Today, Sept. 26, marks the beginning of the 2022-23 season for the Detroit Pistons. Media day kicks off the season with training camp in its wake.
Coming off a 23-59 record this past season, expectations are not exceptionally high for the Pistons. Sure, some of Detroit’s more optimistic fans view the play-in tournament as a real possibility for this team; however, the Pistons are still in the midst of a complete teardown of a rebuild. It could be another year before the team is ready to turn a corner and compete for a playoff spot.
That is not to say Detroit is stuck in the mud on its restoration. Pistons’ GM Troy Weaver has spent his tenure acquiring young talent through the draft, free agency and the trade market. As a result, the Pistons boast one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. The team has 10 players on its roster aged 24 or younger.
Whether it coincides with a 20-win season or a spot in the play-in tournament, the development of the Pistons’ young core is the top priority for this team. However, Detroit’s veteran players will also have their fair share of minutes this season.
In training camp, both veterans and youngsters alike will battle it out for a place in Detroit’s rotation. The only two players who appear guaranteed a place in the starting lineup are Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey. To differing capacities, the rest of the starting lineup and bench rotation is up for grabs.
Here are three position battles to keep an eye on in training camp and throughout the preseason.
Who replaces Jerami Grant in the Pistons’ starting lineup?
This question has loomed over the Pistons ever since Weaver and the front office dealt the veteran power forward to the Portland Trail Blazers the night before the NBA Draft. Grant is the only starter from this past season who is not returning for the 2022-23 season. After dealing him away, the Pistons have lost their leading scorer and one of their best players.
With Grant gone, there is a void in the Pistons’ starting lineup. Throughout the offseason, there has been plenty of speculation on who will replace Grant in Detroit’s starting five.
Saddiq Bey or Isaiah Stewart
Shifting either Bey or Isaiah Stewart to the four has been thrown around as a potential option. Of course, moving one of those two into a new position still leaves a gaping hole in the starting lineup elsewhere.
Bey playing at the four makes sense. Standing at 6-7 and weighing in at 215 pounds, he has the size and the floor spacing to play the position. Moving him to power forward would leave the Pistons in need of a new starting small forward. Isaiah Livers, Alec Burks and the newly acquired Bojan Bogdanović are all potential suitors to fill in at the three should Bey slide up to the four.
Stewart has flashed the potential to play power forward. Late this past season, the big man showed the makings of a decent three-point shot. In Summer League, he continued to put his jumper on display. The question is, can Stewart shoot at a decent percentage on higher volume? If he proves to be a solid floor spacer, he has a chance. Moving Stewart to the four would open up an opportunity for Jalen Duren or possibly Marvin Bagley III to start at center.
Marvin Bagley III
This offseason, Bagley re-signed with the Pistons on a three-year $37 million contract. The former second overall pick has an opportunity to become a starter once again.
Bagley is an athletic big who is a pick-and-roll lob threat. He has shot the three-ball well in the past but has struggled in recent years. Defensively, he leaves a lot to be desired, but the Pistons could find a way to hide him in a minimized defensive role.
Bagley’s best shot at starting comes with the caveat that Stewart starts next to him. Stewart can anchor the defense allowing Bagley to hide as a help-side defender. If Stewart’s three-point shot is the real deal, the team would not sacrifice much floor spacing by playing Bagley at the four. Effectively, a Bagley-and-Stewart frontcourt pairing would allow Bagley to play the five on offense and the four on defense.
The Pistons may have found the answer to who replaces Grant in Bojan Bogdanović. The 33-year-old was acquired in a trade with the Utah Jazz that saw Detroit part with Saben Lee and Kelly Olynyk.
Bogdanović has eight years of NBA experience, including six seasons where he started in over half of his games played. He is a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter. He has the ability to play either forward spot, but he spent much of this past season as Utah’s four.
Bogdanović immediately helps a Pistons team that ranked 29th in team three-point percentage this past season. A combination of Bey, Stewart and Bogdanović in the starting lineup offers plenty of floor spacing to surround Cunningham and Jaden Ivey in the backcourt.
It is no guarantee, but Bogdanović should enter training camp as the favorite to replace Grant in Detroit’s starting lineup.
Can Alec Burks push Jaden Ivey for Detroit’s starting shooting guard spot?
Since being drafted with the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft, Jaden Ivey has been penciled in as Cunningham’s backcourt partner. The Purdue product was one of the most athletic prospects in this year’s draft class. Ivey offers the Pistons an element of speed and creativity around the rim that has been sorely lacking from the rotation.
The only real competition Ivey will face for the starting shooting guard spot comes from Alec Burks. Killian Hayes has settled into a role coming off the bench, and Cory Joseph, who ended this past season as Cunningham’s backcourt partner, appears destined to fill in as more of a depth piece this season.
Weaver and the front office acquired Burks this offseason in a trade with the New York Knicks. Burks spent the past two seasons with the Knicks, shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc both times. He offers a lot of positional flexibility. The 6-6 wing has the size to play small forward as well as the ball-handling to play point guard. The 31-year-old is a stout defender as well. Burks’ versatility makes him an excellent candidate to come off the bench, but his three-point shooting could help him push for the starting lineup.
A potential lineup of Cunningham, Burks, Bey, Bogdanović and Stewart maximizes Detroit’s floor spacing within the starting unit. Cunningham would conceivably have four respectable shooters to get the ball to when he draws double teams or kicks the ball out on drives.
Burks would bring a steady and reliable veteran presence next to Cunningham in the starting lineup, but Ivey has the upside and athletic edge. It is going to be hard to keep Ivey out of the starting lineup when the coaching staff sees the plays the rookie can make during training camp and preseason action.
Who is the Pistons’ backup small forward?
For the sake of this exercise, let us assume the Pistons starting lineup shakes out to be Cunningham, Ivey, Bey, Bogdanović and Stewart. Hayes is a lock at backup point guard, Burks fills in as the backup shooting guard, Bagley becomes the established backup power forward and Jalen Duren beats out Nerlens Noel to become the backup center. That leaves a battle for the backup small forward position with two guys seriously competing for the spot.
Livers and Hamidou Diallo are the two players competing for Detroit’s last rotation spot. Kevin Knox could force his way into the conversation, but the Kentucky product would have to show drastic development to do so.
Isaiah Livers’ shooting or Hamidou Diallo’s athleticism?
Livers is the traditional three-and-D wing archetype. The 24-year-old shot 42.2 percent from beyond the arc this past season, shooting mostly catch-and-shoot attempts. Livers consistently found good positioning along the perimeter, and he often made the extra pass. He passed up on a decent look at the basket in favor of finding a teammate with a better one. Defensively, Livers established himself as one of Detroit’s better players this past season.
Diallo is an athletic wing who plays intense defense and pushes the pace in transition. He is not a good three-point shooter, but he makes an impact on offense by cutting to the rim. The 24-year-old is entering the final year of his contract. Diallo went from out of the rotation early on this past season to Detroit’s sixth man off the bench by the end of the year. Now, Diallo finds himself yet again competing for a spot in the Pistons’ rotation.
The decision between Livers and Diallo for the final spot in the rotation will come down to head coach Dwane Casey’s preference. Both are good defenders who can guard multiple positions, and both have shown they can be good off-ball players on offense. Will Casey prefer shooting or athleticism? Does the coaching staff want to boost the team’s three-point shooting with Livers, or do they want to make the most of Diallo’s high-end athleticism?
It is not the flashiest training camp battle, but it could be the closest. Diallo and Livers could compete for playing time throughout the regular season as well. Detroit’s desperation to improve its three-point shooting gives Livers an edge, even if it is just as slight one.
(Featured Image Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)