The Detroit Pistons are one of the worst teams in the NBA. At this point, they are long out of the playoff picture. And they would need to have a complete change overnight to make the playin tournament. In this stage of the season, it is easy to stop trying and to focus on next year. But that’s not what’s happening in the Motor City. The Pistons are going to try one key thing over the course of this final stretch, and it is to establish their core. But more importantly, Detroit is going to be establishing their identity on and off the court.
Dwane Casey and Troy Weaver will be deciding which players will be part of the rebuild going forward. And at this stage, there are only two players who feel comfortably part of the core: Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey. Isaiah Stewart is another fundamental piece in Detroit. And despite the fact that Stewart’s offense left a lot to be desired to start, he has really shined of late. Killian Hayes has found comfort in his new bench role and is showing a potential future role in Detroit. And Marvin Bagley in his short time in Detroit has been electric offensively. This lob between Cunningham and Bagley alone shows why the Pistons traded for Bagley.
The Pistons are looking to establish who they are on both ends of the court
One of the crucial parts of a rebuild is to know exactly what the Pistons are building towards. And with $40 million in dead cap and multiple players under the age of 25 with primary roles, playoffs were never in the plans this year. Dwane Casey quickly gave the keys to their young guys, and the goal is to let their guys develop. Over the course of the season, we have seen exactly that. And now, with about 20 games remaining, it’s about finishing strong and getting momentum going into the off season.
Troy Weaver acknowledged that one thing we needed at the deadline was more athleticism. And with that, it was clear why the Pistons traded for Marvin Bagley. Despite having to trade 2 second round picks, Trey Lyles, and Josh Jackson, it gets them more athleticism at the front court. It allows Saddiq Bey to split more minutes between the 3 and the 4, and lineups with Jerami Grant at the 4 and Bagley at the 5 would allow for a lot of versatility.
There are also going to be a lot of moments where Stewart and Bagley will play on the court together as well. And how they learn to play together will be important for Bagley’s future in Detroit. The Pistons have won 3 out of their last 4 games. All of which have been against playoff teams. All of their wins have been because of improved play on both sides of the floor. Offensively, the Pistons are getting more points in the paint thanks to the likes of Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley, and Hamidou Diallo.
The Pistons will look to identify who is in Detroit long term as well
Despite this player’s critics (hi, Adham), Jerami Grant has played well in the clutch for Detroit throughout the season. Despite some nights struggling from the field, Jerami Grant is averaging 19 points a game shooting 41% from the field, and he can guard every position on the court. He is a good NBA player who has been asked to be the number one guy on a young team. As the season has gone on, however, Cade Cunningham has taken that role. And Cade Cunningham has also secured himself as the core piece of the Pistons future.
Jerami Grant is a really good NBA player, but he might not be best suited for the Pistons long term. What is going to ultimately decide that, however, is where the Pistons will be drafting. If Detroit is drafting in the top three, they will likely have their pickings at the elite power forwards that headline this draft class. And if they fall out of the top three, the draft board changes. It gets smaller, and that means possibly changing the approach. Ultimately, the Pistons will want to find their pick and roll partner with Cade Cunningham. It seems likely that the Pistons could move Jerami Grant this summer. However, it’s important to remember his value.
Detroit will make changes this summer, and these final games will be crucial
For some of the deeper rotation players in Detroit, these could be their final games. The Pistons will have some of the most salary cap space in the league this summer, and will surely be looking to make changes. For players like Marvin Bagley, who is looking to secure his place in the league, he will need to continue to impress going forward. The Pistons won’t be looking to start Bagley, as if he classified as a starter, Detroit would have to pay him double per year. And Detroit would rather keep him on a team friendly deal.
Players like Hamidou Diallo have also seemed to secure a role in Detroit, perhaps long term. His defensive ability coupled with his athleticism are much needed in the modern NBA. And it’s especially needed on the Pistons. Kelly Olynyk is a candidate to get traded this season, but he can also prove why Detroit signed him this offseason. Olynyk has been much improved compared to when he returned from COVID. He also hit the game winner to snap the 15 game losing streak in Charlotte. But Detroit is starting to get full in the front court. And they could be especially crowded after the draft and free agency.
Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey’s vision for the Pistons is beginning to be recognizable
What has become clear over this recent stretch is what the Pistons want their identity to be. On the defensive end, the Pistons are wanting to be tough. With Detroit drafting a young group of versatile defenders and skilled playmakers offensively, defense matters. Cade Cunningham was drafted for his versatility on both ends of the court. The Pistons are building with defense in mind and the ability to shoot the three. In addition, to have guys like Cunningham and possibly even Saddiq Bey and Killian Hayes who can create shots for others (and in Saddiq’s case himself). But for everyone else on the roster, there will need to be some cases made for Detroit to keep them.
The Pistons have grown this year, and will look to grow more this season. Rebuilds need moments of energy and statement wins, and the Pistons are getting them. Cade Cunningham is looking to be in the Rookie of the Year race with Evan Mobley, and can help mold the Pistons identity. It’s all about offensive and defensive versatility. To be tough on both ends, to make both serve each other, and get more talent to surround Cade Cunningham. The Pistons won’t measure the final stretch on wins and losses, but rather what growth these players show. And there will be plenty of opportunities. These players will need to maximize their opportunities to keep their place in the franchise. And that’s exactly the type of thing to bring intensity on and off the court.
One thing is clear: the vision of the front office is becoming more visible every day. And soon, it’s time to talk about the draft. But for now, it’s all about how these players on the roster now grow and maximize their opportunity. And more importantly, how we start to form our identity.
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Featured image credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports