could become a plus defender.
Bey is best utilized in matchups against bigger forwards. Allowing him to use his strength on defense against guys who do most of their damage inside the arc rather than beyond it would help him avoid struggling against quick perimeter players. At 6-7 and 215 pounds, Bey has the size to guard most power forwards in the league. Matching up against fours could be the role he is best suited for.
Bey is already a suitable off-ball defender. If the Pistons can place him in the right matchups as an on-ball defender, he could be a plus defender for Detroit this season.
Isaiah Stewart: Volume three-point shooting
Isaiah Stewart is already Detroit’s best defensive player. The big man can guard in the paint and hold his own when switched onto the perimeter. Stewart’s defense alone is good enough to earn a place in the starting lineup, but continuing to develop his offensive game is necessary for him to stay in it.
Stewart showed the makings of a solid three-point shooter late in the 2021-22 season and during Summer League. In his last 21 games of this past season, Stewart shot 54.5 percent from beyond the arc. This season, Stewart is believed to have the green light to let the three-pointers fly.
Stewart showed he can sink three-point shots, but now he has to prove he can do it on more volume. The 21-year-old should see his three-point attempts per game jump to around what other floor spacing bigs attempt. Brook Lopez attempted 4.1 three-pointers, Mo Bamba attempted four and Myles Turner attempted 4.4. If Stewart can bring his three-point attempts up to around four per game and continue shooting efficiently, he would have a case to hold onto his starting spot in the long term.