Detroit Pistons: Key X-Factors to Become Early Contenders

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Detroit Pistons

On the rise teams like the Detroit Pistons normally teeter between playoff contenders and pretenders when going through development. We usually watch young and exciting teams go through optimistic stretches of promising basketball. The other side of those stretches usually comes with inefficient play and some ugly losses.

Throughout this growth period, obvious attention will be focused on the development of first-round guards Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey. Their bright skillsets should compliment each other perfectly and certainly influence the projection of the Pistons.

While expectations are high on what this pairing can bring, it’s unfair to anticipate immediate winning results from them. Both guards are just 20 years old and in the very early stage of their careers. How they gel with one another will matter immensely, but certain help from the rest of the young nucleus could alter a lot for this team.

The NBA is notorious for young teams taking significant leaps of improvement. Detroit’s talented young core could turn into the 2020-21 Atlanta Hawks or last season’s Memphis Grizzlies if a few points bounce in their favor.

Here are a few X-factors that could turn the Detroit Pistons into contenders sooner than later.

A Breakout Season for Detroit Pistons forward Marvin Bagley III?

Acquiring Bagley from Sacramento last February opened a much-needed dynamic for the Pistons. After struggling to establish career momentum with the Kings, Detroit turned the former 2018 No. 2 overall pick into a beneficial lob threat for the offense. Now with a three-year deal signed to return to the Pistons, there are plenty of expectations for their new power forward to take another step next season.

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Bagley finished last season, averaging 11.3 points per game and seven rebounds. There weren’t a lot of plays drawn up for him as he scored most of those points off of alley-oops, cuts to the basket, and second chance opportunities from rebounds. With an offseason of reps to build continuity, Bagley has a big opportunity to establish himself as a focal point.

The Pistons have not committed to a starting power forward or center yet. If Bagley can develop some reliability as a shooter and improve as a defender, those qualities could put him at the front of the line as a starting option. Detroit needs a floor-spacing shooter who can knock down open shots created by guard penetration. There should be plenty of chances for Bagley to become that difference-maker in the frontcourt.

Killian Hayes as the Backup Point Guard

This coming season could be a make-or-break year for Killian Hayes. Entering the third season of his young career, the Pistons need to find certainty on his future with the team. As the franchise continues to take shape, Hayes has a shot at taking hold as the team’s backup point guard.

Detroit opened last season with Hayes as a starter next to Cade Cunningham. After battling with injuries and how to fit in the lineup, the Pistons made a bold choice moving their 2020 No. 7 overall pick to the bench. Looking at his skillset and the developed roster, this is his best chance for a breakout performance.

There’s been a boost of added talent in Detroit through the draft and trades. The super athletic rookie duo of Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren should see plenty of playing time with the second unit to help Hayes. The reserves also have promising perimeter shooters in forward Isaiah Livers and newly acquired guard Alec Burks.

The improved talent around the bench should maximize Hayes’ biggest attribute as a passer. This should also create easier scoring opportunities in his role. There are no questions about his defensive capabilities, but the questions regarding his offense need to be answered right away. Hayes could be on the outside looking in soon with Detroit if he doesn’t assert himself as a reliable future backup.

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The Readiness of Detroit Pistons Rookie Jalen Duren

One of the biggest surprises of the 2022 NBA Draft came from the Pistons trading up for Memphis center Jalen Duren. The 18-year-old big man is the youngest player in the league but has tremendous value he can bring to this team.

Duren is an imposing paint presence who dunks everything and is an intimidating shot blocker. He also showed brief glimpses as a passer and jump shooter through college. Detroit also could see an increase in second-chance shots from his rebounding and energy at the rim.

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Considering his age and experience, there is a chance his minutes could be limited early. Head coach Dwane Casey is fond of playing veterans over young players. Third-year big Isaiah Stewart could be favored to start at center as a young veteran of the team. Detroit also acquired nine-year veteran Nerlens Noel as frontcourt depth, who should also compete for minutes at center.

However, Duren is not as raw as implied during the draft. His upside is quite evident, but he could be ready to contribute sooner than later. Duren’s strongest attributes give him a legitimate chance to excel as Detroit’s paint enforcer. If his development is ahead of schedule, the Pistons can be a dangerous dark-horse playoff contender.

Isaiah Stewart, to start at Power Forward?

The bulk of Beef Stew’s tenure as a Piston has focused on him as a center. However, his versatility on offense and defense should showcase a lot of action with him at power forward. Detroit also has added two 7-footers at center, creating a necessity for Stewart to slide over to forward.

Stewart’s impact hasn’t been reflected heavily with eye-popping statistics. He has averaged roughly 8-points-per-game throughout his career plus 7.7 rebounds. The Pistons have gotten the most out of Stewart offensively as a highway screener creating easy layups for his teammates. Defense versatility is also a strong suit as we’ve seen Stewart’s capability as a paint defender who can also switch and limit guards on the perimeter.

Detroit will need to rely on improved offense if they’re looking for postseason contention. Stewart’s rookie season saw plenty of potential as he showed the ability to knock down three-point and midrange jump shots. His sophomore season had a significant decrease in shots as he was utilized mainly as a screener for the guards.

The Pistons had Stewart play two games during Summer League to pick up some reps at power forward. Detroit could see a major benefit if Beef Stew plays with that same confidence offensively. His ability to shoot can open up floor space along the outside with collapsing defenders.

Increased Three-and-D Efficiency from Detroit Pistons forward Saddiq Bey.

Trading forward Jerami Grant this summer opened up a big need for reliable secondary scoring for the Pistons. A considerable amount of their scoring should come from their backcourt, but Ivey being a rookie, will limit his early expectations. Detroit’s attention should turn to third-year forward Saddiq Bey to fill that void.

Bey averaged 16.1 points per game last season while shooting 40% from the field and 35% from three. His scoring prowess peaked with an astounding 51-point performance against the Orlando Magic in March.

While there were some impressive offensive showings, he wasn’t the model of consistency. The beginning of the year featured a terrible shooting slump from Bey, but he eventually turned it on towards the middle of the year. With Cunningham entering his second year and Ivey in the backcourt as a secondary ball-handler, Bey needs to become a reliable shooter who can make defenses pay with open shots.

The Pistons could also lean on Bey more defensively this season. Cunningham is already one of the team’s best defenders, but his importance as the primary ball-handler could have other players defending opponents’ best scorers. Bey is not a lockdown defender, but that added defensive responsibility is very possible given the circumstances.

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Posted by Eric Vincent
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