These internal improvements could have the Pistons winning more games than expected.
The primary focus of the Detroit Pistons still appears to be the growth of their young core. General Manager Troy Weaver has repeatedly emphasized not skipping steps in their restoration process. Weaver has remained patient with that plan considering the Pistons have not made a splash acquisition yet with their cap space or other resources.
After hiring their new head coach Monty Williams this past summer, a timeline for winning expectations should be coming soon. However, the Pistons' plan is for winning to rise at the same pace as the development of their core.
Detroit needs to see specific growth to help contribute to the team's success. Learning what skills certain players bring to the court will also help Weaver's ability to continue building a winning roster around the drafted nucleus. If the Pistons make specific improvements, they could be on a postseason path as soon as this upcoming season.
Here are five player developments that could help the Detroit Pistons become winners:
- Consistent Three-Point Shooting by Isaiah Stewart
One of the biggest mysteries on Detroit's roster is who will step in as the team's starting power forward. After agreeing to a contract extension with the Pistons this offseason, Stewart could be in the lead to be penciled at that position. If his ability to become a league-average three-shooter comes alive, he could be solidified in Detroit's future in the frontcourt.
Stewart has recently moved over to playing power forward after lining up at center for the first two years of his NBA career. Most of his time has been spent as a screener and glue piece for the Pistons. Given the team's layout, there is now a need for Stewart to become an effective floor-spacer and shooter.
The 22-year-old forward finished shooting 33% on a career-high four attempts per game from three-point range in 50 games in 2022-23. Entering his fourth season, the Pistons need Stewart's jumper to be respectable enough to draw attention away from other defenders. His jumper improvement can keep defenses off balance and potentially lead to easier baskets for teammates.
Stewart has the tools necessary to be considered the most proven forward defender on Detroit's roster. The Pistons could really use his emergence offensively as a shooter though. Stewart hitting at an impactful league average from three would definitely boost Detroit up in the Eastern Conference.
2. Improved Defense By Jaden Ivey
Jaden Ivey exceeded lots of expectations in his rookie season. After being forced to fill in at the role of primary ball-handler due to Cade Cunningham's season-ending shin injury, the Pistons saw plenty of promise from their 2022 first-round combo guard. Ivey even elevated his shooting prowess by updating his shooting form and finding comfort as a mid-range shooter.
The biggest improvement the Pistons could use from Ivey is on the defensive end. There were lots of possessions last season where Ivey would be late on defensive rotations giving up open looks for opponents.
Detroit needs to turn the defensive lapses from last season into stops and transition baskets this season. The best way to take advantage of the speed and athleticism of Ivey is by creating turnovers on defense to generate fast break opportunities. A preview of what those fast breaks could look like was on display during the Pistons' runs at Rico Hines.
Weaver heavily discussed his desire to improve the Pistons on defense. Bringing in Monty Williams and drafting defensive ace Ausar Thompson will help Ivey be better prepared defensively. Even if he doesn't become a lockdown perimeter defender, he should be capable of playing passing lanes better to create transition points for Detroit.
3. Playmaking By Jalen Duren
Despite the many question marks in the frontcourt, one certain bright spot on the Pistons' roster is the upside of their young center Jalen Duren. His presence was felt last season by opponents trying to limit his dunks, athleticism, rebounding, and shot-blocking. Monty Williams has already raved about his excitement about coaching Duren saying he “can become a top-ten player in this league“.
The most underrated part of Duren's game is his passing ability. In a heavy ball-movement offense run by Williams, the 19-year-old center should be able to flourish as a passer for the Pistons. A glimpse of his passing potential was on high display this offseason on many separate occasions.
Duren also showed the ability to push the ball in the fast break during the Summer League. This benefit should give the Pistons the ability to get up the floor quickly. It also can create opportunities for the on-ball facilitators like Cunningham, Ivey, and Thompson to spread the floor and play off the ball.
4. A Reliable Jumper by Ausar Thompson
Landing at number five in the 2023 NBA Draft initially lacked excitement amongst some Pistons fans. After a short offseason of watching the talent of their first-round forward, Ausar Thompson already looks like a perfect fit among Detroit's young core.
The former Overtime Elite MVP has flashed his skills this summer defensively, passing, and as an off-ball scorer. Thompson has not shown the necessity to be ball-dominant in order to be productive, which is encouraging if he plays extensive time with Detroit's backcourt of Cunningham and Ivey.
One of Thompson's biggest criticisms out of the draft was the consistency of his jump shot. After reviewing his mechanics and considering the possible volume of his jumper in his rookie season, this looks to be an overblown judgment. Thompson has already shown a diverse scoring skillset which could translate sooner rather than later.
Detroit doesn't need Thompson to become a three-point specialist. However, a reliable combination of deep and midrange shooting could serve as a huge plus. Thompson's versatility is what makes him so special and the Pistons should look to take advantage of that.
5. Improved Three-Point Shooting by Cade Cunningham
So much of Detroit's future lies in the growth of their 2021 number one overall pick Cade Cunningham. After only playing 12 games last season due to a shin injury, there is heavy expectation to take that next step to help the Pistons.
Cunningham has the glow of an all-around player with very few weaknesses. His scoring prowess, playmaking, defense, and leadership all caught heavy national attention after his performance for the USA Select Team this summer.
Outside of durability, the biggest concern of Cunningham's game is his three-point shooting. He came out of Oklahoma State with plenty of distance shooting promise after averaging 40% in college. Unfortunately, that number has dipped to 31% through his first two years as a pro.
Cunningham's shooting form has slightly changed and has a bit more lift in his jump compared to last season. After opting for surgery and updating his form, there is hope that the 6'7 point guard can get back to his elite shooting ways from deep. Reliable shooting from their franchise player can not only place the Pistons in the race for the postseason but maybe even an All-Star selection for Cunningham in 2023-24.