Detroit Pistons Writer
Throughout the offseason, there was no shortage of speculation surrounding the Detroit Pistons’ starting lineup.
At the end of the 2021-22 season, it was apparent that Detroit would introduce a new backcourt partner for Cade Cunningham. However, with the departure of Jerami Grant via trade the night before the draft, Detroit now has two holes to fill in the starting five.
The answer at shooting guard appears to be down to two new arrivals in the Motor City. Jaden Ivey was selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The Purdue product is one of the most athletic players in the draft class. Alec Burks was acquired in a trade with the New York Knicks. Burks shot above 40 percent from beyond the arc in his last two seasons with the Knicks.
Detroit has numerous options to replace Grant at power forward. Throughout the offseason, Isaiah Livers’ name had been thrown out as a possibility to play with the starting unit. As a rookie, the three-and-D wing shot above 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Flexing Isaiah Stewart to power forward was another option that gained some traction. Stewart flashed potential as a floor-spacing big man at the tail end of the 2021-22 season. Marvin Bagley III also received some attention as a possible starting four.
Then, a new favorite to replace Grant in the starting lineup emerged. The Pistons acquired Bojan Bogdanović in a trade with the Utah Jazz. The team lost Saben Lee and Kelly Olynyk in the deal. As yet another 40 percent three-point shooter in the mix for Detroit, Bogdanović would seamlessly plug into Detroit’s starting lineup.
With training camp underway and the preseason soon to follow, here is my prediction for the Pistons’ starting lineup this season.
Detroit Pistons starting lineup prediction:
PG- Cade Cunningham
SG- Jaden Ivey
SF- Saddiq Bey
PF- Bojan Bogdanović
C- Isaiah Stewart
Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey are the only locks
The two locks to make the starting lineup this season are Cunningham and Saddiq Bey. Cunningham is the face of the franchise, and Bey established himself as a long-term piece with his performance this past season. Besides these two, the rest of the starting lineup is conceivably up for grabs.
The battle for the shooting guard spot
Burks and Ivey are the only two players who are truly competing for a spot next to Cunningham in the backcourt. Ivey has the athletic talent and upside, while Burks is a solid defensive player and reliable shooter.
Going with Ivey in the starting lineup would help the rookie build chemistry with Cunningham early. The long-term plan is for Ivey to be Cunningham’s running-mate as the Pistons compete in the playoffs. The team is not in a position to compete now, so there is no real reason to hold Ivey back from getting starting experience.
If the Pistons want to play it safe with Ivey and bring him along slowly, Burks is more than suitable to start next to Cunningham. Burks has the versatility to play multiple positions, and he has the ball-handling and playmaking chops to take some of the offensive load off Cunningham’s shoulders for a possession or two. He also provides immediate relief to a Pistons’ team that ranked 29th in three-point shooting percentage in 2021-22.
The deciding factor may ultimately be health rather than training camp performance. The Athletic‘s James Edwards III reported that Burks will miss the first three weeks of training camp as he recovers from a navicular fracture. Burks sitting out due to injury could give Ivey the leg up he needs to edge the veteran out for a spot in the starting lineup.
Injury or no injury, Ivey is going to make a lot of standout plays during training camp and the preseason. While Burks’ reliable veteran presence is appealing for pairing with Cunningham this season, Ivey’s upside and flashy plays are going to be too enticing to pass up for the starting lineup.
The Pistons did not trade for Bojan Bogdanović to have him come off the bench
Bagley is going to have the best shot at pushing Bogdanović for Detroit’s starting power forward spot.
The former second overall pick re-signed with the Pistons on a three-year $37 million contract. Bagley enjoyed a career resurgence in Detroit after struggling late into his tenure with the Sacramento Kings.
Bagley is a springy lob threat who brings a lot of scoring punch for the Pistons, but he is not the right fit for this starting lineup. He is not a plus defender, and he struggles with shooting from beyond the arc. With Ivey getting the start over Burks, the Pistons cannot risk utilizing another below-average shooter in their starting five.
Bogdanović is a reliable three-point shooter who will space the floor for Cunningham and Ivey. The 33-year-old has not shot below 38 percent from beyond the arc since the 2016-17 season. Defensively, Bogdanović is nothing special. Advanced stats do not like him on the defensive end. He has a career 112 defensive rating and a defensive box plus/minus of -1.4 on his career. These are not good numbers, especially when you take into consideration that he spent the past three seasons starting with three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.
Bogdanović is not in Detroit for his defense, he is there for his shooting. While the defensive statistics suggest he is not a good defender, the Pistons should have enough defensive weaponry around him to alleviate some of his deficiencies.
Isaiah Stewart is close to a lock to start at center
Is there a world where Detroit’s best defensive player is not in the starting lineup? Sure, but that does not mean it is a likely outcome.
Stewart was not mentioned with Cunningham and Bey as locks to make the starting lineup because there is the possibility that Jalen Duren is an absolute gem of a player early on in his career. Duren has the potential to be Detroit’s long-term starting center down the road. The Memphis product has the prototypical size of a modern NBA center, standing at 6-10 and weighing in at 250 pounds. He could one day be an elite rim protector and pick-and-roll big man with a decent post-game.
Duren is not there yet. The 18-year-old is the youngest player in the 2022 draft class. He is inexperienced and needs time to develop his game to the NBA level. He played very well during Summer League, enough to think he could earn some minutes as a backup big man. Against real NBA competition, expect Duren to go through some growing pains.
Duren has a lot of upside, but Stewart makes the most sense to start at center for the Pistons this season. Stewart’s floor spacing potential meshes well with the rest of this starting lineup. Theoretically, Cunningham is a good three-point shooter, but he was inefficient as a rookie. Ivey showed marked improvement as a shooter in two collegiate seasons, but he still has a ways to go. Bey and Bogdanović are already established, respectable shooters. If Stewart can shoot the three-ball well on decent volume, the Pistons would have plenty of floor spacing to surround Cunningham and Ivey with.
This starting lineup is not going to win 40 games. It might not even win 30. The Pistons are still a very young team. The vast majority of the team’s players are aged 24 or younger. This inexperienced roster is simply unlikely to make a serious push for the play-in tournament, let alone the playoffs.
However, the starting lineup that has been constructed in this prediction gives Detroit the best chance to develop its young core. If Ivey and Cunningham are going to be backcourt partners for the foreseeable future, get them playing together early. To maximize their potential, the team needs to surround them with shooters.
This starting lineup also leaves the Pistons with a bench unit consisting of Killian Hayes, Burks, Livers, Bagley and Duren. Duren and Bagley would have more opportunities offensively with the bench unit than they would as part of the starting lineup. Bringing Burks off the bench provides that unit with a veteran presence that would be lacking if he were starting over Ivey.
When the Pistons are finally ready to compete in the playoffs, their starting lineup could look drastically different than it does now. For this season, however, this is about as good as it could be constructed.
(Featured Image Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)