The excitement continues to ramp up for the future of the Detroit Pistons. Expectations are high after adding some promising talent over the past few years.
Summer League action just recently concluded, which gave a brief look at what the Pistons have been working on. Rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren shined in their short bit of playing time. The rest of the focus was centered around how the roster fit together. Seeing the flashes while foundation pieces Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Marvin Bagley, and others watched showed the hype for this team is valid.
Watching this franchise development holds plenty of intrigue for this young team. However, the eagerness is met with plenty of mystery. With these optimistic steps of growth, there will be some adversity and challenges on the way. Some of those questions are already on display, with no clear answers yet.
Here are the biggest strengths and weaknesses on Detroit's roster entering next season:
Detroit Pistons Strengths: Size, athleticism, and versatility
The Pistons played pretty much all of last season with no identity. About half of the season featured an undersized frontcourt with smaller bigs like Isaiah Stewart, Trey Lyles, and Kelly Olynyk as the anchors. After adding their prized rookies in the draft, Detroit is establishing some roster consistency that should work to their advantage. That starts with their newfound size, athleticism, and versatility.
Detroit has not announced or hinted at a rotation or starting lineup. Whenever that is decided, there will be plenty of length to use against opponents. That same length paired with athleticism also gives them a better ability to switch defensively, which is a big aspect of their defense.
There are now three near 7-footers on the roster for the Pistons. Bringing back Bagley in free agency, drafting Duren, and trading for veteran Nerlens Noel provides a new dynamic on offense and defense.
The new talent added to the roster should also provide an improvement to their attack in transition. This would be a brand new development for a team led by head coach Dwane Casey. The veteran coach historically hasn't focused much on fast break points, but that will be tough to ignore with the new pieces on the roster.
The Pistons' guards should flourish offensively when playing up-tempo next season. Detroit added arguably the two best athletes in the draft with Ivey and Duren. Both rookies excel in the open floor and love playing above the rim. After finishing towards the bottom in fast break scoring last season, there should be an increase in more accessible opportunities at the basket.
The Cade Cunningham Effect
There is plenty of increased excitement and expectation for Detroit's future. While the team may not become a contender overnight, the direction of growth seems to be lining up perfectly. Probably the biggest reason is having a floor general in guard, Cade Cunningham.
One of the biggest needs for a young team trying to establish themselves is leadership. Cunningham exhibited his wide range of talent, making him the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft. Arguably his most important attribute for this team is his ability to lead. Combining that with his passing skills will serve as a major element of growth for the Pistons.
The responsibility of young players isn't to expand their skill set in their early career stages. Typically, they focus and perfect what they're best at. That is the perfect benefit of having the former Oklahoma State guard as your leader.
Cunningham averaged 5.6 assists as a rookie, showing his advanced court vision and understanding of how to control the flow of an offense. He was productive running pick-and-roll sets even with different bigs with him. There were also many instances where he could manipulate defenses to draw attention away from his teammates and set them up for easy buckets.
Detroit is ahead of schedule for their restoration, having an intelligent guard like Cunningham on their roster. Having an established leader on the floor with advanced passing savvy is enormous for the Pistons. Ivey and Duren should get a lot of easy dunks in transition, assisted by Cunningham's vision. Isaiah Livers and Saddiq Bey should see an increase in open triples due to Cunningham's ability to draw and kick to open shooters.
The optimism for the Detroit Pistons is as high as we can remember in about 15 years. The excitement for next season makes plenty of sense as it will be the first glimpse at the future of this young team.
Detroit's future is the most important part to keep in mind. While expectations for this team may be high, that doesn't mean they'll be met immediately. The team's athleticism, talent, and excitement are exponentially better on paper. That doesn't mean it will translate to winning in the immediate future.
Young teams often go through waves of inconsistency while rebuilding. Early last season, we saw the Pistons lose 14 straight games and struggle badly against teams under.500. After the All-Star break, the Pistons showed some grit, upsetting playoff teams like Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Atlanta, and Charlotte. It's very possible we see more waves of this magnitude this season for the Pistons.
The NBA schedule has not been announced yet. Even if Detroit doesn't start off with a schedule as brutal as last season, they are still in line for quite a bit of growing pains. There is too much youth and too many question marks on the roster to confidently buy in as a playoff team already. With foundational pieces in place and being decided by competent leadership, there is plenty of reason to remain patient through this restoration.
The Detroit Pistons Weaknesses: Proven Shooting and Floor Spacing
The Pistons are in need of improved shooting after finishing last season 29th in 3-point efficiency. It's almost impossible in the NBA to survive without shooting and proper floor spacing. This is one of the biggest problems for Detroit, and there is a risk it might not be resolved this season.
Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Livers are the best young shooters on the roster. There is a serious expectation for them to establish themselves as reliable three-and-D players. Given their youth and inexperience, it's no guarantee we will see that breakthrough this season. Detroit will need to see some shooting promise from their guards as well.
Kelly Olynyk has built a reputation as a reliable three-point shooter averaging 36% through his veteran career. However, his age could have him on the outside looking in at the rebuilding Pistons. Olynyk's contract and possible limited playing opportunity could have him on the trade block sooner than later.
It looks like Bagley and Stewart will split many reps at power forward. They will see lots of pick-and-roll duties with the guards, but another aspect they need to master is their ability to rotate on the perimeter for open shots. Detroit's guards have the advantage of being able to slash and draw attention away for open perimeter looks. Bagley, Stewart, and even Killian Hayes have to take advantage of the open looks they're going to receive.
Professional sports is the ultimate barometer of discipline versus talent. Many NBA teams have talent throughout their roster, but talent isn't enough to establish yourself as a contender. Discipline and consistency is the true measurement of a serious franchise.
Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams, spoke after the NBA Finals, confirming this point. He called his team “more talented and better” than the Golden State Warriors while admitting the champions were more disciplined.
Grant Williams on facing the Warriors in the NBA Finals: “I still will say confidently to this day, they weren't the better team. They were the more disciplined team.”
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) July 20, 2022
The Pistons are growing their foundation organically through the draft and letting them grow through experience. The current players on the roster have limited or no postseason history on their resume. Even with Detroit set for the future with cap space to add big players next summer, the nucleus of this team will take their steps forward by learning together.
We saw the Pistons play better against playoff contenders after the All-Star break. Seeing them carry that momentum into this season would be uplifting, but it won't be an easy task. Learning how to perfect the little things and work on their discipline will be a long-term project to match their talent on the court.
Budding Eastern Conference
The Detroit Pistons are not the only team with ramping optimism around them. We are seeing a number of teams growing strong futures through the draft, and many of those teams are in the same conference.
The Eastern Conference is arguably becoming the stronger half of the NBA power structure. Championship contenders like the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and the Milwaukee Bucks are not going anywhere soon. Fringe contenders like the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, and the Philadelphia Sixers strike fear throughout the league. We cannot discount the teams below them as they are headed in promising directions as well.
Detroit's potential is not far from the Eastern Conference teams who finished ahead of them. The Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, and Charlotte Hornets are a few pieces away from making noise in the East. Potential is not enough to take these teams lightly when competing in this conference. It will be intriguing to see how the Pistons matchup in the future with the East remaining as strong as it is.