Here are the biggest positive and negative takeaways from the Pistons' exhibition schedule.
The Detroit Pistons finished their four games of 2023 preseason action with a 2-2 record. With winning aspirations heading into the regular season, the Pistons showed plenty of things to pay attention to in their development.
As one of the youngest teams in the league, this preseason schedule carried many important circumstances. While some teams can treat preseason as dress rehearsal practice, the Pistons approached the preseason with many questions needing answers. Some of the preseason games gave hopeful indications of the team's direction and some still have some unanswered issues.
Here are the biggest positive and negative observations from the Detroit Pistons' preseason:
Positive: Cade Cunningham and Jalen Duren Pick and Roll
One of the biggest focal points of the Pistons' offense this season will be the pick-and-roll dynamic between Cade Cunningham and Jalen Duren. Their chemistry and on-court potential were on high display many times throughout the preseason.
Duren showed the ability to be the reliable lob threat that Cunningham thrives so well with. The young duo meshed well in half-court sets as well as in the open floor for transition points. Their threat together even drew attention from other defenders to create open perimeter shots for teammates.
If the pick-and-roll tandem continues to blossom between Cunningham and Duren, it should be vastly reflected in Detroit's offensive production and their record. Shooters like Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks, and Joe Harris should help the team's shooting efficiency. Cunningham and Duren are intelligent passers who will have complimentary help from athletic off-ball cutters like Ausar Thompson and Jaden Ivey.
One of Detroit's biggest problems last season was their activity on the glass. The Pistons ranked 21st in rebounds per game in 2022-23 mostly due to depth and lack of size. With key additions this offseason and players returning from injuries, Detroit showed through preseason they have the ability to be tough to deal with on the glass.
The Pistons finished as the third-best team in the NBA in rebounds per game averaging 51.3 through preseason. Ausar Thompson was a major reason why as he finished third in the league averaging 9.3 rebounds per game. Adding the rookie to the starting lineup will be a major help for the Pistons in rebounding.
Detroit also has the luxury of size off their bench with the help of Marvin Bagley and James Wiseman. If the backup bigs can help Thompson, Duren, and Isaiah Stewart, the Pistons should have a huge advantage on the glass against their opponents.
Positive: Rookie Development
Head coach Monty Williams has hyped up the development of the prized Pistons rookies Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser all off-season. Thompson managed to impact various areas of the game averaging 11.75 points per game, plus 9.25 rebounds with stellar defense regularly against their opponent's best scorer. Sasser was instrumental in both preseason victories against the Thunder with his three-level-scoring in each second half.
Coach Williams believes Thompson and Sasser are ahead of their development curve so far. He implores how he's tried pushing the players during training camp and the rookies have responded favorably.
The young Piston wings will play a major role in the development of this young franchise. Considering their production so far, they could be more involved in the rotation than originally anticipated.
Negative: Isaiah Stewart's Outside Shooting
Isaiah Stewart and the Detroit Pistons agreed to a four-year contract extension this offseason. One of their hopes with the extension seems to be his development as a stretch power forward for the Pistons. That entails the ability to consistently knock down open threes, which was a big struggle throughout preseason.
Stewart shot 4-21 from distance in their four preseason games. Stewart provides plenty of help in defensive versatility and rebounding. However, the Pistons desperately need a power forward who can consistently impact both ends of the floor.
Detroit's preseason opponents seemed content with letting Stewart take open three-pointers. The Pistons need Stewart's efficiency to be consistent enough to draw opposing defenders away to create looks for others.
Negative: Lack of Offensive Spacing
One of Detroit's biggest problems while learning to grow on-court continuity is their lack of spacing on the floor. The Pistons thrive offensively with their ball-handlers being able to penetrate and create paint touches. Their lack of proven shooting on the floor creates very little spacing for the guards to operate.
Detroit played their entire preseason without two of their best veteran shooters Bojan Bogdanovic and Monte Morris. The majority of the Pistons' young core are currently working on improving their jump shooting. Until those improvements are displayed, defenses are able to crowd the paint and limit shots at the rim.
Most of the Pistons' best shooters are currently recovering from injury. The return of Bogdanovic, Morris, and Isaiah Livers could do wonders for the spacing of this offense. This could be a pending issue until then if the Pistons don't put together improvements to their shooting.
Negative: Rotation Clarity
This offseason held some roster competition for the Pistons during training camp and preseason. There was a battle for minutes in their guard rotation, the backup center position, and the forward rotation. After their preseason matchups, it does not seem that there is a clear plan moving forward with these areas on the roster yet.
Detroit saw some positive play from their bench guards like Killian Hayes and Marcus Sasser. The absence of Monte Morris opened up opportunities for the young guards to show what they could bring to the Pistons. It also includes whether or not Jaden Ivey will be a part of the bench unit or the starting five.
The Pistons are also crowded with their minutes for the forwards on the team. Detroit is still thin at this position while most of their forwards are recovering from an injury.
The biggest competition was arguably the battle for the backup center minutes between Marvin Bagley and James Wiseman. Both had optimistic moments during preseason but did not do enough to close the competition from one another.
Coach Williams said he plans on playing a ten-man rotation during the regular season. Considering Detroit's inexperience, this rotation could take a good portion of the season to figure out. Deciding on the roster consistency will help the Pistons find that winning path they've been hungry for.