At the end of the 2021-22 NBA season, I wrote an article on the Detroit Pistons season awards. The article covered the usual awards: Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man and Most Improved.
At the end of last season, Cade Cunningham took home the MVP and Rookie of the Year. Isaiah Stewart won Defensive Player of the Year. Hamidou Diallo edged out Marvin Bagley III for Sixth Man. Saddiq Bey took home the MIP.
The 2022-23 season tips off for the Pistons on Oct. 19 against the Orlando Magic. So, before the regular season starts, here are my predictions for the Pistons’ season awards.
Most Valuable Player: Cade Cunningham
This one could not be any more obvious. Cade Cunningham took this award home last season after he established himself as the best player on the roster. This season should be no different for the 21-year-old.
Opposing defenses continue to key in on Cunningham as a focal point for their defensive game plan. The offense runs through Cunningham, his 27.5 percent usage rate is unlikely to decrease in his second season.
With a better supporting cast around him, Cunningham should see his scoring efficiency improve. He shot 41.6 percent from the floor and 31.4 percent from beyond the arc in his rookie season. This year, the Pistons have supplied better floor spacing around Cunningham. When the double teams come he will have more reliable shooters to kick the ball out to. He could easily find himself as a 20-point scorer this season, and his assists per game could rise as well.
Barring a long-term injury, Cunningham taking home the Pistons’ MVP is a foregone conclusion.
Rookie of the Year: Jaden Ivey
Jalen Duren could certainly make a push to take home the Pistons’ Rookie of the Year award this season. However, that is completely dependent on how many minutes the 18-year-old receives. Duren is not going to be a starter, at least not early in the season. He might not receive a heavy dose of minutes, especially when Marvin Bagley III and Nerlens Noel return from injury. If he is able to steal rotation minutes early enough in the season, he has a chance. As of right now, Jaden Ivey is the clear favorite.
Ivey settled into the starting lineup in the first game of the preseason. The 20-year-old has flashed his high-end athleticism throughout the preseason. He displayed solid playmaking chops and defensive potential. Ivey truly shined in transition; he often pushed the pace and took the ball coast to coast to the rim.
Ivey is not going to move the needle and make the Pistons a playoff team in his rookie season. He still has plenty of room to grow, especially with ball control and adjusting to a more physical game. However, he is going to be a standout player for the Pistons, and he is going to continually flash the potential of what is to come down the road.
Defensive Player of the Year: Isaiah Stewart
This award comes down to a battle between Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes. Both players have established themselves as the two best defensive players on the team. Hayes’ size and length allow him to disrupt passing lanes and shroud ball handlers along the perimeter. Stewart offers great switchability, both as an interior defender and along the perimeter for short stretches.
Stewart edges out Hayes for the second year in a row. Defensive Player of the Year almost always favors big men. Stewart always ranks near the top of defensive metrics for the Pistons. He is not a dominant shot blocker at this point in his career, but he plays pesky defense. With Bojan Bogdanovic and Saddiq Bey both below-average defensive players, much of the defensive load is going to fall on Stewart in the Pistons’ starting lineup.
There is still some untapped potential for Stewart, defensively. In a role similar to the one Robert Williams plays for the Celtics, Stewart could thrive and put himself into the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. That will not come this year. The Pistons do not have the big man to settle in as a rim protector while Stewart plays as a roamer. The team does not yet have the Al Horford-type player to pair with Stewart. One day, that could be Duren, but only time will tell.
For now, Stewart will just have to settle for the best defensive player on the Pistons’ roster.
Sixth Man of the Year: Marvin Bagley III (health pending)
This was the hardest of my completely subjective awards to determine, but it should not have been. Bagley is the obvious favorite to win the award. In 18 games with the Pistons, Bagley averaged 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds with the Pistons. The 23-year-old resurrected his career and his turnaround into a three-year contract this offseason.
Unfortunately, the award going to Bagley is not longer so obvious. In Detroit’s third preseason game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bagley suffered a sprained MCL and bone bruise. He is slated to miss at least the first three to four weeks of the season, but there is no guarantee when he returns and how effective he will be.
If Bagley returns early enough and plays at the same level he displayed in his 18-game stretch with the Pistons last season, he should still secure the Sixth Man award. However, if he misses more significant time or is ineffective, other players will quickly become the frontrunners. Hayes, Hamidou Diallo, Alec Burks and Isaiah Livers are all players to monitor in the event Bagley takes a step back due to his injury.
Most Improved Player: Killian Hayes
Since his rookie season, Hayes has been one of the Pistons’ better defenders. He has been the best playmaker on the roster as well. Hayes’ court vision and pass accuracy are simply a tier above the rest of the players on Detroit’s roster.
Where Hayes has always struggled is as a scorer. It was a major reason why he was replaced by Cory Joseph in the starting lineup. In his new role, Hayes did show growth as a scorer. The 21-year-old went from shooting 32 percent on drive attempts to shooting 51.2 percent. He was more aggressive around the rim and cut down on shying away from contact.
Heading into his third season in the league, Hayes is looking to continue building off his late-season development in 2021-22. On top of improving his scoring around the rim, Hayes needs to grow as a three-point shooter this season. Hayes is a career 26.8 percent shooter from beyond the arc. He has gone through stretches of decent three-point shooting, but he has been unreliable as a whole.
Hayes has reportedly tweaked his shooting form. Against the Thunder, Hayes shot four-for-six from three-point range. The potential is there for Hayes to take the next step forward in his development. If Hayes can improve as a shooter and continue to grow around the rim, he is an obvious favorite to win the MIP this season.
(Featured Image Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)