These are the major notes to focus on during the Pistons' preseason action.
The Detroit Pistons begin their preseason schedule this Sunday against the Phoenix Suns. Entering the next step of their restoration phase, they finally get to test their budding team chemistry against another NBA team.
Preseason wins and losses don't always indicate if a franchise will be ready for the regular season. However, the preseason can still have value and hint at the direction of where a young team is growing. With an exciting young core assembled and a newly hired championship-level coach leading the way, there are plenty of reasons to look forward to the Pistons preseason basketball.
Detroit has a few situations to figure out with their roster heading into the 2023-24 season. These upcoming four games should help with some needed answers.
Here are five keys to pay attention to with the Detroit Pistons preseason:
- Pick And Roll With Cade Cunningham and Jalen Duren
A big focal point of Detroit's half-court offense will likely be the pick-and-roll tandem between Cade Cunnigham and Jalen Duren. This duo didn't play much together last year courtesy of Cunningham's season-ending shin injury and Duren starting last year coming off the bench.
This offseason was loaded with plenty of potential on display between Cunningham and Duren. The guard and center garnered national attention through their play for Team USA Select as well as the pro runs at Rico Hines. Duren also confirmed during Pistons media day that he spent time in Cunningham's hometown Arlington Texas to develop on-the-court chemistry.
While the duo looked in sync with one another during pickup runs, the Pistons need that chemistry to translate as soon as the preseason. Cunningham and Duren should help create a number of paint touches for the Pistons as well as open shots on the perimeter off the attention they can draw.
2. Starting Forwards and Rotation
One of the biggest question marks for Detroit heading into the season is how they use their forwards. Head coach Monty Williams has emphasized the importance of playing defense and how “blow-by guys probably will not play”. It's too early to determine who Williams is referencing but preseason should help tell who is best suited as a starter.
There will be heavy competition at forward between Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Stewart, and Ausar Thompson. Bogdanovic was Detroit's leading scorer and shooter averaging a career-high 21.6 points and 41.1% from three. Stewart recently signed a four-year contract extension which shows the faith the organization has in him. Thompson has tremendous upside on both sides of the ball as Detroit's 2023 number-five overall draft pick.
The starting forwards should lay out how the Pistons plan to play this season. Playing Bogdanovic as a starter would mean Detroit wants shooting and floor spacing in the starting unit with some defensive sacrifice. Thompson is the most athletic of the three by a wide margin and could become the Pistons' best all-around defender as soon as this season. Stewart is viewed as a leader for Detroit and offers toughness with an improving jump shot as well.
Who starts is not the only question regarding the Pistons' rotation. It will also be intriguing to see who Williams wants to roll out when closing games as well which is just as vital as who starts. Closing lineups in crunch time helps show the development of a young team like Detroit.
3. Guard Rotation
The Pistons' starting backcourt should likely be set with Cunningham and Jaden Ivey to open the regular season. Their guard rotation after those two is not very clear yet and should be an intriguing competition.
Detroit is entering their fourth season with young guard Killian Hayes on their roster. Entering the last year of his contract, Hayes has a lot to show that he can be a foundational piece for the Pistons. He remains an elite defender and passer while needing major improvement in his shooting and finishing ability at the rim.
Hayes will have plenty of competition in the guard rotation after the Pistons signed veteran Monte Morris and traded up for first-round pick Marcus Sasser. Morris is a career 39% three-point shooter and has never averaged more than one turnover in a season. Sasser is a tenacious defender who also has dangerous ability as a scorer. He put that scoring prowess on display during the Summer League when he dropped 40 points in the final game.
Detroit also will have veteran shooting guard Alec Burks back in their rotation after missing over 30 games due to injury last season. Burks is a savvy scorer who can create his own shot, get to the free-throw line, and space the floor well as an off-ball shooter.
The Pistons may also use time playing Ivey as the point guard after watching him blossom on-ball during Cunningham's absence. Thompson also had great playmaking skills as a rookie and could see time on the ball to take advantage of his skills and size.
4. Backup Center Battle
Williams confirmed during Pistons' practice that Marvin Bagley and James Wiseman are battling for the backup center role behind Jalen Duren. Both players are young, unproven, and need time to show their value on the court. They need to make each opportunity count through training camp and preseason.
Bagley is entering his second year in his three-year deal with the Pistons. After being traded to Detroit from Sacramento, he formed instant chemistry with Cunningham as a lob threat. Bagley is a bit more athletic than Wiseman and has a better touch in creating shots from the perimeter.
Wiseman will be a restricted free agent after this season and needs to maximize this year in Detroit. Wiseman is a bit more polished as a scorer on the block and is a bit more efficient than Bagley.
This battle can honestly be decided by which player stays more healthy than the other. Both players have an extremely concerning injury history and question marks defensively. They both need to silence those questions starting in the preseason.
5. Two Big Lineup?
Troy Weaver has often expressed his desire to see two bigs on the floor together. Duren should likely be the starting center to open the season but we could see Detroit experiment with Bagley or Wiseman playing on the court with Duren.
Playing two bigs together could have its benefits, but it could be complicated for the Pistons based on their skill sets. If Detroit wants to play two bigs, they need to be able to space the floor and not crowd the paint.
Neither Bagley nor Wiseman are proven jump shooters which could make things hard in halfcourt offensive sets. Bagley is a career 29% three-point shooter on low volume. Wiseman is not far behind averaging 28% from three on a similar volume. They both struggle defensively as well, especially on the perimeter.
Detroit seems like they would be better suited with shooters and supreme athletes next to one center. However, they seem invested in attempting to make the two-big lineup work when necessary. Expect Williams and the Pistons to roll out that size in their rotation during these preseason games.