For the third year in a row, Detroit Pistons GM Troy Weaver and the front office have been active during the offseason. In total, there are six new faces in the Pistons’ locker room entering the 2022-23 season.
Rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren are added to a Pistons’ roster that is already one of the youngest in the NBA. Rookie Buddy Boeheim joins the team on a two-way contract. Veterans Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel provide productive bench players who could start in a pinch. Rounding out the additions, Kevin Knox has a chance to resurrect his career after an unspectacular first four years in the league.
The Pistons are not without their departures, however. The team declined the team options of Frank Jackson, Luka Garza and Carsen Edwards. Jamorko Pickett, who was on a two-way contract last season, is not returning to the team either.
The most notable of Detroit’s departures is power forward Jerami Grant. The 28-year-old was the first free agent signing of the Weaver era. Grant was a breakout player for the Pistons in the 2020-21 season. Trade rumors surrounding the veteran forward began to circulate at the trade deadline in first year in the Motor City. Ultimately, Grant was dealt at the beginning of this offseason in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Grants scoring production will have to be replaced this upcoming season. He led the team in scoring with 19.2 points per game this past season. Which of Detroit’s players steps up as the leading scorer this season is yet to be determined.
I took the opportunity to predict who will lead the Pistons in scoring this upcoming season. In this article, I predict the leaders in the other major statistical categories as well.
Points Per Game: Cade Cunningham
Cade Cunningham is the obvious pick to replace Grant as the Pistons’ leading scorer next season. The 20-year-old point guard was the team’s second-leading scorer last season as a rookie. Cunningham posted 17.4 points per game in 64 appearances for the Pistons.
Cunningham is expected to take a step forward in his second season in the league, especially in terms of scoring efficiency. He shot 41.6 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from beyond the arc this past season. If he can improve those percentages to around league average, there is little doubt Cunningham will be a 20-plus point-per-game scorer.
There is a case to be made for Saddiq Bey. The 23-year-old forward was the third-leading scorer for the Pistons this past season. Bey averaged 16.1 points per game, but he also led the team in total points with 1,321. Bey also dropped 50 points against the Orlando Magic late in the season. He has shown he can take on a large scoring load, but whether he can sustain it for an entire season is yet to be seen.
Ultimately, Cunningham edges out Bey for the Pistons scoring title next season. Cunningham benefits from playing as the lead ball-handler and initiator in Detroit’s offense. Bey will get his fair share of looks, but a lot of them will come within the flow of Detroit’s offense as a shooter. Cunningham will have more isolation opportunities and drives.
It could be close, but Cunningham is the most likely to lead the team in scoring.
Assists Per Game: Cade Cunningham
Aside from Derrick Walton who averaged seven assists in three games with the Pistons, Cunningham led the Pistons in assists per game last season. The point guard averaged 5.6 assists per game as a rookie. With his role on the team unlikely to do anything but increase heading into year two, the odds are that Cunningham will repeat as the team’s assist leader in 2022-23.
The closest competition Cunningham will have for the title is Killian Hayes. The 21-year-old point guard is possibly the most talented passer on Detroit’s roster. Hayes has great court vision and accuracy on his passes.
Cunningham may not possess the same level of passing talent as Hayes, but his volume is sure to be much higher. Hayes boasted a 15 percent usage rate this past season. Certainly not bad for a backup point guard, but it is dwarfed by Cunningham’s 27.5 percent usage rate. Cunningham is simply used in Detroit’s offense more than Hayes, and that remains true for facilitating opportunities.
Rebounds Per Game: Isaiah Stewart
The Pistons’ rebounds leader is going to be entirely dependent on how many minutes Jalen Duren receives as a rookie. There is a world where the 18-year-old is a regular rotation player, possibly even a starter, early on in the season. However, there is also a world where he is brought on more slowly.
If Duren is given plenty of minutes early on in the season, I think he is the runaway favorite to lead the team in rebounds. It is hard to foresee that being the case, though.
Taking everything into consideration, Isaiah Stewart makes the most sense to lead the Pistons in rebounding. The 21-year-old big man led the team last season with 8.7 rebounds per game.
If Stewart starts at center this season, there is no doubt he leads the team in rebounding. If the Pistons slide him to the power forward spot and ask him to guard the perimeter more, someone else could contend for the team rebounding title.
Blocks Per Game: Isaiah Stewart
Of the players who appeared in more than 10 games for Detroit this past season, Stewart was the leader in blocks per game. Braxton Key, who played in nine games, averaged 1.2 blocks per game. Somehow the 6-0 Walton averaged 1.3 blocks in his three games with the Pistons. Stewart finished the season averaging 1.1 blocks per game.
As the most active and most important defender on Detroit’s roster, Stewart is the favorite to lead the team in blocks again this upcoming season. Again, this is under the assumption that Stewart is starting at center next season and not power forward.
Just like with rebounds, Duren could push Stewart for the team’s blocks title. Duren has the prototypical size for a center, and he has displayed great rim-protecting instincts at Memphis and during his time in Summer League. How many minutes the big man receives will be key to determining if he can overtake Stewart as the team’s leading shot blocker.
Nerlens Noel also has a case to be the team’s blocks leader next season. Noel has a career average 1.5 blocks per game in his eight NBA seasons. If the veteran big man does not find himself buried on the depth chart, he could easily lead the team in blocks.
All three players have the ability to lead the team in blocks, but Stewart will likely have the most opportunity out of the three.
Steals Per Game: Killian Hayes
Cunningham and Hayes were tied for the team lead in steals per game this past season, with both averaging 1.2. Both players will likely compete for the team lead in steals again this season as well.
Hayes has the advantage over Cunningham. The 21-year-old has displayed active hands and a knack for playing passing lanes throughout his career. Entering 2022-23, Hayes will have a more established role off the bench. Last season, he endured a midseason switch-up amidst his struggles on offense.
Cunningham is no slouch on the defensive end either. Hayes is simply a cut above the rest of Detroit’s roster when it comes to perimeter defense. Is that to say Cunningham cannot take home the steals title next season? No. Honestly, he probably has just as good a chance at doing so as Hayes does, but Cunningham is already projected to be the team’s scoring leader and assists leader. Where is the fun in giving him the title in every category?
Do not count out Jaden Ivey either. Weaver challenged the rookie to develop into a great defensive player. If Ivey takes that challenge to heart, there is good reason to believe he could put enough effort in on the defensive end to lead the team in steals. However, with his defensive game still developing, there is just as good a reason to believe that will only result in Ivey leading the team in fouls rather than steals.
(Featured Image Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)